Should we sing “the father’s wrath completely satisfied”?

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A friend recently asked on social media for recommendations of newish songs for their church to learn. One I mentioned was the Sovereign Grace song, “Jesus Thank you” by Pat Sczebel .  Another friend commented that whilst they too love this song, they struggle a bit with the chorus which goes:

Your blood has washed away my sin
Jesus, thank You
The Father’s wrath completely satisfied
Jesus, thank You
Once Your enemy, now seated at Your table
Jesus, thank You

My other friend’s concern was that by singing of the Father’s wrath being satisfied, we risk dividing the Trinity and ascribing an attribute to the Father to the exclusion of the Son and the Spirit. We risk thinking of the Father being holy and wrathful and the son being loving and merciful. Some clumsy misunderstandings of the doctrine of Penal Substitution describe the cross in this way so that Jesus is the innocent victim and his Father takes out his anger against us on him.

Such a view of God and the Cross would be unhelpful. It would imply a difference in nature between Father and Son.  It would turn the Cross into something excruciatingly immoral and abusive.  Would we better then to sing “the wrath of God completely satisfied.” Well interestingly, Bob Kauflin from SGM joined briefly in the conversation and said that he would now encourage song writers to use the latter phrase in preference to “the Father’s wrath” in order to avoid such misunderstandings.

I can see the case for the change but I would, in the context of this song, I am happy to stick with the existing lyric. We need to be alert to potential misunderstandings but I don’t think it is actually wrong theologically if understood in context. Here’s why.

First of all, we need to remember that we are dealing with poetry here that is seeking to capture truth from Scripture in a manner that is singable. In the same way, Stuart Townend’s hymn “How Deep the Father’s Love for us” has been criticised for  suggesting that there was a split in the Trinity at Calvary when “the Father turns his face away” should be seen as a legitimate rendering of “My God why have you forsaken me.” So, too the recognition of the Father’s wrath is important if we are to bring out all the detailed, nuanced depths of what Scripture teaches us about The Trinity and The Atonement.

The song is a reflection on Isaiah 53 and previously I’ve picked up on how people are uncomfortable with the language of “crushing” being used in the song and the prophecy. We are confronted with the hard truth that Jesus experience of being crushed was not merely passive. It’s not that “he was crushed”, “he was crucified”, “he was killed.” Rather, Isaiah 53 makes it clear that this was God’s will. And it is necessary for our salvation that we don’t see this solely as a passive event where Jesus ends up on the cross incidentally or even that Jesus was only executed at the hands of humans, certainly not that it is a suicidal act. Rather, if death is the punishment for sin, then it is God who punishes and so God who brings that punishment to bear on Christ.

Now, given that Jesus is fully God as well as fully man, we need to be clear that this isn’t about the human bit of Jesus getting punished by God. So we are right to say that at Calvary, one person of the Trinity, The Father, acted towards another person of the Trinity “The Son.” Just as that one person, The Father, acts in sending the Son and the Spirit.

So, Isaiah 53 and the song lyrics of both “Jesus Thank You” and “How Deep the Fathers Love For Us” enable us to appreciate the distinction of persons in the Trinity, There is one God in three persons. However, we also need to be careful in so doing not to deny the oneness and the equality of God.  So how do we do that?

Well, this is where the Doctrine of ~Appropriation comes in.  This Doctrine means that we recognise that there is a certain appropriateness or fittingness to the actions of the persons.  Letham explains it this way:

“While all three persons are engaged in every aspect of our creation, preservation and salvation, each action is most appropriate to one of the three rather than the others. Only the Son became incarnate, not the Father, or the Holy Spirit. Only the Son died on the Cross, not the Father or the Spirit.”[i]

So, we may think of specific actions in terms of one person whilst recognising that through the doctrine of  Inseparable Operations, the activity of one person is the activity of all. We can particularly associate a characteristic such as sovereignty with one person of the Trinity whilst knowing that it applies properly to all persons because of God’s one nature and single will.

We can therefore sing in terms of Jesus satisfying the wrath of the Father and it being the Father’s will to crush him whilst being clear that it was God’s wrath, Father, Son and Spirit.  To make this clear I would ensure that we sing such lyrics in context by way of other songs, prayers, liturgy and readings which emphasise the oneness of God.

[i] Robert Letham, Systematic Theology, 110.

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