J.I. Packer

What Can We Know about the Father’s Involvement in the Crucifixion?

Written by J. I. Packer |
Thursday, September 7, 2023
Paul shows, and shares, his awareness that the God of Jesus remains the God of Job, and that the highest wisdom of the theological theorist, even when working under divine inspiration as Paul did, is to recognize that he is, as it were, gazing into the sun, whose very brightness makes it impossible for him fully to see it; so that at the end of the day he has to admit that God is much more to him than theories can ever contain, and to humble himself in adoration before the one whom he can never fully analyze.

Faith Knowledge and Mystery
What sort of knowledge of God’s action in Christ’s death may we have? That a man named Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate around AD 30 is common historical knowledge, but Christian beliefs about his divine identity and the significance of his dying cannot be deduced from that fact alone. What further sort of knowledge about the cross, then, may Christians enjoy?
The answer, we may say, is faith knowledge: by faith we know that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. Yes, indeed; but what sort of knowledge is faith knowledge? It is a kind of knowledge of which God is both giver and content. It is a Spirit-given acquaintance with divine realities, given through acquaintance with God’s word. It is a kind of knowledge that makes the knower say in one and the same breath, “Whereas I was blind, now I see” (John 9:25 KJV) and “Now we see in a mirror, dimly . . . now I know in part” (1 Cor. 13:12 NKJV). For it is a unique kind of knowledge that, though real, is not full; it is knowledge of what is discernible within a circle of light against the background of a larger darkness; it is, in short, knowledge of a mystery, the mystery of the living God at work.
“Mystery” is used here as it was by Charles Wesley when he wrote:
’Tis mystery all! The immortal dies!Who can explore his strange design?In vain the firstborn seraph triesTo sound the depths of love divine!1
“Mystery” in this sense (traditional in theology) means a reality distinct from us that in our very apprehending of it remains unfathomable to us: a reality that we acknowledge as actual without knowing how it is possible, and that we therefore describe as incomprehensible. Christian metaphysicians, moved by wonder at the world, speak of the created order as “imagery,” meaning that there is more to it, and more of God in it, than they can grasp; and similarly Christian theologians, taught by revelation, apply the same word to the self-revealed and self-revealing God, and to his work of reconciliation and redemption through Christ.
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Substitution and Divine Love

Written by J.I. Packer |
Wednesday, April 19, 2023
Christ’s death for me guarantees my preservation to glory. Christ’s death for me is the measure and pledge of the love of the Father and the Son to me. Christ’s death for me calls and constrains me to trust, to worship, to love, and to serve.

The penal substitution model has been criticized for depicting a kind Son placating a fierce Father in order to make him love man, which he did not do before. The criticism is, however, inept, for penal substitution is a Trinitarian model, for which the motivational unity of Father and Son is axiomatic. The New Testament presents God’s gift of his Son to die as the supreme expression of his love to men. “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son” (John 3:16 KJV). “God is love…Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:8–10 KJV). “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). Similarly, the New Testament presents the Son’s voluntary acceptance of death as the supreme expression of his love to men. “[He] loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends” (John 15:13–14 KJV). And the two loves, the love of Father and Son, are one: a point that the penal substitution model, as used, firmly grasps.
Furthermore, if the true measure of love is how low it stoops to help, and how much in its humility it is ready to do and bear, then it may fairly be claimed that the penal substitutionary model embodies a richer witness to divine love than any other model of atonement, for it sees the Son at his Father’s will going lower than any other view ventures to suggest. That death on the cross was a criminal’s death, physically as painful as (if not more painful than) any mode of judicial execution that the world has seen; and that Jesus endured it in full consciousness of being innocent before God and man, and yet of being despised and rejected, whether in malicious conceit or in sheer fecklessness, by persons he had loved and tried to save—this is ground common to all views, and tells us already that the love of Jesus, which took him to the cross, brought him appallingly low. But the penal substitution model adds to all this a further dimension of truly unimaginable distress, compared with which everything mentioned so far pales into insignificance. This is the dimension indicated by Denney—“that in that dark hour He had to realize to the full the divine reaction against sin in the race.”[1] Owen stated this formally, abstractly, and nonpsychologically: Christ, he said, satisfied God’s justice
…for all the sins of all those for whom he made satisfaction, by undergoing that same punishment which, by reason of the obligation that was upon them, they were bound to undergo. When I say the same I mean essentially the same in weight and pressure, though not in all accidents of duration and the like.[2]
Jonathan Edwards expressed the thought with tender and noble empathy:
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What Knowing God Involves

Written by J.I. Packer |
Wednesday, March 22, 2023
Knowing God involves, first, listening to God’s word and receiving it as the Holy Spirit interprets it, in application to oneself; second, noting God’s nature and character, as his word and works reveal it; third, accepting his invitations and doing what he commands; and fourth, recognizing and rejoicing in the love that he has shown in thus approaching you and drawing you into this divine fellowship.

A Complex Business
It is clear, to start with, that “knowing” God is of necessity a more complex business than “knowing” another person, just as “knowing” my neighbor is a more complex business than “knowing” a house or a book or a language. The more complex the object, the more complex is the knowing of it. Knowledge of something abstract, like a language, is acquired by learning; knowledge of something inanimate, like Ben Nevis or the British Museum, comes by inspection and exploration. These activities, though demanding in terms of concentrated effort, are relatively simple to describe. But when one gets to living things, knowing them becomes a good deal more complicated. One does not know a living thing till one knows not merely its past history but how it is likely to react and behave under specific circumstances. A person who says, “I know this horse,” normally means not just “I have seen it before” (though the way we use words, he might mean only that); more probably, however, he means “I know how it behaves, and can tell you how it ought to be handled.” Such knowledge comes only through some prior acquaintance with the horse, seeing it in action and trying to handle it oneself.
In the case of human beings, the position is further complicated by the fact that, unlike horses, people keep secrets. They do not show everybody all that is in their hearts. A few days are enough to get to know a horse as well as you will ever know it, but you may spend months and years doing things in company with another person and still have to say at the end of that time, “I don’t really know him at all.” We recognize degrees in our knowledge of our fellow men. We know them, we say, well, not very well, just to shake hands with, intimately, or perhaps inside out, according to how much, or how little, they have opened up to us.
Thus, the quality and extent of our knowledge of other people depends more on them than on us. Our knowing them is more directly the result of their allowing us to know them than of our attempting to get to know them. When we meet, our part is to give them our attention and interest, to show them good will, and to open up in a friendly way from our side. From that point, however, it is they, not we, who decide whether we are going to know them or not.
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