Last summer, I moved from Rhode Island to Dallas, Texas to start the ThM Program at Dallas Seminary.  As you can imagine, moving a household 1,700 miles and literally single-handedly, involved a tremendous amount of details.  Naturally, some things fell through the cracks, like an old oil heating bill.  Thankfully, the agressiveness of the collection industry would soon remind me of my neglect.  So one day, I received a call from a very gruff sounding person, with heavily accented Rhode Island dialect indicating that they were expecting payment and when could I deliver.  After indicating to her that I would have to examine my budget to see how I was going to pay this bill, once again the demands of life knocked it right out of sight.  She would call and I would assure her I would take care of.  Now I really did not like talking to this lady.  She wanted something and her voice sounded mean.  I wanted to avoid her.

After some time, I received a call from a number I did not recognize.  Only to discover it was another person trying to collect on the same debt.  Only this time, the person on the other end was quite pleasant.  I explained to her where I was on things.  She understood that sometimes we fall behind and life circumstances become challenging.  With that, she gently persuaded me to work as quickly as possible to get this out of my hair so it would no longer be a nuisance.  She motivated to really want to take of this debt so that I could get it off my plate and out of my books.

It seems to me that we have this very same reaction to God.  When reflecting upon the person and attributes of God, are we  prone to shudder at His wrath but cling to His love as if the dichotomous attributes could not belong to the same person.    We are naturally drawn, I think, to the softer side of God but don’t want anything to do with harshness, anything that speaks of wrath, judgment or condemnation.   Some throughout history, have even rejected this harsher side to embrace the soft side, which has impacted theological and doctrinal positions concerning the fall of man, sin, hell and the cross.  Unfortunately, there is no “softer side” but I’ll get to that in a minute.

I recently did a research paper on examining inherited guilt through the fall of man in response to the doctrine of ancestral sin.  Orthodox theology rejects Augustine’s contention that the fall of man created an inheritance of condemnation.  They believe that death merely was a corrupted state that in no ways would undermine the imago Dei nor result in a removal of the supernatural gift that would infuse a sin principle, thus subjecting humanity to condemnation.  So, the idea of total depravity is rejected because it is viewed as contradicting God’s attribute of love for His creation.

During my research, I came across this paper Ancestral Versus Original Sin:  An Overview with Implications for Psychotherapy. Here is a statement from the abstract

It is suggested that the doctrine of ancestral sin naturally leads to a focus on human death and Divine compassion as the inheritance of Adam, while the doctrine of orignal sin shifts the center of attention to human guilt and Divine wrath.  It is further posited that the approach of the ancient church points to a more therapeutic than juridicial approach to pastoral care and counseling.

And later says “Love, in fact, is the heart and soul of the theology of the early Church Fathers and of the Orthodox Church.”

Now I contend that the transgressions in the garden of Eden most clearly had an impact on all humanity.  God’s decree of death aptly was enforced through disobedience and the covenant relationship that exchanged obedience for God’s uninterrupted relationship and provision, was broken.  The loss of innocence through Adam’s sin would now make man morally responsible for their transgressions incurring a penalty of judgment, and thus condemnation.  Therefore, the death experienced for all, as stated in Romans 5:12 would consist of this judgment.  This was the nutshell of my argument based on Genesis 2:17; 3:7-8 as well as New Testament support, particularly Romans 5:12-21 .  And none of this has anything to do with the love of God.

The problem with the above statement and is reflected in Orthodox theology, is that infers that since God is love, it contradicts the occurance of wrath and judgment.   If God is love, he CAN”T assign ramifications of his other attributes, most notably His righteousness nor could humanity be so marred from the original state in which they were created.  So the idea that the human condition would be impacted by the fall of man resulting in total depravity must necessarily reject the LOVE of God or at least assign a lesser signficance to it.

This is most pronounced in the liberal branches of theology, that have denied the existence of hell or the banishment to it, the notion of God’s wrath, or the idea that the cruxifiction of Christ was in any way attributed to the demands of God.  The idea that a loving God would subject His son to a horrible death and moreover require it is tantamount to child abuse and therefore inconsistent with God’s character of love.  Now I would not equate Orthodox theology with liberal theology, particularly since there is a dividing line in their Christology but the reasons for rejecting total depravity are similar.

I think this is a false dichotomy and one that undermines the person of God and his righteous demands.  It confuses terms and imposes independent relationships upon each other.  It is misapplying one attribute towards the actions incurred with respect to another attribute.  It asserts that because one attribute exists there cannot be an impact on the result of another attribute.

God is the sum total of His attributes.   He is as much omnipotent as much as He is love as much as He is righteous.  God does love His creation and His desire has always been to make Himself known.  But He is righteous and holy. So God cannot deny Himself (2 Timothy 11-13).  He must act against offenses to Him.  That does not mean He has no love for He cannot deny that either.  And it is not as if the attributes cancel each other out, or one is weighed more heavily against the other.  God loves but He also demands justice.

So when He set the terms and established a covenant with the first man, it was contingent upon his obedience.  The failure of man to abide by this covenant would radically change not only the composition of the relationship between man and God but would subject man to a penalty – death.  I believe the proclamation of death when weighed against the complete witness of Scripture naturally includes condemnation for which propitiation would be needed in order to satisfy the demands of God in His holiness. God cannot lie; He cannot go back on His word.  If He has pronounced a particular judgment it is not out of a lessening of His love but in full support of His character, and that being the sum total of His attributes.

I think it is unfortunate when we dismiss a particular aspect of the impact of the fall because it doesn’t sit right with our consideration of who God is.  If we have isolated particular attributes of God and determined that others cannot apply to certain situations, I think that will necessarily undermine both the work and the person of God.  Even more dangerous, is that by creating this false dichotomy, we are imposing our ideas of how God does things unto situations that we deem unjust.  And isn’t that what we are doing, imposing our own sense of justice and saying one attribute is important but the other one is less signficant or even non-existent?

So getting back to the above statement that infers that a theology that supports total depravity because it focuses on wrath and condemnation and therefore, is one that would yield less love I think is a mis-statement.  Total depravity in no ways undermines either the love of God or His corresponding actions to treat man accordingly.  Nor is God less love, if wrath and corresponding condemnation exists.  Total depravity reflects a statement of the reality of our condition, that again do not speak against the love of God.  So to say that a ministry that does not have condemnation as a part of its theology is more loving is false.

In fact, I would argue that total depravity compels an urgency for God’s love and saving grace.  Think about it.  If man has any glimmer of self-will to improve his condition, that would necessarily mean a lesser extent of God’s love.  But if being dead in sin means that we have been subjected to a condition that renders us incapable of even responding to God properly but for His prevenient grace, how compelling is that love that will produce an even greater magnitude of love in ministry due to the impact of that grace.

So while we most naturally want to embrace a softer side, I think it behoves us to embrace the total picture, seeing God for who He is and seeing us for who we are.

PS:  Bill taken care of 🙂

    21 replies to "The Softer Side of God"

    • From The Balcony

      Lisa — excellent, excellent post.

    • rayner markley

      ‘Unfortunately, there is no “softer side”…’ Lisa, this seems to be an overstatement, but I understand that you mean love and righteousness are equally components of God’s character and they act together—a good point.

      ‘…if being dead in sin means that we have been subjected to a condition that renders us incapable of even responding to God properly but for His prevenient grace, how compelling is that love that will produce an even greater magnitude of love in ministry due to the impact of that grace.’ However, God’s grace is limited in that it is applied to only the elect, while his justice and wrath are applied to everyone. In that way, God’s love takes a back seat to the condemnation. Or, man’s depravity is total, but God’s love isn’t.

    • Phil McCheddar

      I agree with you, Lisa. I think the co-existence of God’s wrath and love only serves to demonstrates the intensity of the latter, because it is relatively easy to love ‘lovable’ people but it requires much more exertion to love people who provoke you to anger.
      And when I hear about the horrible cruelty inflicted by man against man (eg. Muslims killing family members for converting from Islam to Christianity) I am glad God reacts angrily about those atrocities instead of turning a blind eye.

    • Kara Kittle

      the wrath of God is set upon the disobedient, that does not mean He did not love them, but that disobedience must be punished. Someone once told me that regardless of what they do, God still loves them. I answered “you’re a parent, now you have a child who likes to stick forks into electric outlets and you as the loving parent have some choices. Either you spank the child for trying to do it because you love it, you lovingly speak to the child, or you cover up the outlet never addressing his desire to keep sticking the fork in there. Well as much as you love your child, if he sticks his fork in there, he’ll be dead.”

      God in his softness removes the desire from us to keep sticking forks in outlets. We must be punished when we keep trying to. God is a loving parent. But when we continually provoke Him, what do we expect?

    • Lisa Robinson

      Kara, I think you’ve missed the point slightly. Disobedience is bound in the sin nature that is endemic in human nature of which actions are a natural result. It’s not that God is striking down folks for wrong action but He must necessarily judge the condemnation that has now become part of the human condition as a result of the fall.

      Also, when you say “we must be punished for trying to”. Are you referring to non-believers, believers or both? If you are referring to believers, Jesus took our punishment on the cross so I don’t see how wrong action renders punishment because that would make the transaction on the cross futile. God does render discipline though, as Hebrews 12 indicates.

    • Kara Kittle

      Let me re-iterate…

      As a parent, you deal with your children according to their nature. You punish them accordingly and by what means you see fit. That is no indication you abuse them and beat them for every little movement they make.

      Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child but correction drives it from them. Now I did not in any way imply when a child is dead from sticking the fork in outlet was God’s fault…the electricity killed the child. And that’s what I said and meant. God has forewarned us not to do that stupid thing and if we disobey it isn’t God’s fault, it’s ours.

      God chastises those He loves, and He does it in love and wisdom. But very clearly the Bible states the wrath of God is poured out on the disobedient.

      I did not imply God is abusive in any way. But He is strict, and a disciplinarian.

    • Phil McCheddar

      Lisa, I get your point that God punishes man for his inherited guilt and not just for his sinful actions. The fact that his sinful actions are prompted by his inherited sinful nature is a separate point. I did not know that our Orthodox brothers didn’t believe this, though I don’t see it as a major doctrinal difference.

      The concept of inherited guilt doesn’t really have a parallel in the arena of human parents punishing their children, so that analogy is not really applicable here, but on a slight tangent ….
      When I see my child behaving selfishly or spitefully or arrogantly, it is the very fact that I love my child that causes me to be angry at such things. My love for my child means I hate everything in him that disfigures him spiritually, since out of love I want him to be virtuous.

    • Kara Kittle

      God punishes for inherited sin?. A child might be selfish while his brother is not, even though they come from the same gene pool. Selfishness would then be part of his personality. But how he acts on it is what makes the difference.

      God is our parent, He is our Father and the reflection of how natural fathers are supposed to be.

      Ezekiel 18

      19 “Yet you ask, ‘Why does the son not share the guilt of his father?’ Since the son has done what is just and right and has been careful to keep all my decrees, he will surely live.
      20 The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him.
      21 “But if a wicked man turns away from all the sins he has committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, he will surely live; he will not die.
      22 None of the offenses he has committed will be remembered against him. Because of the righteous things he has done, he will live.
      23 Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?

      Your sin is not required of your sons. Neither will they be punished for it if they turn away from it. There is a choice to sin or not to sin.

    • Alden

      Lisa, It seems to me that you have a strange commitment to wrath, which seems indicative of Calvinists. I have to confess, I have never understood Calvinists, although I am trying.

      The issue of original vs ancestral sin has no real impact on either God’s love or wrath. The Orthodox position is simply this: sin entered the world because of Adam, and while we inherited a fallen, sinful nature, we did not inherit Adam’s guilt – that doesn’t even make sense. We all sin because of our own fallen natures, and our guilt is our own. Now, whether we have Adam’s guilt, or our own, the result is essentially the same: we all have guilt. Therefore, if you want to talk about God’s wrath, talk about his wrath against your own sin and guilt, not Adam’s.

      If you study the Gospel of John carefully, you can’t help but come to the Orthodox conclusion that sin is essentially a sickness that we have inherited; that is how Jesus treats it, over and over. Notice throughout all the Gospels, in fact, where Jesus chooses to show his wrath.

      Also, I find your statement, “I think it is unfortunate when we dismiss a particular aspect of the impact of the fall because it doesn’t sit right with our consideration of who God is,” rather bizarre. Where is your commitment, to God, or to the doctrine of total depravity? The concept of original sin was invented by Augustine; however, this is a theory which overlays Scripture – it is not taught clearly in scripture itself. As Jesus said, the scripture was given to reveal himself; it is with the person and character of Jesus that we must start.

      The main difference that I see in the 2 anthropologies is that the Reformed approach is very man-centered, although they claim the opposite; the focus is on how bad we are and what God had to go through to fix it. The Orthodox position (though it is not limited to the Orthodox) is more Theocentric, putting the focus on the fact that we are created in the image of God, with the intention that we are more and more conformed to his image.

    • Lisa Robinson

      Alden, I would agree that wrath is against sin. But how does inheriting sin not carry with it the corresponding guilt.

      In terms of condemnation being a condition upon human nature, I find interesting that you would limit the argument to John. However, even John states “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (John 3:36).

      And then what do you do with these verses here:

      -Eph 2:1-3
      -Eph 5:6
      -Col 3:6

      Not to mention Romans 5:12-21 that clearly speak to the condemnation passed on to man. Specifically vs. 16 “for on the one had judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation” and vs. 18″so then through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men”. Following the flow of though in Romans, doesn’t this speak to the 1) the fact that we all are under judgment because of sin (chapts1-3) and 2) propitiation through Christ death was necessary to alleviate it (Romans 3:24-26).

      To ask the question of where lies the commitment to God or doctrine of total depravity, or to say that reformed theology is less Theocentric, misses the point of the post and does exactly what I’m saying we probably shouldn’t do. It’s all Theocentric. The difference lies into which aspect of His character are we dealing with.

    • Kara Kittle

      2 men, Cain and Abel…which acted on the inherited sin? Which one was God not pleased with?

      Both had inherited sin…

      Why would the Bible say Abel was righteous? Why would the Bible say Lot was righteous, and why was the world saved through Noah?

      All had inherited the sin nature, but the guilt? That was something else.

      Cain murdered Abel because it was in his heart to do so.
      Lot was selfish and chose what he thought was better land, because it was in his heart to do so.
      Noah built an ark on commandment of God, but then got drunk.

      The heart of man is wicked above all else, who can know it?
      David said create within me a NEW heart…

      Thy word have I hid in my heart that I might not…..have the guilt transferred onto me?? No….that I might not sin against Thee.

    • Lisa Robinson

      Kara, I am beginning to wonder if you have cut the book of Romans out of your Bible, especially since once again you refuse to interact with it.

      Honestly, I think you are pretty convinced about your version of sin and guilt, so probably nothing I say will have any value.

    • Alden

      Lisa, If you look at the verses you mention without seeing them through a Reformed lens, they read quite differently. For example, instead of the Reformed notion of sin, think “genetic defect which results in death.” This is not completely accurate, but it does allow us to read the passages differently – overcompensating for our preconceptions, as it were.

      We all sin; that’s a result of our fallen nature. No one (or not I, anyway), denies that. We have sin, and we are guilty, of our own sin. How am I guilty for defects I inherited? If my grandfather was a thief and murderer, sentenced to life in prison, do I have to fill out his sentence if he dies?

      So yes, we all have sin, and yes, we all have guilt. And yes, there is God’s wrath. From the example of Jesus, I suspect that God is furious at how sin holds us in bondage. And for those who willingly participate and encourage that bondage – read Galatians, for example – I don’t doubt they will feel the effects of God’s wrath.

      This still does not infer that we have inherited Adam’s guilt, living in fear of Jonathan Edward’s “angry God.” “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” – free from the law of sin and death. Do we still sin? Of course! Do we fear wrath? no – for there “is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

      By the way, we are told “God is love.” I don’t see a whole lot written about “God is wrath.” I’m not denying his wrath, just that it’s not his predominant characteristic.

    • Kara Kittle

      The Book of Romans is there, I am wondering if you read any more than that as you never seem to know how to refer to God’s judgment and requirements from the OT as well. You seem to love to fall back on John Calvin so much I am wondering if you realize he was just a man teaching his own viewpoint as you and I are.

      Why are you so hung up on sin? Why are you convinced you have to remain a sinner when the Bible so evidently says you are delivered from? What is the whole point of being born again? Why is the commandment given over and over and over to come out of sin?

      Either Jesus did not have enough power to save you at the cross, or ir was just an empty show. You are very quick to point out sin, sin, sin…like you are a Puritan bent on burning everyone who does not fall under the loving gaze of John Calvin.

      When you rely solely on one book, or two and negate the other 64, there is a problem. The Bible is a book that is about the condition of man and the work of salvation and how that salvation changes man’s condition.

      And you are right, nothing you say from the perspective of John Calvin will mean anything to me because I don’t accept it nor do I receive it. John Calvin is not the Gospel. My Bible teaches me all through it that even though I was born in sin, conceived in iniquity, that a Savior shed His own blood for me to redeem me, and sent the Holy Spirit of God to dwell in me so that I am no longer the old person of sin, but a new person in Him.

      Can’t you accept perhaps the wondrous work was not that He defeated sin and death Himself…but also for all who believe in Him? Don’t you understand the sin nature was replaced at the moment of receiving the Spirit of God? Why do you hold on to what you were supposed to get rid of?

    • Lisa Robinson

      Kara, you presuppose way too much on me. I think its funny that you accuse me of focusing on Calvin but you bring it up in every comment, whereas I have mentioned nothing of Calvin. I read the Bible as the inspired and inerrant Word of God and strive as best as possible to not bring presuppositions in but allow the word to say what it says. And yes, I am intent on understanding each book in context of the whole witness of Scripture and see how each book correlates to the revelation of God as outlined from Genesis to Revelation. If at the end it happens to coincide with Calvin’s position, then so be it. I do not worship Calvin but God.

      I would not say I am focused on sin, but asking that we see it for what it is. You ask “don’t I understand that the sin nature was replaced?”. I would say no it was not according to Romans 6-7 indicate that it does not and is something that believers have to contend with. Obviously, you disagree.

      I cite Romans because of its treatment on this subject. If we were speaking of spiritual gifts, I might be focused on I Corinthians. But it doesn’t mean I’m relying on one book.

      And the conclusions drawn on this particular topic in no ways undermines the transaction on the cross, that made alive us alive to God to experience a relationship with Him.

    • Lisa Robinson

      Alden, I hear what you are saying. I honestly do try to take off the reformed glasses and look at Scripture in terms of context and correlation. I will look at those passages again.

      I agree with “God is Love” is endemic in Scripture and His story. Even when He is affronted with grievances, how rich is His love, mercy and grace. Even with the those rebellious people He redeemed to Himself in the OT, how gracious was He. That is our hope and our relief.

    • Kara Kittle

      The sin nature was changed at the cross. When you toss statements from TULIP then there is no presupposition.

      Ephesians 2
      1As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins,
      2in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.
      3All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature[a] and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.
      4But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.

      Were, and used. Those two words indicate prior, before, last week, month, year. Whenever that time was it has passed.

      You will naturally follow up with the works verse, but please do not overlook these. You don’t have to remain a sinner, that was the wonderful work Jesus did and is still doing.

      You will notice at behest of the other blog postings I quoted from the New International Version because for some, the KJV was just too outdated.

    • Lisa Robinson

      Kara, this passage in no ways indicates the elimination of a sin nature. Being made alive to God provides us with the ability to respond to God appropriately and this is quite compatible with Romans 6.

    • Kara Kittle

      Was the church at Rome the only one Paul wrote to? And I seem to recall he was also preaching about circumcision as it pertains to the heart.

      It’s interesting that Paul would even make mention of being taught by Gameliel, the greatest Jewish teacher of the time and many Jews today still refer to him. Paul stressed the obvious conversion, and what is conversion? Is it merely changing from one religion to another? If that were the case then people would be converting every time they had a fight with someone in their church.

      Conversion is deeper, to understand conversion is to understand complete change and it does not come from merely just following Jesus. Peter was told this very thing…after three years of being a disciple, it was not enough for him to just sit and listen and be taught by Jesus. There was a deeper depth he had to go to. That was conversion. Jesus said…when thou art converted, strengthen the brethren. After three years of sitting with Jesus, being taught by him, doing all those things Jesus did, and still not converted. Try to understand that one.

      Theology is not enough to convert anyone. It is the Spirit that changes people whether or not that person ever set foot inside a church. Peter and Paul chastised each other constantly over methods of preaching and doctrine but both believed in being born again. They both stressed to come out sin as Jesus commanded.

    • cheryl u


      I think some of the confusion might come here in the way you are expressing things. You do very often come across as saying that our sin nature was completely done away with when we were born again. I don’t think that is correct either. I believe it is still there but the new nature, the nature of the Spirit, is to be the dominant nature and the one that we yield too. I believe that fits with Scripture as we are constantly told to walk in the Spirit–yield to Him–and not walk according to our own fleshly nature by yielding to it.

      When pressed, that often seems to be what you are saying too. We might very well all be saying the same thing here, but in different ways or emphasizing different concepts. Does that make any sense?

    • Kara Kittle

      I think that the new birth is evident of something new. And there needs to be a continuation in that newness. Of course we have not become perfect yet, but we are never supposed to actually continue walking after the old nature. It is more like a working toward perfection. But we can’t work toward it if we carry the baggage of the old nature.

      Jesus gave us newness of life. And the expectation of living in it. Think about Paul’s conversion. He no longer went around killing Christians (or having them killed) because he realized he was actually doing it to Jesus. But as much as he said he was still doing those things he considered sin was probably not considered sin in other circles. I believe his fight was with his flesh, which had not been redeemed yet, and his spirit which was redeemed.

      It was a matter of which he was going to follow. But he could not do it unless he received that new nature. But all he was, he pointed to the marvelous work and grace that he could now see what needed to change in him, and the change actually happening. For him it did happen. And we never talk about the others in the Bible like Peter who was not an enemy of the church as Paul had been as Saul.

      Once we come to the recognition that we have sinned, we repent of it and don’t do it again. But daily we strive to become perfect as Jesus commanded we should become. That does not make us sinners, because according to the definition of sinner, that is one who is unrepentant. What makes us sin? Ignorance, apathy, laziness and disobedience. That is the great work, Jesus died to pay the penalty, but rose again in newness of life so we might have hope in that newness. Yes, the old nature is done away with and replaced with a new nature.

      And as such, we might not be perfect but as a child we learn more and more as the Spirit leads and teaches. And that is to become the perfect one. But it takes willingness on our part to follow and do those things commanded of us. And the commandments are not too hard. How can Jesus present a bride without spot or blemish when she has not been made clean? She has been made clean by His blood, and by the sprinkling of the word.

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