A few times previously on this blog I have discussed the matter of "the wrath of God" (and sometimes linking that discussion to that widely sung modern favourite In Christ Alone with its much debated line "the wrath of God was satisfied").
I have noticed in the intervening years that the wrath of God is not something we can pretend is not a scriptural "thing" - the Old Testament has a lot about God's wrath. When the NT says something about God's wrath, it is not a de novo concept.
Moreover, just yesterday, preparing a message for a service in Holy Week, I was looking at verses which help us to make sense of Jesus' dying on a cross - that is, theological sense of what God was up to in Christ. An obvious treasure trove of verses is Romans 5. Let's reproduce the first 11 verses from the NRSV:
"5.1 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we[a] have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have obtained access[b] to this grace in which we stand; and we[c] boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we[d] also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. 8 But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. 9 Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God.[e] 10 For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. 11 But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation."
So, in 21st century terms, we have "nice" verses such as verses 1, 6, 8 and 10.
But we also have verse 9!
"Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God."
(Note the Greek says, "the wrath" rather than "the wrath of God" but "the wrath" here is surely God's wrath and not the wrath of any other being.)
Why did God love us so Christ died for us (verse 8)?
To save us from the wrath of God.
It is increasingly difficult to talk about the wrath of God because a godly wrath we need saving from implies we have done something to deserve wrath rather than love - that God sees us first as sinners needing salvation and not as saved people needing assurance that we are loved by God.
In our crazy world today the starting point for many people is that we are good.
Sure, there is a lot of finger pointing going on against a bunch of people (including stale pale males like me! ... and, Kiwi horror du jour, I own more than one house), and no doubt the human wrath against today's malefactors has some chance of conceiving that God is wrathful against racists, misogynists etc.
But those who point fingers today (and those who stoutly resist the notion that "I/we have done anything wrong") generally assume the mode of being "righteous". Neither human wrath nor divine wrath is deserved by us.
God loves us because we are lovely and deserve nothing less than all God's favour all the time.
It is quite a bit of work, in these times, to develop an understanding that we are all fallen short of God's standards, that none of us has been perfectly just and that a bunch of things about the way we live incures God's disapproval and not approval.
Can we truly credit the wonder and glory of Christ's "finished" achievement on the cross if we do not consider that on the cross God's wrath against us was, in some expiatory or even propitiatory way, turned aside (if not satisfied!).
In simple terms, we all deserve X but Christ received X in our place and so we are now blessed to receive the opposite of X.
I disagree with you completely. Paul's view of the cross is tied up with Jewish ideas of blood sacrifice. Jesus himself said that he came to save sinners not the righteous. So he believed some people were righteous.I think it is a very dark view of life to say we all deserve to be nailed to a tree. What sort of God would do this to you or your family member for simply being human. Not a God I love and worship.Jesus was killed by the religious authorities of the day for being too mouthy and not bending down to them. I think you speak too lightly about the cross. If you witnessed a crucifixion you would probably end up with PTSD as a result.And of course the end point of your argument is that those who are not in Christ go to hell. There are 2 things. Love and fear. Choose love.
Luke 5: 23
Correction Luke 5:32
The policy here is that commenters use a name. I won't post futher comments without at least your first name.
I may or may not be right but I do not consider your comments do justice to:
- we are all sinners
- the language of wrath and judgment
- the possibility of not being saved
All of which are not confined to Pauline writings.
"Paul's view of the cross is tied up with Jewish ideas of blood sacrifice."
Obviously, Exodus xxiv 8. So what?
"Jesus himself said that he came to save sinners not the righteous. So he believed some people were righteous."
In some sense, yes. Who? Observant Jews?
"I think it is a very dark view of life to say we all deserve to be nailed to a tree."
Peter, did you say somewhere that we (and our family members too) all deserve to be nailed to a tree?
Do you really have a dark view of life?
"What sort of God would do this to you or your family member for simply being human. Not a God I love and worship."
Here-- we have to call him something-- Fred has staggered into the most disputed verse in Christendom, Romans v 12. John Meyendorff, like most of the Eastern fathers, construes it thus: "As sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, so death spread to all men; and because of death, all men have sinned..." People die "just because they are human," and because they all know that they will die, they all sin. Wrathful against sin as he is, God raised Jesus from the dead to defeat the death upstream of all sin. This is why the holiest of days for Christians is not Yom Kippur but Pascha.
Why not love and worship that God, Fred?
I like God's wrath. It is his creative discontent with the world as it is. If we believed in a Creator who had no discontent with everyday life in antiquity or now, then we would be committed to approving a ghastly cavalcade of cruelty through the ages. + Peter does not do that and presumably neither does Fred.
But if the Creator acts on his discontents by changing what is possible among human beings, then those who want to be with God have to be with that change. The implication is unavoidable: you can't be both a conscious defender of cruelty and also an intimate friend of the Creator. That is, you can't betray and befriend the same Persons.
When Jesus comes to judge the quick and the dead, that reality becomes concrete. A world without cruelty will not have cruel people in it. They will have been reformed or removed. Few if any would really be sorry about that. Even less when they see what persons and communities we will become without cruelty.
Why then is God's wonderful wrath so little celebrated? It is obviously not for want of enthusiasm for humanitarian reform. Yet it is just those progressives who are working hardest for the wrath of God who are the most leery of the whole idea.
Everything above this line is dogma. You can get it out of the creeds. And like most of dogma, observant Jews believe it too, albeit in somewhat different form. When secular progressives try to fashion ideologies, these are the thoughts that they are trying to re-think in a godless way. (Hence I say occasionally that Anglicans are so generous toward apparent heterodoxy because they are so simply dogmatic.)
Downstream from dogma are rocks and falls that have proven hard to paddle around. Notable boulders in the water include-- theories of God's fairness apart from his discontent; use of God's discontent to motivate moralism; fear-mongering about judgement that shores up authoritarianism. And anyway, the stream is a strange place to be paddling if one does not know the love of God in the first place, for dogma is addressed to those who do.
Dear anonymous (and all),
I have some sympathy?/empathy with your (anonymous) plight. The scholars who contribute here might have more to say. I can only offer someone elses thoughts, who never claimed to be a theologian. He was at least thoughtful, I think.
C.S Lewis, The Problem of Pain. This chapter particularly:
When done with this book, 'A Grief Observed' by the same author. It kind of undoes the tidy shoelaces of The Problem of Pain. Which gives the author that most celebrated of millenial qualities 'authenticy'.
It is interesting to note how in ANZ 'kindness' has been made 'The' virtue, and how proud many kiwis are of our Govt and especially it's elected leader as the evangelist. Some even preferring them/her to The First Lord of The Treasury of the UK (I WAS listening ML Bishop). Though in a way I think there could be an argument here for one's living by faith, and another's reliance on works.
Holy Week to all.
Dear Bishop Peter; when I see articles which want to emphasize 'The Wrath of God', I'm afraid I just want to turn the page!
My reason for doing this is that so many people I have known - inside of the Church and out - have seen Christians majoring on this theme, a theme which can be counter-ptoductive to the meme which is, for me, best expressive of what happened through Christ on the Cross: "God LOVED the world so much, that he GAVE his only-begotten Son; so thast all who believe in Him should NOT perish but have eternal life.
Human beings (in my experienced) are much more drawn to the LOVE of God that the stories (especially in the O.T.) which speak of God's Judgement.
SINNERS, like myself, are much more drawn by the message of God's prevailing LOVE, which, despite our sins, prevails: Through the Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. This is not the Father, passing judgement on the Son, but The Father offering a part of God's self, for the sake of the world.
The Wrath demonstrated at the Crucifixion of Christ was the Wrath - not of God (in Christ) but the Wrath of his persecutors - most of whom would see themselves as Righteous! "Through HIS Stripes, we are healed" (ALL of us!)
My praises this Easter will redound to God's Mercy (not God's Wrath!)
A Cautionary Tale
Decades ago, I shared an apartment with another student. He was a loyal Communist from Beijing in what was still Mao's China.
For a module on the Religions of South Asia, I had to read the sources of Buddhism. Following the syllabus, I worked through the earliest discourses attributed to Gautama Siddartha and the first accounts of his life, then progressed to the later sutras by which the original Hinayana practice grew Mahayana and Vajrayana branches. The lectures described traditional Buddhist practice; the readings presented its meaning to its practitioners.
But my friend Mr Du would have none of it. The real Buddhists he knew in China were nothing like these monks from somewhere who came to address our class. Real Buddhism, to him, was just ignorant old ladies taking flowers to ancient temples to placate angry spirits. He was "shocked that a great university in the secular United States of America would teach ancient superstitions."
But surely the ideas of the man called the Buddha defined Buddhism at least somewhat?
No, replied Mr Du, for that thinker lived in a pre-scientific age of ignorance. Today, Buddhism is just whatever most people think it is, because no reasonable person expects to learn anything new or true from stories about an Indian prince who lived long ago.
For example, he continued, when you study Christianity, you just go watch what Christians do. You don't need to know what Jesus thought. You listen to Prosperity Gospel, speak in tongues, handle snakes, send money to preachers on tv, etc. That's being a Christian; that's real Christianity.
But what if Jesus was right, I countered. Wouldn't the truth he knew be worth studying and putting into practice?
Mr Du paused. Hypothetically, he replied slowly, any true idea-- even a true idea from Jesus-- could be worth study.
But that would not be studying real Christianity. Real Christianity is Prosperity, snake-handling, speaking gibberish-- because that's what Christians actually do-- just as Buddhism is giving flowers to placate evil spirits, or fearing rebirth as a monkey after death.
Jesus was a strange man, he added. Like the Buddha. "I think you are wasting your time."
What a glorious waste of time, Bowman!
Ron: I am trying to face Scripture as it is, speaking to us both of love and wrath, rather than selecting the "nice" bits only. Naturally my preference is for the "nice" bits!
Cam: life is untidy though whether one should live as untidily as the current First Lord of the Treasury is a moot point, for God sees everything!
Bowman: i love your idea that the wrath of God is discontent with the world as it is ... what indeed if we continued to live with the cruelty of bygone eras!
Bowman said this (quoting his Bhuddist room-mate):
"For example, he continued, when you study Christianity, you just go watch what Christians do. You don't need to know what Jesus thought. You listen to Prosperity Gospel, speak in tongues, handle snakes, send money to preachers on tv, etc. That's being a Christian; that's real Christianity."
All too sadly, this is what most 'outsiders' detect about fundamentalist Christians; an emphasis on judgement by prosperity ("300 people attend our Church and they all tithe, and God will bless them BECAUSE they tithe, and unless they speak iongues, they are not Christian") ?. Such churches often MAJOR on the judgement of others who are not as holy as they are!
On the other hand, there are some whose lives are surrounded by poverty and want, perhaps ostracised by the larger society, who, yet - by virtue of their devotion to Christ - have a desire to share what little they have with others, including their faith and trust in the God and Father of Our Lord, Jesus Christ. Their faith is sustained by a constant relationship with Jesus in their fellowship with Him in the Sacrament of His loving provision - in and through which the virtue given to us in Baptism is nurtured and renewed.
They not do this because of any threat of The Wrath of God, but because of their simple dependence upon the loving mercy of God.
Those who conscientiously Walk with Jesus throughout this Holy Week, willingly accompanying Him through the story of His Institution of the Blessed Sacrament (Soul Food), His Washing of Feet, His Dereliction in Gethsemane, His Betrayal by Judas, His Denial by Peter, His Scourging, His Promise of Salvation to the Sinner being crucified with Him, his handing over of his mother to John, His Crying out to the Father, his final surrender of His Spirit - these who willingly accompany Jesus on the Way of The Cross do so, not as the Righteous, but as Sinners, deeply aware of what it cost God to redeem us. Then at the First Mass of Easter, they can rejoice with those who believe that: "Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us; therefore, let us keep the Feast - Not with the old leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened Bread of sincerity and truth!"
We can then say, with ALL believers; Christ is Risen! Alleluia
Again, "downstream from dogma are rocks and falls that have proven hard to paddle around. Notable boulders in the water include-- theories of God's fairness apart from his discontent; use of God's discontent to motivate moralism; fear-mongering about judgement that shores up authoritarianism. And anyway, the stream is a strange place to be paddling if one does not know the love of God in the first place, for dogma is addressed to those who do."
Father Ron, by now your thoughts are already on Maundy Thursday.
Nobody here doubts that the Love of God is both affirming and transforming.
Thank you, Bowman, for the beautiful music which refelsts the mood of the Great Triduum. After the Celebration of the Last Supper, the Washing of Feet, and the Watch at the Altar of Repose last evening, we will, today at SMAA, Christchurch be listening to a Solemn Singing of The Passion (St.John's Gospel). We will then each pay our respects to the figure of Christ on the Cross, before consuming the Reserved Sacrament and going home. Holy Saturday will be a Day of Preparation for the Vigil of Easter on Saturday night.
I found this message from Pope Francis for Good Friday to reflect the loving, tender mercy of our God, through the death and Resurrection of Christ:
FRIDAY, APRIL 2, 2021
"Jesus’ words have the power to bring to light whatever each of us holds in the depths of our heart, often mixed like the wheat and the tares. And this gives rise to spiritual conflict. Seeing the signs of the Lord’s superabundant mercy… we find ourselves forced to discern and decide… The closeness of Jesus, who dines with sinners, wins hearts like those of Zacchaeus, Matthew and the Samaritan woman, but it also awakens scorn in the self-righteous. The hour of joyful proclamation, the hour of persecution and the hour of the cross go together. When His hour came, He embraced the cross fully. For on the cross there can be no ambiguity! The cross is non-negotiable."
Recovering the Strangeness of Easter
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