“If love is understood in an abstract and fairly impersonal way, then it becomes difficult to see how, in the same God, such love can co-exist with wrath. But the Scriptures treat God’s love in more dynamic ways…” D. A. Carson, “Atonement in Romans 3:21-26” in “The Glory of the Atonement”, ed C. E. Hill and F. A. James III.
We struggle with how a God of Love just does not say, “forgive and forget.” Some accuse the scriptures themselves of paganism, where sacrifices are offered to appease an angry God. Yet it is God who initiates the work of Salvation – see John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he sent….” Paganism was an attempt to appease a God or gods by human effort. The Gospel is God satisfying God.
We find this in the book of I John. The word for Propitiation, or Atoning Sacrifice (Gk, hilasmos) is found in two places. I John 2:2 and I John 4:10. What is interesting is that I John 2:2 is tied to a statement about God, that “God is Light.” This means something like God is True and God is Righteous, for the context of the passage speaks of truth and of sin.
In the particular passage, I John 1:5-2:2, the idea that God is Light and that we are darkness (sinful) is resolved by the blood of Christ (1:7) as part of being the atoning sacrifice (2:2).
I John 1:5-2:2
5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.
My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. 2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
In I John 4:7-17, we find love. We find the statement that “God is Love.” This passage does not say that God thus decides that we are worthy of love or that his love is unconditional. Rather it is conditional upon the “atoning sacrifice” (v. 10) of Christ. God’s love is resolved by his action of providing a sacrifice: “This is how God showed his love among us: he sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.” v. 9. Love is not in the Bible a cost free and general inclusion, but rather it is a costly sacrifice enabling inclusion.
This is exactly what Carson meant in the quote at the top. In the abstractions of Love and Holiness or Kindness and Justice we find questions such as” How could a loving God requrie blood sacrifice?” In the concrete passages of scripture we find something else; we find an affirmation that the love of God is expressed in his own provision for us. He sent his beloved son to be a sacrifice for sin.
I John 4:7-12
7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.