Let Speeches Fall Silent

Adam Tice’s response to the recent shootings in Orlando was to pen some wonderful text for a new hymn:

Let speeches fall silent and platitudes cease
from hawkers of violence they brand as “peace.”
Let people who suffer find places to speak,
and holders of power give way to the weak.

Let teachers of hatred, suspicion, and fear,
and those who would kill for the views they hold dear,
be turned from their ways and disarmed of their wrath
to walk on a new, more compassionate path.

Forgive us the times we neglected to act;
forgive our excuses for courage we lacked.
God, teach us the wisdom that leads us to grace:
your image is found in our enemy’s face.

Let Speeches Fall Silent COLUMCILLELet Speeches Fall Silent FOUNDATION

Forsyth and Barth on Judgement

In the current of my work on my ‘christology chapter’ for my thesis, I have been struck afresh just how much Forsyth anticipates some of Barth’s best moments, and how both of them have an important word to speak into the renewed debate on penal substitution. Of course, many of Barth’s greatest words are in the small print. This, of course, ought be no suprise: it is the small print that makes up the bulk of his Dogmatics it seems. (On that, is someone able to confirm, or otherwise, for me that Barth once said that the reason that he wrote so much was in order to ‘get the Enlightenent out of my system’?).

One thing (among many) that I love in both Forsyth and Barth is their relentless insistence that neither the divine-human reconciliation, nor its attendent judgement is the work of a third party. The issue here is the primacy and triumph of God’s grace – God’s grace. All satisfaction of the Father flows from God’s grace and love; it does not procure it. As Forsyth insisted, ‘Procured grace is a contradiction in terms. The atonement did not procure grace, it flowed from grace’. Forsyth contends that the judgement work of the Cross is not the work of a ‘pardon-broker’ – God does not hire someone else to do his dirty work! – but is the summit work of the gracious God whose grace is ‘unbought and unpurchaseable’. Here’s the same tune in Barth’s wee print. It just grips my heart and sends me a singing:

Jesus Christ, in His solidarity with “human nature which has sinned could pay the penalty of sin” (Heid. Catech. Qu. 16), and at the same time, in the power of His divinity, could “bear the burden of the wrath of God in His humanity” (17). Without any diminution of His divine majesty, in the exercise of the divine majesty of His love He could enter into this “likeness of sinful flesh” to bear, in the same majesty, the judgment of divine wrath without annihilation, to be and to reveal Himself supremely as divine majesty even in His humiliation, to rise from the dead as conqueror of the judgment to which He had subjected Himself, the first fruits of all who were to follow in His steps. He could drink the cup which had to be drunk. Because He was God Himself, He could subject Himself to the severity of God. And because He was God Himself He did not have to succumb to the severity of God. God had to be severe to be true to Himself in His encounter with man, and thus to be true also to man. God’s wrath had to be revealed against the ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. But only God could carry through this necessary revelation of His righteousness without involving an end of all things. Only God Himself could bear the wrath of God. Only God’s mercy was capable of bearing the pain to which the creature existing in opposition to Him is subject. Only God’s mercy could so feel this pain as to take it into the very heart of His being. And only God’s mercy was strong enough not to be annihilated by this pain. And this that could happen only by the divine mercy is just what did happen on the cross of Golgotha: that double proof of omnipotence in which God did not abate the demands of His righteousness but showed Himself equal to His own wrath; on the one hand by submitting to it and on the other by not being consumed by it. In virtue of this omnipotence God’s mercy could be at one and the same time the deepest and sincerest pity and inflexible and impassible divine strength. He could yield to His own inexorable righteousness and by this very surrender maintain Himself as God. He could reveal Himself at once as the One who as the servant of all bore the punishment of death which we had deserved, and the One who as the Lord of all took from death its power and for ever vanquished and destroyed it. In this twofold sense God’s righteousness triumphed in the death of Jesus Christ. (Church Dogmatics II/1, 400)

Wrath Averted

Cascades of wrath descend on me.
Have done so all my life.
In the midst of life there was death—
Your hot breath upon me.
In the midst of my sin and guilt,
The fire of your love was my torture:
Cascades of wrath always upon me.

Now I cannot escape you,
Your eyes fixed upon me,
Warning of love that is a deeper torture
Than angry hate. Such hate you have not.
Your love is wrathful at my evil
And I cannot say you, ‘Nay!’
Nor raise a protest for my own protection.

If your wrath ceases then I am done.
I am a worm shrivelled, a creature burdened,
With no future love. I am lost
In the futility of your rejection,
Your refusal to honour me
With the fire of your wrath,
The cascades of burning zeal
That must tell me eternally
That you love this soul of mine.

How, Lord shall I escape?
How shall I emerge from the torment
Of your ceaseless love? How shall I regain
The pristine purity of spirit
In which you once created me?
Your wrath—my guilt—I surely know,
But how shall I escape, escape, escape?

Here in my Cross you must come—
Here when the crowd mocks maniacally
And calls this the judgment of my Father
To strike in fury at my mind and heart—
You must come and hide within me.
Be crucified with me, be one with me
For I have myself wholly to be
One with you. Hide in me
For the wrath is now cascading
Out of His heart of love.
All guilt and pain, all sorrow, heaviness,
Confusion of spirit, and foulness of pollution–
These are His wrath you feel.
Contempt and broken pride, sheer loneliness
That knows no loving friend—
These are the things of wrath
That burn within your conscience.

Ah, strong cascades that empty from
The Eternal Bosom, fall upon
The Son He loves, the beloved Son.
He bears that wrath since he is one with me
And all my dread and sorrow cease
In the wrath of love that bears on him
In place of me. Ah, blessed love
Of Father and of Son that shelter me
From wrath that’s truly mine,
The wrath I should endure.

Who can endure such wrath, O Man?
Be still whilst I endure.
See all your sins, your guilts and shames
Dissolve in my love, that love that bears for you
Its holy due. Cascades of human blood
Or blood of beasts cannot erase the shame
Of all the human race. There is no power
But this the holy love that hides you full
Whilst wrath’s full fires expend themselves
Upon my holy Self. Crucified you are with me
And risen in peerless purity
For all eternity. That’s love!

(Geoffrey Bingham)