Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Without God's wrath, where would we be?

Bosco Peter's has another post on the wrath of God-song. I encourage you to vote in the poll there! If you want to discuss what Bosco writes, comment there.

My own comment there is this:

"Reflecting on where you are going with this, Bosco! 
If an outcome of your 'campaign' in this series of posts was the removal of the line (replacement with something 'more acceptable'), then where in song in the 21st century church would we give voice to a cornerstone of the gospel? 
That cornerstone is that God is judge, seeks justice, hates sin, determines to punish perpetrators of sin, reacts to humanity's inhumanity to one another, declares war on evil and determines that sin's power will be overcome by all means necessary (= 'God's wrath').  
Further, it is foundational to the gospel that 'all have sinned': the wrath of God is against us all as sinners. There is no world in which the wrath of God is rightly directed against Hitler, Stalin, and George W. Bush but a huge theological embarrassment for the rest of us nice people who vote social democrat, recycle, and give to Greenpeace.
I vote for keeping the lines as a salutary reminder to all singers that we are sinners, by nature the object of God's wrath, but by the grace of God now formerly that object as God in Christ has satisfied himself that justice has been achieved."

One trouble I have with the kind of talk which plays 'wrath' versus 'love' is that it fails to take account of a reality of life. Wrong happens. How are we to respond? Does 'love' mean we are never 'angry' about wrong-doing? Without 'anger' would we pursue justice, work hard to capture criminals, put energy in making changes to try to ensure that wrong-doing is constrained or even eliminated?

Recently in our city a young teenage girl was murdered by her mother's ex boy-friend. Then, after the trial was over, we learned that the man had previously been in jail in Australia for the killing (manslaughter, technically) of another teenager. We further learned that we have no system for ensuring that when a criminal such as this man is deported to NZ, his record follows him and is made available for relevant people. For we also learned that a few days before the murder here, the mother had talked to the police about her concerns about the man, but they felt constrained not to tell her about his previous record. (Why, I do not know as it is and was a matter of public record).

Is not human wrath in this situation the righteous response which determines that the crook will be caught, tried, punished, that the 'system' will be changed so that, as far as possible, there will be no repeats. In short, where would society be without human wrath against sin?

May we not ask why human wrath might be right in this kind of situation, and, if I may say so, an obvious reaction, but God's wrath must be subject to great scrutiny and only referred to in Christian speech such as a song with elaborate explanation accompanying it?

27 comments:

Malcolm Falloon said...

Hi Peter,

I agree. Separating wrath from love is the privilege of the wealthy and secure.

It ends in either moralism or laissez-faireism. Either we have a God who only loves the righteous (i.e. "people like us"), or an unconditional God who "loves whatever", which seems to me to be the same as an indifferent God, a "whatever" God.

Which option is taken changes with the fashion, but either can only be an option for the privileged.

Malcolm

Tim Chesterton said...

Well said, Peter. A God who is not angry at human sin (including mine) is not a God of love. In fact, such a god loves us too little.

Bryden Black said...

Bosco’s poll reads as follows at 12:40 on 7 May: 56.78 = a, 21.19 = b, 22.03 = c. I myself voted for c. I also commented as below. Yet I have to say the actual poll is virtually pointless, with regards to his stated agenda re 20+%. Of course most commentators who have qualms re the lines of the Song will vote for a! It’s a no brainer!! It’s akin to a blind tasting of wines - with no blindfold on!!

What is far more serious is the utter failure of so many (as represented on Liturgy site, and ADU, where the debate has been aired mostly; I’ll omit altogether Preludium) to grasp the actual Scriptural contexts and so content of “divine love”. Many would barely graduate from Th 101 if their comments re “divine simplicity” and divine “attributes” are anything to go by. No wonder the Church is so irrelevant in western cultures today: we are being led by pygmies!

Liturgy comment:

Since you are now addressing the initial omission of canvassing opinion, as prompted by PC, I have had to vote (c) Bosco. Thereafter, I’d convey these two quotes (from among a number of other possibilities) from PT Forsyth’s admirable book from 1910, The Work of Christ. The first is from the Introduction, the second from the chapter entitled “Reconciliation, Atonement and Judgment”. I have to confess I am staggered how applicable this work of Forsyth’s is a hundred years on! But then his acute mind and pastoral heart were utterly forged by the Scriptures, even as he engaged with his own contemporary world and the wider Church.

“We are in a time when spirituality without positive content seems attractive to many minds. And the numbers may grow of those favouring an undogmatic Christianity which is without apostolic or evangelical substance, but cultivates a certain emulsion of sympathetic mysticism, intuitional belief, and benevolent action. Among lay minds of a devout and social but impatiently practical habit, this is not unlikely to spread; and particularly among those whose public interests get the upper hand of ethical and historical insight and denude their religion of most of the reflection it demands.”

“This holy order is as essential to man’s greatness as it is to God’s; and that is why the holy satisfaction Christ made to God’s holiness is in the same act the glorifier of the new humanity. Any religion which leaves out of supreme count the judging holiness of God is making a great contribution to the degradation of man. We need a religion which decides the eternal destiny of man; and unless holiness were practically and adequately established - not merely recognised and eulogised, but established - there could be no real, deep permanent change in the world or the sinner. The change in the treatment of us by eternal grace must rest on judgment taking effect. Man is not forgiven simply by forgetting and mending, by agreeing that no more is to be said about it. To make little of sin is to belittle the holiness of God; and from a reduced holiness no salvation could come, nor could human dignity remain.”

Father Ron Smith said...

"That cornerstone is that God is judge, seeks justice, hates sin, determines to punish perpetrators of sin.." - Dr. peter Carrell -

Although I agree with your first 3 attributes, Peter; my God seems to be much more loving than yours - in that my God has already redeemed sinners - through the death of Christ - and has 'set us free' from the consequences of our sins.

The 'sacrifice of Christ' has already given expiation, blotting up the messes we have/will cause/d.

We gain access to that redemption through our confession & sorrow - by the means given to us in the liturgy of Eucharistic confession, absolution and sharing in the risen Christ.

We have no way of 'earning' our redemption. It is the free gift of a loving compassionate God. End of story.

Shawn Herles said...

If you read Peter's post carefully Ron you will see that nowhere has he, or anyone risen this debate, said that we have to earn our salvation.

We cannot earn what God has already predetermined.

Chris Spark said...

'It is the free gift of a compassionate God' - indeed, a gift whose weight and incredible nature is only understood when we see the absolute passion with which he hates it when his precious creatures are abused or teated with contempt, or when he himself is rejected or treated with contempt (which ultimately is what leads to the abuse of his creatures). In other words, we understand grace when we see wrath, and we understand wrath when we see grace - because all come from love.

To downplay wrath in favour of love is to play off Jesus' death against Jesus' death - it is to miss love entirely in its depth, and to play off one part of God's love (in his wrath against sin) against another (in his grace in dealing with sin in such a costly manner).

Andrew White said...

Ron,

Redemption is covered in the last sentence of Peter's quote,

But why stop your list where you do? If "God is judge, seeks justice, hates sin", but doesn't move on to some sort of punishment, then he's actually rather a wuss, like the hapless parent who keeps insisting that their child behave but never actually delivers consequences for that misbehaviour. Either sin is a tolerable irritant for an ineffective God, or God doesn't actually care enough to act.

Moreover, if Christ's death is not a deliberate, necessary event of cosmic significance, then it's further proof of God's uncaringness or weakness. "Do whatever you like, I'll still be here for you".

It is only when we understand the heinousness of our sin, how utterly deserving we are of divine wrath, that Christ's death makes sense as a redeeming sacrifice. Christ does not, first and foremost, redeem us from being less than we ought - he redeems us from first degree treason against the the holy Lord and Creator of everything. And all the little redemptions in our day to day lives, "blotting up the messes", follow from that.


But am I over-stating the sin issue? Well, consider the alternative. If sin isn't a big deal, where is justice? People are killed for being the wrong race, sometimes in the thousands - where is justice? A gunman goes on a rampage, killing someone's mother, before turning the gun on himself - where is justice? A Tsunami kills hundreds and leaves thousands homeless - where is justice?

Or, (hypothetical) my brother throws a precious picture I drew in kindergarten in the fire. It is lost forever. It sounds trite compared to the above, but hurt has been done, and it cannot be un-done. Even if I forgive, and take the hurt on myself rather than him, the hurt is still there.

Where is justice? Where is God, that he would allow such hurts? How is this Good?

Unless this is judgement. Unless all of creation is under the wrath of God, and these hurts we do to each other are part of God's revealed judgement against our own sinfulness, that we brought upon ourselves. Unless God says "A time is coming when I will take all these hurts done to you and by you on myself, and you will know that whatever you have suffered you deserved far worse, and I have taken that far worse and now bring healing and renewal - renewed hearts and a renewed world, where there is no more mourning. And you will rejoice and be glad in Me and with Me".

Bryden Black said...

To repeat; "Many would barely graduate from Th 101 if their comments re “divine simplicity” and divine “attributes” are anything to go by."

Thank you Chris Spark (and others; Tim) who appreciate exactly what I am alluding to in my sentence above. THERE IS NO COMPETITION AMONG THE DIVINE ATTRIBUTES; THERE CANNOT BE.

Those who convey any such need to seriously go back to school. This is serious stuff folks!

Anonymous said...

Excellent and perceptive comments above - Bryden, thank you for referencing P. T. Forsyth, called by one of my teacher's 'Britain's Barth'. I would add only one remark, paraphrased from Don Carson: God is indeed love, not wrath - because He is love in Himself, in the perfect eternal communion of the Trinity (vinculum caritatis). God's wrath is the EXTERNAL response of His holy nature toward every imperfection in love in His creation. But these imperfections will not last forever, and God will be all in all (and the fire and the rose will be one).
But this does lead me to wonder about hell and its perdurance. Peter is right that the wrath of God is almost never referenced in modern Christian songs (unlike the Psalms!). And neither is hell. But how does the fact of hell sit with the love of God and the triumph of Christ?
Martin

Anonymous said...

BTW, I look forward to polls to get ri- I mean, decide matters like the Hypostatic Union and Incarnational Kenosis.

Martin :)

Shawn Herles said...

I assumed the poll was a joke. Very, very scary if that's not the case.

Online polls, especially on blogs, are meaningless.

Father Ron Smith said...

"What is far more serious is the utter failure of so many (as represented on Liturgy site, and ADU, where the debate has been aired mostly; I’ll omit altogether Preludium) to grasp the actual Scriptural contexts and so content of “divine love”. - Bryden Black -

I wonder, Bryden, if, in all your explorations of other people's understanding of the Love of God, you have never read the great thesis of Mother Julian on this very subject. I can assure you, she would have some revelations for you.
___________________________________

"Moreover, if Christ's death is not a deliberate, necessary event of cosmic significance, then it's further proof of God's uncaringness or weakness." - Andrew White -

I seem to remember that somewhere in Scripture (Paul: 1 Cor.1:23-25) we are told that "God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's wisdom in stronger than human strength".

And in verses 29 & 30: "...But you; God has made members of Christ Jesus, and by God's doing, He has become our WISDOM, and our VIRTUE, and our HOLINESS, and our FREEDOM"

This would indicate, to me at least, that, en Christo, God has become my My wisdom, virtue, holiness & freedom. I cannot claim them for myself, but only as Christ lives in me. I am not free from sin - only from condemnation - because lives in me. That's redemption!!!

Jethro said...

Bryden please could you come to St Johns college and be a teacher!?

Kurt said...


“…en Christo, God has become my My wisdom, virtue, holiness & freedom. I cannot claim them for myself, but only as Christ lives in me. I am not free from sin - only from condemnation - because [Christ]lives in me. That's redemption!!!”—Fr. Ron

Well said, Father Ron! That’s the way I look at it, too!

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY

Anonymous said...

So is the wrath of God, that was satisfied on the cross, still active, effective, and efficacious towards the mother's ex boy-friend?

Christopher

Andrew White said...

"I seem to remember that somewhere in Scripture (Paul: 1 Cor.1:23-25) we are told that "God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's wisdom in stronger than human strength"."

Speaking of communication and clarity, is there an interpretation of this response that isn't code for "Ah, but *I* am spiritual, and you are not."? Please clarify, because at the moment this feels to me like a really nasty line of argument.

Bryden Black said...

What a delightful series of comments greet the day, both here and on Liturgy.

Martin nails it with his capitalized “EXTERNAL”. And then naturally shifts to pondering the realm of “hell”. Having just reworked through David Bentley Hart’s The Doors of the Sea: Where was God in the tsunami?, a good foil to Eberhard Jüngel’s ‘solution’ - that the ‘Nihil’ now has its ‘topos’ within the very Being of the Triune God - I too shall ponder (even bearing in mind now Roger Harper’s highlighting Jesus’ distinction between Gehenna and Hades).

Thanks Jethro - which St John’s? Akl?! Have you still not got a Systematic Theologian yet?! Ugggg!!!!

As for Dame Julian, Ron: I find myself often referring to her. Although I have had to ponder often also her “sin is behovely” ....??! Even with the help of Denys Turner’s article in Modern Theology 20:3, July 2004, pp.407-422! With apologies to Dr Turner ...! Though I do appreciate his aesthetic, narratival ‘solution’ that sin “fits just so” ... Sin is part of the plot of the created world that God has made - and that world is still good, for all shall be well - in the end. God can still ‘pull it off’, after all. Yes; TS Eliot’s Little Gidding final stanza nails it after all! Thanks Martin!

“We are to hate sin absolutely, we are to love the soul eternally, as God loves it. Our hatred of sin will be like God’s hatred of it [back to the wrath of God, folks!]; our love of the soul like God’s.” (Julian)

Shawn Herles said...

In response to Christopher's question;

Jesus says that the wrath of God remains on those who do not accept Him. Thus in the case you refer to I would say yes, assuming that the ex-boyfriend has not come to saving faith and repentance.

Moreover, while the wrath of God has been satisfied on the cross, it has been only for the elect, not for all humanity.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Christopher
Yes.
And the mother's ex-boyfriend will avail himself of God's grace with repentance and faith.

Shawn Herles said...

Why did Jesus have to die? Why the violence of the atonement? Why does blood redeem us?

Allow me to quote one of the truly great theologians of our time. In response to a question concerning the necessity of blood sacrifice:

"Blood is life. It's what keeps you going, makes you warm, makes you feel, makes you other than dead. Of course it's the blood." ----- Spike in 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' season 5, episode 22.

Shawn Herles said...

By the way, every time I see the title to this thread I keep hearing Fred Dagg's song "If you didin't have your gumboots where would you be"...... in my head.

Kiwi theology?



Peter Carrell said...

It is never quite clear to me, Shawn, whether Fred Dagg should be beatified ... or the recipient of, "Give that man a DB"!

Father Ron Smith said...

"Thanks Jethro - which St John’s? Akl?! Have you still not got a Systematic Theologian yet?! Ugggg!!!"

- Dr. Bryden Black -

Are you offering your own expertise here, Bryden?

Father Ron Smith said...

"Jethro said...
Bryden please could you come to St Johns college and be a teacher!?"

"Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings"? Is Saint John's now taking advice from its students on whom they should invite onto their faculty? Very different in my day!

I wonder if the Principal knows about this request from a student?

Bryden Black said...

Actually Ron, there was a time historically after Stephen left that both the then principal and I were in serious discussions - albeit for a season ... Just for the record and perhaps Jethro's regret ...! It's a wry old world - but as Dame Julian would aver, ...!!guestbat

Father Ron Smith said...

Ah well, Bryden. This is just another instance of "Man proposes, God disposes!", I guess.

Bryden Black said...

Thanks for that insight, Ron! I'd thought it was the mutual agreement of the then principal and myself ... What was I thinking?!