Thursday, April 17, 2014

War or peace? Wrath or example?

War or peace?

We have been having some debates here on war versus pacifism. Soon on TV screens we will see the moving story of conscientious objectors in the First World War including Archibald Baxter, father of our most famous poet, James K Baxter. Called Field Punishment No 1, it screens this Tuesday at 8.30 pm on TV One.

In this year of the centenary of the beginning of the First World War, with Ukraine being torn apart by Russian manipulation of nationalist sentiment (or is Russia rescuing Russians under threat of Ukrainian nationalism?) we continue to make the War to End All Wars among the biggest of all lies humanity has told itself.

Locally here in Anglican NZ, in the heart of our own residential theological college, the spirit of military service is alive and well, as you can read here.

For Anglicans in NZ, where, as the article reminds us, we have very strong links to the military, especially via chaplaincies, questions about Christian duty to Queen and country have the potential to divide us.

We could debate whether if this were 1914 we would go to war in foreign fields for the sake of control of Europe. An interesting and safe academic debate.

What if we asked ourselves whether Russians under Ukrainian yokes or Ukrainian interests affected by Russian expansionism is worth fighting for? Or the plight of Syrian rebels?

Wrath or example?

We have also had some debates over the years about God's wrath. It struck me reading Exodus 12 this morning that if the roots of the action of God in Christ on the cross go back to the first Passover (and beyond, to the Fall, in case anyone thinks I have a short-term view of history) then God's wrathful judgment is intrinsic to understanding the cross.

The first Passover is the story of God's wrath being visited on Egypt. The unjust treatment of Israel as Egypt's slave incurred God's just response: let my people go. When polite request for justice failed, God's wrath was invoked. Even a series of severe plagues was insufficient to make Pharaoh repent. Finally, God's judgment would come though the angel of death. For Israel the way through this ultimate plague was to kill a lamb, smear doorpost and lintel with blood, thus signifying that that angel of death was to pass over that house and family. Israel escaped the wrath through the Passover being celebrated for the first time.

At his Last Supper, our Lord celebrated Passover with a transformative action which changed that meal forever for his followers. Breaking bread and blessing wine, equating them with his body to be broken and his blood to be poured out, Jesus became the new Passover Lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7, John 1:29, 36). Through his blood his followers would be saved from the wrathful judgment of God: 'Whoever eats of this bread will live forever' (John 6:58). The implication of rejecting Jesus the bread of God (as some did immediately after Jesus finished his teaching in John 6) is judgment: 'The one who rejects me and does not receive my word has a judge; on the last day the word that I have spoken will serve as judge' (John 12:48).

There are other understandings to bring to the cross, including demonstration of God's love for us in Christ Jesus and offering an example of patient endurance through suffering (Romans 5:8; 1 Peter 2:21). But for those uncomfortable with the wrath of God being part and parcel of the event of the cross, some reckoning needs to be made with the interpretation of our Lord himself, that on the cross a new Passover took place.

The good news, of course, is that once again, blood serves to save people from the judgment of God, from God's justice being enacted on those of us who have acted unjustly. Through the blood of the Lamb we receive mercy undeserved.

8 comments:

Father Ron Smith said...

"A New Commandment I give unto you: that you love one another, as I have loved you" - today's antiphon -

Jesus' washing of His disciples' feet is an example 'par excellence' of God's loving mercy and forgiveness. This is surely why Peter had a problem with having his feet washed by Jesus. He felt himself unworthy of the Redeemer's loving acceptance of his dirty feet (his sins).

This is the reality of God's unremitting love and forgiveness for all who will submit to His loving care (and forgiveness).

This says nothing about the 'Wrath of God' - an O.T. imperative, which has been overcome by 'The great Love of God as revealed in The Son' - undeserved? Totally! - but not withheld; from all who accept their culpability for sin but seek the eternal benefits of Jesus' generous self-surrender on the Cross.

It was not The Father who crucified His Son. It was those in the Church who thought they had no sin! - the self-righteous! They could not admit their own need of redemption and forgiveness.

We are drawn to God by Love - not the Fear of God's Wrath!

That's why the Gospel is Good News and not Bad News for sinners! It is a case of the Old Covenant being replaced by the New Covenant - in and by Jesus!

Andrew W said...

"We are drawn to God by Love - not the Fear of God's Wrath!"

Are you sure it's not both? My church has been going through Acts recently, and it's instructive to look at the climax of the speeches:

Acts 2:40: 'With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation."'

Acts 10:42-43: 'He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.'

Acts 17:30-31: 'In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.'

Even the famous John 3:16 stands out as the mercy of God's salvation in the midst of judgement on mankind's wickedness.

We love God because we have been forgiven much (Luke 7:47) by his mercy, and recognise that this is not what we deserve.

arowhenua said...

Peter you sum it up well in your final paragraph:

"The good news, of course, is that once again, blood serves to save people from the judgment of God, from God's justice being enacted on those of us who have acted unjustly. Through the blood of the Lamb we receive mercy undeserved." Except this time it is, "once and for all" for those who are willing to accept the message.

I think Ron we are drawn to God by the fact that there is no fear of wrath or condemnation from our sins, because of God's love. The two are part of the same equation.

It was God through Christ who chose the cross, even if it was those who rejected who Jesus was who carried it out - "Or do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels? 54"How then will the Scriptures be fulfilled, which say that it must happen this way?"…"

But if we reject Christ? For where else Lord can I go?




Father Ron Smith said...

Acts 10:42-43: 'He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.'

The burden of this Scripture lies in the last sentence: Everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His Name"

- Nothing here about Wrath!
It is all about undeserved LOVE.

Peter Carrell said...

Except, Ron, that Christ is 'judge of the living and the dead'. Given that the remainder of the sentence says that forgiveness comes to 'everyone who believes in him', I wonder what the judge of the living and the dead does about those not believing in him?!

Father Ron Smith said...

You may wonder, Peter. I do not. That's God's own business. Somehow, though, I don't believe that the Love of God is in any way overshadowed by God's wrath.

Dame Julian of Norwich has a lot to say about that.

Oh Love that will not let me go!

Father Ron Smith said...

Another thought on your challenge here, Peter:

Who were the sort of people for whom Jesus seemed to reserve his harshest criticism? The outwardly religious; whose opinion of the 'great unwashed was scarcely Gospel-laden!

Peter Carrell said...

Indeed, Ron!
Now we are on the same page: Jesus was capable of 'harsh criticism'.
Also agreed that it was reserved for hypocritical or false teaching or legalistic-burden imposing religious leaders.