Is God a Child Abuser?

The Bible teaches that Christ died as a substitute for sinners. God transferred our guilt to Christ, and he bore our punishment (Isaiah 53:6). This satisfied both the wrath and the righteousness of God (Romans 3:23-25), so that He could forgive sin without compromising His holiness. Theologians call this Penal Substitution, and this is what I taught on Sunday.

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Christ on the Cross
Francisco de Zurbarán

Some Christians (and skeptics) claim this is divine child abuse. God is a cruel father unjustly punishing his son for an offense he has not even committed. Such critics have replaced this view of the atonement with another called Christus Victor. The idea is this: Christ in his death and resurrection defeated the devil, sin, and death. This is also biblical (see Hebrews 2:14-14).

The above criticism has a good point: The picture of God having his anger appeased by the death of his innocent Son is a barrier to faith for some people. But the criticism is partly wrong: it assumes God the Father and God the Son have different concerns. It assumes the Father is only concerned with righteousness, and the Son is only concerned with compassion. If that were true, it sounds like the Son saves us from His angry Father! But while we were sinners, God, not just the Son is determined to reconcile with us (2 Corinthians 5:19). God does not stand in another room, waiting for Christ’s work to be completed before he’ll have anything to do with us.

I like both Penal Substitution and Christus Victor explanations of Christ’s death. The first view reminds us that when He wanted to demonstrate His love for us, God substituted himself for us on the cross. God is both just and merciful (Romans 3:24-26). I like the second one because it reminds us that we (and all of creation) were slaves to sin, but are now free through Christ’s victory on the cross.

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About Corey Sharpe

Where do we get our beliefs? Three theological perspectives have significantly shaped my Christian identity: Evangelicalism, the early Methodist tradition and liberation theology. From my coming to faith in a Baptist church and throughout my education in a Baptist school and college, I was nurtured by convictions that emphasized a spiritual rebirth, a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and the centrality of the Bible. Even when I disagree with certain aspects of evangelicalism, it has deeply influenced my sense of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. My seminary studies spawned my interest in early Methodism, particularly its approach to spiritual formation. Its leaders were convinced that only a foundation of doctrine and discipline would lead to a meaningful transformation of the heart and mind. In other words, having the mind of Christ enables me to be more like Christ. Life in a suburban culture obscures the increasing gap between the poor and rich, as well as the Bible’s close identification with the poor. My doctoral work in socio-cultural context exposed me to liberation theology, which helps me see redemptive history as a history of oppressed groups, written from the perspective of the powerless, about a God who is actively involved with the poor in their struggles. I am now the pastor at Huntingtown United Methodist Church in Calvert County, Maryland. Together my wife and I are raising 4 young theologians.
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3 Responses to Is God a Child Abuser?

  1. Birdie Cutair says:

    I agree. God is not a child abuser. If He was, He would have let all of us die and not even cared about sending His son to save us.

  2. Zee Bee says:

    God substituted himself for us on the cross.
    I think this is an important phrase in this discussion. God didn’t simply send someone else (Jesus, His Son) to die for us. As we believe in the Trinity, we must believe that God, Himself, hung on the cross for us. Ergo, I can accept both theories believing that they are not mutually exclusive. However, this is really a toughie! I’m going to do my best to follow you all from Australia! Thanks Corey for this spiritually-stretching blog.

  3. Janice says:

    I agree with Birdie and Zee. How could God be a child abuser when his love is forever and like Zee implied, Jesus was God in the flesh so it was God on the cross.

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