Friday, 4 September 2020

Where is God in our suffering?

I had an interesting conversation with a friend yesterday, let’s call her Sarah. Sarah is not a Christian, she acknowledges that there must be a higher power behind creation but has no religious persuasions or affiliations beyond that. During a very rare God conversation she asked me where God was when a small child dies of cancer. If there is a loving, relational being out there how can He seem so cruel and distant? Sarah added that in such a case she would rather take the child’s place in death and suffering yet God does nothing. She added a personal story of the death of a loved one where someone made a well-intentioned but insensitive and offensive comment about God needing a deceased person taken from her family more than their loved ones did and had taken them home. 

Now Sarah is a good, compassionate and intelligent person and I believe that her thoughts and feelings suggested that she understood and was closer to the heart of God than most religious people that I know are. I tried to explain that the Bible portrays death as an enemy, that the world is a broken place and that that is kind of the point of the cross and resurrection. I do not believe that God is distant in our suffering or indifferent to death. He is not idle at all but has entered in to our story and suffered and died as one of us so that through death, He might conquer or overcome it that we could enter in to His story and rise again, incorruptible and free from the things that currently make us broken. 

So where is God when a child dies? He is hanging on cross, put there by the very people that He wants to save. Where is He when a woman is is dragged in to a field, raped and then strangled to death? He is getting flogged by soldiers and carried off to get executed. All while the people He loves clap their hands in approval and shout that this must be Gods will. The point of Jesus dying is not to satisfy the wrath of an angry deity who must pour his wrath in to someone or something; but for God to identify with humanity in order for us to be united in Jesus and become partakers of the divine nature. We do not get to avoid death, it comes for us all whether we are 5 or 95 years old, and eventually we all die. But the hope we have is that death cannot hold us and that there is new life after. God is like Sarah in that He would rather taste of death Himself than see a child remain in bondage to death and suffering.    

Let me add as well that God does not 'take people home' because somehow an all-powerful, omnipresent being needs a new angel more than a small child needed their mother or a husband needed his wife. Remember, death and disease are portrayed as enemies in the New Testament and Jesus went around healing people and raising them wherever He went. The only time we look at death as a friend is when people are suffering and we see it as a release. There is validity in this but ultimately we yearn for a life free of pain and suffering and this is what is hoped for in newness of life. And this life is not to be lived in some far away spiritual utopia. Scripture tells us that earth is our forever home, where we will one day reside again minus all the bad stuff that currently makes it not so pleasant. As ambassadors of this ‘heavenly kingdom’ we’re supposed to be actively proclaiming and living for this good right now. Making things more beautiful or at least a little less cruddy as we go along.

Of course, atonement and eternal life on earth are much bigger topics than what I have shared here. Why not just snap His fingers and end death instead of go through it at all? I tried to answer that in my first book and my new one will add more perspective as well. For now, I hope this gives a new slant to where God is in our suffering and portrays Him less as a passive bystander and more as an active agent for change. Hopefully there is a thought in here that will help someone through their suffering or at least think twice before giving awful answers about God to those who are grieving. 


Wednesday, 25 December 2019

Rethinking Holiness

Not all that long ago I was sitting and chatting with my wife and she made a comment that we are not as concerned about holiness as we once were. Her comment was in the context of us having journeyed outside of more formal church structures that had reformed theological systems of belief and a more fundamentalist outlook on life toward the freedom that we had found within the house church that we had started and the liberty that we discovered in Christ in this time. This grace and liberty had lessened the fear of been smitten by the Lord that we previously walked in and the example that she shared was that today we were more likely to watch something on TV today whereas, in the past, we would have switched it off the first time that we heard someone cuss.

Her reflection was accurate as well, while I still consider myself a conservative person, I do appreciate music that sometimes has naughty words in it. I’ll watch a show like the Walking Dead even though it’s filled with zombies and violence. And I’ll laugh hard at an inappropriate joke made on the Grand Tour. I could try and justify these things by saying that it has not corrupted me in any way, I never use coarse language myself, or encourage and applaud violence but at the end of the day I have to admit that my standards have changed.

My response on the day was that I think that my definition of holiness had somewhat changed over time which was manifesting in our lives subconsciously. Holiness was and is still important but it had become less of a personal discipline and morphed more into a relational expression toward others. What I mean by that is that growing up I always thought of holiness as meaning don’t drink, don’t swear, don’t smoke, don’t listen to angry music (I battled with that one), don’t watch movies that have any sort of age restriction on them, don’t hang out at bad places and don’t hang out with people who do any of the above. In other words, holiness was about abstaining from certain behavioral issues that were or had the appearance of evil.

And some of those things above probably are good to avoid with one or two debatable ones in there as well. Yet my old, narrow view of holiness as you may have noticed, was very negative and all about abstinence. It was all inward focused on not doing bad things but had very little positive application in ones life. So how do I see things now and what does it mean to be ‘set apart’? I think that at this stage I see holiness as an expression of love more than anything else. Holiness is not so much about what I am good at resisting (though that is important) as much as it is about how I relate to others around me that is unique or in contrast to the ways of the world. This certainly still carries inward connotations for sure, it requires more dying to self and the same sort of discipline as before, it’s just more others centered which means that it is more about doing good than it is about been good.

You see, I can abstain from all sorts of appearances of evil, I might not ever get drunk, be rude to people, sleep around, get into fights or similar things. Instead I could spend the day fishing or hiking in the mountains having never done anything ‘bad’ all day. But does that make me holy? I don’t think so. Thinking about these things I went and had a look at a few scriptures on holiness, and I soon discovered that holiness is intrinsically relational. In 2 Corinthians 7:1 for example, Paul urges us to ‘perfect holiness in the fear of God’, in the next verse he elaborates by saying that we should wrong no one, corrupt no one and cheat no one. Paul associates holiness with our conduct toward others.

I recently read the comic-style biography on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the faith Spy, and it documents a moment during his travels where he has an epiphany about been a good person verses doing good, faith to Dietrich had become something more than as intellectual study or exercise and shifted into something that demanded action in the face of evil. I see the same thing with Peter when he makes a similar observation where he associates holiness with ones conduct, “But as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, “be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15-16). Likewise the author of Hebrews urges his readers to “pursue peace with all people and holiness” (12:14). I don’t think that it is possible to do one without the other.

Lastly, the verse that stood out the most for me was in Ephesians 5:1-3, keep in mind that the Greek word for holiness is ‘ἅγιος’ (hagios) and is, in this case, translated as ‘saint’.

Therefore be imitators of God dear children. And walk in love, as Christ has also loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma. But fornication and uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting of saints.

My take away from this is that the saints (holy ones) are to live sacrificial, others centered lives, guarding their own thoughts and actions as we walk in love. The definition of holiness I am advocating for above does not detract from the previous definition that I held too, but it certainly calls for a broadening of what we think that it means to be set apart. What this may look like in practical terms, a decade ago I would have declined an offer for an alcoholic beverage ten times out of ten, setting me apart from others in whatever group environment I happened to find myself in. Today, I would probably still decline a drink because I just don’t really like most alcoholic beverages, but I might also say yes to appease my host, or to relax, share and enjoy the moment and a connection with another person. The point is, what was once a hard and fast rule is now more just a moment by moment decision guided by the principle of loving others as you love yourself. Maybe I don’t want to appear to be a religious stick in the mud and having a drink might cause my friend to open up more than he would have if I simply said, “no thanks I don’t drink”. Maybe this is why Jesus was happy enough to sit around a table flowing with wine and questionable characters. His holiness was certainly not lessened by it as He let His love for others and His Father motivate His actions. Of course, there are places that have no grey areas, sexual immorality for example is always harmful and therefore the opposite of loving. 

Perhaps we do not need to complicate things so much. Remember Jesus’ new commandment, the golden rule, and I guarantee that we will stay on course in pursuing holiness as well.        

Tuesday, 24 December 2019

The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler

Dietrich Bonhoeffer is one of those rare voices whose appeal seems to transcend denominational boundaries. He is kind of like Europe’s Watchman Nee in that regard. His ideas and teachings, amid the backstory of been a pastor in Germany during World War 2 is simply fascinating. So when Hendrix’s book, The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler crossed my path, I jumped at the opportunity to review it.

This book is perhaps one of the most unique reads that I have had the privilege of reviewing. It reads like a biography but not really, as it intertwines the stories of both Dietrich Bonhoeffer as well Adolf Hitler together. The author makes use of both direct quotes (clearly marked with an *) and some speculative dialogue, the artistic license really helps to add to the drama, fill in the blanks and move the story along with easy transitions from scene to scene. Additionally, the simultaneous telling of two different stories and the philosophies that drove each individual is accentuated by the stark contrast between the two men.   

The Faithful Spy also reads like a history book, but not really, recounting Hitler’s rise to power, his military conquests, strategies and eventual defeat. There is just the right amount of information shared to keep one fully interested without ever running off into long and boring non-essentials. While John Hendrix himself mentions that he is not a historian and relied on the hard work of others to bring us the story, I feel like I could say the same to him, as he did the hard work of researching and condensing some of the most interesting and important moments from Bonhoeffer and Hitler’s lives and World War 2 and presenting them in a way that is entertaining, educational and enlightening.   

This book also reads like a comic or graphic novel, but not really. There are portions with strictly text and then there are large pictures as well as multiple-sequence panels that we would traditionally associate with comic books. All of the artwork is done on a limited palette of black, turquoise (for Dietrich) and red (for the Nazi's) and I don’t know how else to say it other than that everything somehow comes together and works well. It’s pleasing on the eye, the portions of text are never too lengthy that they become difficult or laborious to read; perhaps this is to make it appeal to a younger audience but I have to say that it worked for me and I personally found it refreshing, daring and original.

Regarding the story itself, Hendrix documents Dietrich’s upbringing and highlights some of the pivotal moments in his development, much of which I was unfamiliar with, having not been included in other books and films that I had previously read or watched on his life. Perhaps most significant would be his pilgrimage to Rome and how he was deeply impacted by the multitudes and singing witnessed at a Catholic mass, this changed his perspective on what the church was and is and liberated him from the idea that God was simply an academic exercise to be studied. Then during his studies in New York he got to see what the church looked like in action, at the forefront of the battle against racism and social injustice. Bonhoeffer had learned the difference between been a good person and doing good, and he would bring these ideas from lessons learned back to Germany with the conviction that faith required doing good in the face of evil, that his actions mattered and that he needed to help people wherever it was needed. This also drove him to confront one of the most difficult of questions one might ever be faced with, what is the duty of a person in the face of overwhelming evil? Could he be an accomplice in an assassination attempt when presented with the opportunity to kill Hitler?

Faced with these questions, Dietrich joined the resistance against Hitler, acting as a double agent and the book gives a fascinating account of these assassination attempts as well as Hitler’s lucky escapes and how the resistance avoided getting caught for so long. Eventually, Bonhoeffer’s involvement in the conspiracy against Hitler is discovered after he had already been imprisoned and he is sentenced to death only days before Germany was finally liberated from Nazi rule.

This is not just a history lesson or riveting novel. This book shows us just how easily a tyrant can rise to power and seduce the masses. It also shows us that the church and individuals can go several ways in such times and leaves the reader asking themselves which way to go, we can be seduced by power or scared into self-preservation, we can try to fight fire with fire or we can seek alternative non-violent solutions.

I received a copy of this book from Speakeasy in exchange for an honest review, fortunately I can say that I loved everything about it. It’s an easy read, its message is ageless and it will appeal to people of all ages, I highly recommend it. You can find a copy of it by clicking over here.  

Friday, 15 November 2019

Why did Jesus have to die?

In my previous two posts in this series I questioned the theory of penal substitution. Noting the lack of evidence for it in scripture, the counter evidence against it as well as the logical inconsistencies one encounters when following the thought process down the road. Moving forward, let’s examine why Jesus did have to die if it was not to satisfy God’s wrath. Not only that, but let’s explore why He rose again and why it is central to the gospel. This good news as I understand it, is not about a God whose justice demands that someone, even a substitute, experiences His wrath against them but it is one of a loving God who shows mercy, love and a willingness to seek out and redeem what has been damaged or tainted by sin. The pictures could hardly be any more different than the one the reformers developed and gave to us. So for a brief few minutes let us lay aside the ideas of Calvin (and Anselm before him) and go straight to the Bible to see what it says about Jesus dying for us. We will look at just one point today and several others down the road.

Jesus died to defeat the devil

When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit in the garden, everything changed. Well, nearly everything. Adam’s choosing to become independent from God led to a radical change in humans. Rather than being like God, man became sinful, fallen and broken, and due to man’s sinfulness, the world suffered as well. Paul said in the book of Romans that the whole of creation groans and eagerly awaits liberation from bondage and decay (Romans 8:19–22). Yet scripture also tells us that although the serpent lost his legs in Genesis 3, the devil himself benefited from man’s rebellion, temporarily gaining power and control of this world. Jesus referred to Satan as the ‘Prince of this world’ (John 12:31, 14:30), Paul referred to him as the ‘god of this age’ (2 Corinthians 4:4) and as ‘the ruler of the kingdom of the air’ (Ephesians 2:2), while John said that ‘the whole world is under the control of the evil one’ (1 John 5:19). In Matthew 4:8–9, Satan takes Jesus up on a high mountain and shows him all the kingdoms of the world, offering them to Jesus if He will bow down and worship him. Jesus did not dispute Satan’s claim that they were his kingdoms to give away, but rather, He made it clear to whom His personal allegiance belonged.

The same power that Christians fight for today was expressly forsaken by Jesus. His kingdom is not of this world and I throw this in as a little challenge for believers to think about. Focusing on Jesus though, this passage tells us that He was not willing to make a deal with the devil or play the game by his rules. Jesus shows us that He did not come to reform the devils kingdom but to usurp the works of Satan, He came to disarm him entirely and tramp on his head and in so doing, He would release those who were held in bondage by the evil one. For example, in 1 John 3:8 it says:

He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.

Hebrews 2:14 is another verse that speaks plainly of Christ’s purpose in dying:

Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil.

Unlike penal substitutionary theory which misapplies a couple of texts and tells us that Jesus died so that God’s anger, like that of all of the pagan deities, could only be satisfied by a human sacrifice. Scripture shows us a different God, and through an abundance of texts and authors it teaches us that the death and resurrection of Jesus was not to appease an angry Father but rather it was an all-out attack against an angry devil and on the kingdom of darkness. It was an act of war that defied all of the logic that we commonly associate with battle. Although the devil still roams around today, up to his same old tricks, the Bible is clear that he has already been judged, disarmed and defeated, even though his final fate has not yet been carried out (John 12:31, 16:11; Colossians 1:13, 2:15; 1 John 3:8). So the part the cross seems to have dealt with (at least in the instantly recognizable sense) has to do with breaking Satan’s power over man and the ushering in of the counter-kingdom of God. Although Satan still holds people in bondage and has a general influence and control within the world and over society, in Christ we now have the option of living under a different King, free from Satan’s yoke of slavery.

Luke 4:18 tells us that Jesus came to release the oppressed and to set the captives free. Because of the cross, the devil no longer has power over those who have been born of the Spirit. His only weapon is deceit. He is like the little old man standing behind the curtain in the Wizard of Oz. Nevertheless, in this world, deception, death and destruction still abound as the principalities and the powers of darkness continue to do their thing. Just as the truth sets men free, ignorance and error will keep us in bondage. Ultimately, we still await a day when Jesus will ‘put all of His enemies under His feet’ (1 Corinthians 15:25) and where ‘Satan will be crushed’ (Romans 16:20) but we are simultaneously assured that the battle has already been fought and that the victory has already been won (Revelation 5:5). Because of the cross, the devil no longer has power over those who have been born of the Spirit.

Saturday, 9 November 2019

I am taking a break from the usual topics that I write about to spread a little awareness about keratoconus.

What is Keratoconus?

Today, November 10th, is world keratoconus day, the word entered my life unexpectedly several years ago after visiting the optometrist after noticing a rapid decrease in vision in my left eye. A week later an ophthalmologist diagnosed the problem and warned me of the long and expensive journey that lay ahead.

Keratoconus (KC) is a rare and degenerative eye disease that occurs when your usually dome –shaped cornea becomes cone-shaped causing blurry and distorted vision which when left untreated or uncorrected can lead to been declared legally blind. Because our pupils open wider at night, the pupil is exposed to more of the irregular corneal surface in KC sufferers making night vision and light sensitivity far more pronounced. There is no concrete evidence but it is thought that the cause of KC is oftentimes genetic or the result of rubbing one’s eyes.

The world with keratoconus

Treatment for keratoconus

There is no cure for keratoconus but the progression can be slowed or stopped with a procedure called crosslinking which is performed to strengthen the cornea, this is commonly known as epi-on (noninvasive procedure) or epi-off (which involves surgical removal of the corneal epithelium during the procedure). A corneal ring implant known as Intacs is another option available which helps to flatten the peak of the corneal cone. Then as a last resort, a corneal transplant can be performed as well which is something around 20% of people with KC will require.  

Crosslinking procedure

Glasses and soft lenses do not help to correct vision in a keratoconic eye so once an eye is relatively stable, usually a few months after having crosslinking done, vision is corrected by using either RGP (rigid gas permeable) lenses or scleral lenses. Finding the right lens is a long process of trial and error and can take years to get right but for me personally, In my left eye which is my KC eye, I went from 20/317 vision to 20/65 vision once I received my scleral lens (20/200 is legally blind) so the struggle is well worth it in the end.

My personal KC kit and part of the everyday morning routine


The chances are if you have KC that no one around you will understand it or even have heard about it. It can be a daunting and lonely road so it is best to join a keratoconus group on Facebook or a similar site where you can ask questions or just share your struggles, invite those closest to you to join as well so that they can understand what you are going through. In the end though, KC is not a death sentence, the vast majority of people will still be able to drive and work a regular job and in time, you do adapt to the changes. I still get to write which is something that I love. All of the procedures and lenses mentioned above are relatively new and although advancement is slow due to the rarity of the condition, it is there and the options you have available to you today simply did not exist 1 or 2 generations ago. It is a good time to be alive.

The Old Testament Case for Nonviolence (book review)

I have done a lot of study on the atonement and hell in recent years, now the next topic that I have started to tackle is the violent depictions of God in the Old Testament and how to reconcile them with the clearest image of the Father we have available to us which is the non-violent, peacemaker Son Jesus. So I was thrilled when Matthew Curtis Fleischer's book, the Old Testament Case for nonviolence came across my path for a review opportunity as it had been on my radar for some time already.

The book starts with Matthew describing the problem of violence in the Old Testament in a way that even Richard Dawkins does not get close too. The frequent mass killings of men, women and children, sometimes for seemingly insignificant reasons or through no fault of their own. The commands to kill brothers, friends and neighbors. Even one particular story where God causes His enemies to cannibalize their own children. Or the story when a city was to be destroyed but the soldiers got to spare the young virgins as the spoils of war. Not to mention the very politically incorrect shunning of the blind, lame, dwarves, hunchbacks, the visually impaired and anyone who had suffered the misfortune of having crushed testicles. This goes on for a number of pages and chapter 1 pulls no punches and you start thinking to yourself, how is he going to come back from this? By the way, you can read chapter 1 for free by clicking over here.

I share a lot in common with Matthew, we both see Jesus as the final word on Christian ethics and living, the culmination and perfect revelation of God the Father and because of this, we both believe that Christians are called to nonviolence. And I am extremely glad for having read this book as I have learned so much from it. For example, it had not occurred to me before that Israel never had a proper military before they became a monarchy, or that they were prohibited from stockpiling weapons. Israel as a nation was highly dependent on God to fight their battles for them. No Jew reading the scriptures would think of the Old Testament as glorying in war, rather, they would have seen Gods protective hand over them.

Similarly, Israel's conquests were all about land. It is interesting to consider that the Levites were never granted a portion of the land in Israel and that we the church are a kingdom of priests. In other words, we do not have land to defend or fight for, the kingdom of God is not defined by nationalities or lines drawn in the sand, thus, we the church operate under a wholly different set of principles to what the nation of Israel did.

As much as I loved this very readable book, I must say though that I don't wholly agree with some of the books primary arguments. The greatest of which is that God chose to reveal His ways and nature incrementally to His people. To be clear, this is not an idea that I completely reject. Matthew makes good and I believe a compelling case for the giant leaps forward the nation of Israel lived by compared to the surrounding nations of the time. What seems savage to us was fairly tame and revolutionary for its day. And that goes for war, the treatment of woman, slaves and more.

There is a lot of progressive revelation seen in the scriptures, an obvious example would be Jesus' prohibition of divorce where Moses had been more lenient. But to say that God permits something or relents to mans poor ideas and choices is hardly the same as arguing that God partakes in those sins Himself. Where I think the OT Case for Nonviolence falls short is that it concedes that God acted violently in times past because man was not ready for a nonviolent God and had to be slowly brought to a place where he could accept a God of nonviolence. I find this unconvincing. Yes, we meet people where they are at and we teach them at a level that they can comprehend. We are all on that road ourselves too, we have right beliefs and wrong ones but that does not mean that we partake in error ourselves because someone is not as far along the path as we might be. 

I am still on a personal journey to reconcile the violence of the Old Testament with the way of the Prince of Peace. This book has not settled all of those questions for me but it has made a valuable contribution to that conversation and I feel far more enlightened for having read it.

I received this book to review from Speakeasy in exchange for an honest review, and honestly, it's fantastic and contains a wealth of valuable insights for one searching for answers on this topic. Once again, go read chapter 1 over here and if it grips you as it did me, go get it on Amazon.

Friday, 11 October 2019

Examining Penal Substitutionary Atonement Part 2

Welcome back! This is part 2 in a series taking a critical look at the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement which will end off by offering some more constructive ideas to pursue, if you need to catch up or are not sure what penal substitution is, part 1 can be view by clicking over here.

Logical Objections to Penal Substitution

What I said so far in part 1 might shock some people. On the Apprising Ministries website for example, Ken Silva posted an excerpt from an interview done between Phil Johnson and John MacArthur. They were discussing a quote from a Christian author’s book that also dared to question the penal substitutionary view of the atonement. This was what MacArthur had to say:-

“It sounds like the language of a flat-out anti-Christian pagan atheist mocking the cross of Jesus. That’s mockery. That’s…that’s outright mockery… But this is not even Christian thinking. There’s nothing about looking at the Word of God there. There’s nothing about trying to interpret the Scripture... This is the worst kind of stuff because it sows seeds of doubt in the most fragile…But that’s not even Christianity, that is an attack on Christianity so to call yourself an evangelical and attack the heart and soul of the gospel… That’s not an evangelical viewpoint, that’s a heretic. And that’s…and if you have this mass of ‘professing Christian people’ that make up the large part of the church, the visible church, with no discernment, with no real theological understanding, then this stuff can be very, very seductive to them (1).

I open with this because I realize that some people are going to look at what I have written and have the same knee jerk reaction as MacArthur did to another authors book. I certainly do not feel that I am not attacking the “heart and soul of the gospel” as MacArthur would say when I look at the weaknesses of the penal substitutionary model. As Christians we all affirm that Jesus saves. What we are looking at here though is HOW the atonement is salvific. While we can disagree on this and still be brothers, I believe it is still important to look at because the nature of the atonement has a lot to say about the nature of God Himself. As for me, when I began to meditate on these things, the walls of PST fell like a stack of cards built on an airplane landing strip. In addition to the scriptures mentioned in the previous post and ones that we will still look at, I had several logical objections against PST as well which had no satisfactory answers. Questions like these:-

1 – Does the cross deal with an offended God or with broken man? In Christ’s death and resurrection, who was He healing?
2 – Is it just to punish the innocent while the guilty go free? Would a judge pardon a man sentenced to death because an innocent man volunteered to take his place? What would you think of such a judge if such a scenario had to take place?  Could you call him just?
3 – Can God not freely forgive people? Forgiveness is something God expects of us, it is part of Paul’s definition of love, “love keeps no record of wrongs”. But according to a retributive definition of justice, God cannot freely forgive; He still demands that the debt be paid. Yet Jesus had no problem forgiving people of their sins while He walked the earth. Something here is amiss.
4 - Penal substitution claims that in order for God to satisfy His retributive justice, Jesus had to endure the exact punishment that was due for all of humanity. When we consider His suffering and death, albeit as horrific, excruciating and awful as it was, is it comparable with the whole of humanity throughout all ages (maybe a 100 Billion people) burning in an eternal lake of fire forever and ever? The transaction just does not seem to balance.
5 - It has been stated by some that penal substitution is a form of “cosmic child abuse”(2). A Father who delights in the suffering of His only begotten Son at His own hands. While this is an extreme statement to make it is how many people interpret PST. It is incredible how many atheists blog about this as one of the main reasons why they reject Christianity. Are we turning people away from God with our message?
6 – Is Biblical justice retributive or restorative? Consider Zechariah 7:9 in your answer.

“Thus says the LORD of Hosts: Execute true justice, show mercy and compassion everyone to his brother.”
7 – All ancient religions and pagan deities required a sacrifice (oftentimes one’s own son or a virgin) in order to be appeased. How is God ‘set apart’ from the false gods in PST?
8 – Is sacrifice associated with cleansing or with punishment in scripture?
9 – Can God, who is one(3), ever separate or forsake Himself? Not just in the sense that the Father could not look on the Son but in that there are needs in the Father that are contrary to those found in Jesus. One cannot look on sin, the other is a called a friend of sinners, one seeks to punish, the other seeks to save. How does that work?
10 - If the cross was indeed about satisfying the Father’s wrath, did Jesus succeed? The Bible has much to say about God’s coming wrath, “the day of the Lord” is spoken of throughout scripture. How does it all fit together? Where is the scripture that directly speaks about God pouring His wrath out on His Son?

Penal substitution proof texts

Before we can proceed to what I think is a more accurate understanding of the atonement we still need to look at a few more verses that are used in support of PST. Perhaps you thought of some of them in response to my final question above. The big one that we must address is found in Isaiah 53:10 and it reads:-

But the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, and the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand (4).

This is the go-to verse for penal substitution in the Bible. It is the one and only place where in black and white it seemingly suggests that God found pleasure in executing Jesus and so it is vitally important that we address it here. My first counterpoint would be that the surrounding context, particularly verses 5 through 7, have already told us that it was wicked men who, thinking they were doing God’s work, were responsible for killing Jesus. If “it pleased God to crush Him” is indeed the best translation of this verse (and there is reason to believe otherwise) then surely the idea behind it would not be that God actually took pleasure in the torture and killing of His Son but rather it would better be understood within the concept that Jesus, being offered as our guilt offering, was within the framework of the godheads plan of redemption.

I just mentioned that I believe the words “It pleased God to crush Him” are not the best translation of this verse at all. It is interesting to see how the Septuagint translates this verse bearing in mind that the Septuagint would have been the translation that Jesus and those around Him would have had access to and read from. It is a Greek translation of the Old Testament and is hundreds of years older than the Hebrew texts that our modern Bibles are translated from. This older manuscript reads as follows:-

And the Lord desires to cleanse him from his blow. If you give an offering for sin, your soul shall see a long-lived offspring (5).

This is very different from what the latter Masoretic Text says and lines up beautifully with what Peter said on the day of Pentecost. Wicked men killed Him but God desired to heal Him from His wound and raised Him up again. Many of the early church fathers quoted this verse from the Septuagint translation in their writings as well, Clement of Rome in the Epistle to the Corinthians, Justin Martyr in the First Apology and Dialog with Trypho, Augustine in Harmony of the Gospels and John Chrysostom in Homolies on First Corinthians (6). In light of the older Greek manuscripts, the witness of the early church and the simple rule of thumb in letting scripture interpret scripture, this translation of Isaiah 53:10 seems to be the better of the two.

Jesus dies as a guilt offering

There is something else that we have not considered in Isaiah 53:10 yet as well. The very verse that is quoted to prove PST also contains a severe obstacle to the theory. Verse 10 speaks of an offering for sin, many translations including the NASB, the ESV and the Young’s Literal Translation equate it with the guilt offering described in Leviticus 7. The guilt offering was to be offered when someone had unintentionally profaned something holy. This is interesting because Isaiah 53 says that we thought that God was punishing Jesus when in actuality verse 3 reveals Jesus was despised, rejected and punished by men (7). It is also interesting that this type of offering would normally be associated with profaning the Temple or Tabernacle which both point to Jesus as well (8). In an act that completely went over the heads of the people; Jesus was betrayed for 30 pieces of silver and the crowds handed him over to be killed as their guilt offering. Why is this a stumbling block against the popular view of the atonement in today’s Westernized church? I believe it is because if penal substitution were true, then Jesus would have died to cover the Father’s guilt for profaning something holy, His own Son. Those are heavy words worthy of meditation.

In conclusion, I hope that one can see that to doubt PST is not to reject the gospel, it is not an attack on Christianity and it is not a mockery of the cross of Jesus as John MacArthur says. I hope that the points that I have made are at the very least compelling enough to be considered for further reflection. 

1 -
2 -
Steve Chalke, The Lost Message of Jesus, 182, 183.
3 – Deuteronomy 6:4.
4 – New American Standard Version translation used.
5 -
A New English Translation of the Septuagent, Edited by Albert Pitersma and Benjmin G Wright, 2007, Oxford University Press, Inc.
6 –  See Clement of Rome: (Epistle to the Corinthians, Sec. 16), Justin Martyr: (First Apology, Ch 51), Justin Martyr: (Dialog with Trypho, Ch 13), Augustine: (Harmony of the Gospels, Book 1, Section 47) and John Chrysostom: (Homilies on First Corinthians, Homily 38).
7 – Isaiah 53: 3-4.
8 – See John 2:19 and Hebrews 9:11.