Disclaimer: The following is not intended to be a dogmatic statement of the Orthodox Faith.
There are two contrasting versions of the Gospel. One version says that God doesn’t like you very much. In fact, He hates you and is poised to send down His wrath upon you. But for some reason, even though you don’t deserve it, God decided to pour out His wrath upon His own Son instead of upon you. And after releasing His divine anger upon Christ, His wrath has been appeased and He now no longer hates you. And this version of the Gospel is somehow presented as a gospel of grace and salvation.
Personally, I’m not too interested in a God who created me, then hated me after He created me, and then punished His own innocent Son in order that He may love me again. I’ll leave such a perverse and capricious god to be worshipped by others.
But there is another version of the Gospel which says that God loves you. In fact, He loves you so much that He became a man, died, and rose again in order to liberate you from sin and death. You are not God’s enemy, but rather His precious child who has been held captive by sin, death, and the lies of the devil. The wrath of God is not stored up for you, but rather for those principalities and forces that have barred you from your Father’s loving embrace. (After all, Hell was created not for man but for the devil and his demons. Cf. St. Matthew 25:41) And this version of the Gospel teaches that grace and salvation are supremely epitomized by the redemptive and sacrificial love of Christ on the Cross.
So, will you believe in a gospel that divides the Holy Trinity and has God punishing His own Son? Will you believe in a gospel that portrays a divine judge who cannot stand to look at you until a debt has been paid? Will you believe in a gospel that defines grace as a judicial transaction that has placated an angry god who would otherwise view you with disgust?
Or, will you believe in a Gospel that portrays the infinite, immutable, and unconditional love of the Father for His own children, a Gospel that is infused with the truth of the Creator's unfailing mercy which extends eternally to all mankind?
Our view of the Gospel determines how we view God, ourselves, and others. Healing, love, peace, and brotherhood don’t flow from a doctrine that conditions people to believe that they are worthless sinners who deserve the wrath of a vengeful deity. And people who have such a perverse view of themselves and a perverse view of God usually tend to have a perverse view of others and a perverse view of life.
But those who understand their inherent worth as divine image bearers are inclined to worship the Father out of love rather than fear; and they are inclined to treat their fellow man with dignity, compassion and respect. Those who have a proper view of the Gospel don’t burn heretics at the stake, they don’t divide humanity based on doctrine and dogma, they don’t feel threatened by those who have chosen a different path than their own, they don’t wage wars and kill those that profess a different religion or creed. Those who have truly found salvation in Christ understand that God has called them to simply love all men with the same love that God has loved them.
God does not dangle you over the flames of hell as by the thread of a spider’s web, as Jonathan Edwards declared. Rather, God descended from heaven to earth in order to embrace you in His loving arms and carry you with Him into eternal peace. Our Lord’s outstretched, crucified hands were not an indication of a punitive, forensic transaction; they were proof of an infinite, divine love. This is the good news that can save the world.
Gebre Menfes Kidus