Thursday, 30 August 2012

The Tree planted by God and the Tree planted by Men

My brother recently asked me to read this post by Joe Hayward at Evangelist Changing on the penal substitution debate.  Needless to say, I haven't read it just yet (deadlines, deadlines, and more deadlines...), but it got me thinking of what it is I actually believe was effected at the cross - was it a simple legal transfer of God's righteousness onto humanity, or is there something more?

A few thoughts came to me as I wandered here and there upon the earth...

Firstly, the doctrine of penal substitution certainly hits the mark with regards to the efficacy of our standing before God.  That is, 'God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.'  This much is fairly clear to me.  

Secondly, however, to stay at this level of a legal transfer of sin and righteousness seems to miss the mark of what actually occurred at Golgotha.  On the cross the glory of God is revealed through the obedient death of the Son.  This brings up two questions: what is God's glory, and how is it revealed on the cross?  The first can be answered by saying that God's glory is his substance, his innermost being.  This can be further understood with reference to Hebrews 1:3, that 'the Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being...'  The pattern of God's glory is fundamentally one of Trinitarian kenosis.  That is, that in pouring himself out in his entirety to the Son, the Father's glory is revealed in the Son, who reflects back that glory to the Father.  The glory of God is his kenotic, self-emptying love, which spreads ever outward through the Holy Spirit, who breaks up any possibility of God being simply a dialectic of self-contained love between Father and Son, like a kind of mutual admiration society.  For the second question, one can say that on the cross, through his (relatively) unwilling obedience to the Father's will, Christ enacts this same kenosis of self-emptying by dying a horrifyingly lingering death.  In this, the glory of God (his kenotic substance of mutual, out-going love) his revealed.  See: Isaiah 40:5.

What does this mean then?  It means that along with penal substitution, on the tree planted by men Christ reverses the original sin of Adam's disobedience on the tree planted by God.  The tree planted by God was desirable (to look at, to eat, and to make one wise), whereas the tree planted by men, as an expression of man's wickedness, is wholly undesirable.  By submitting himself to total self-emptying without remainder on the tree planted by men, Christ reinstates humanity's position before God, recreates the species in the image of God, and pays the penalty for our original sin.  The concept of penal substitution, then, can be upheld, but with the proviso that it doesn't go far enough.  The cross is not simply a legal transfer of righteousness, but a reversal of humanity's fallen state of disobedience through obedience.

Anyway, must go and read that blog post...:)   

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