“I will call no being good who is not what I mean when I apply that epithet to my fellow creatures …” – John Stuart Mill
I am going to write yet another post about my favourite topic … wrath!
OK, so maybe it’s not exactly my favourite topic, but it kind of is … why?
Well, let’s see … it’s one of my favourite topics because I have found over and over again that many people struggle with the question of what God is truly like. We see Jesus and his message of loving one another, but yet we see a lot of conversation in the bible about wrath and judgment and hell and vengeance and God telling people to massacre an entire race of people and … and …
… And the question is; is God loving, compassionate, merciful and full of grace like Jesus or is he an angry, repaying evil for evil and good for good like many portrayals we see of him, especially in the Old Testament?
Now, I am not going to attempt a full answer to this question today (if interested, I’ve written a “book” on the subject of how to read the differences … even if it is only ever going to be in draft form), but I wanted to focus on God’s wrath and whether or not it is appropriate to understand “wrath” in the sense we tend to today (as anger and punishment).
Let’s start at the beginning … Can you believe God would ask you to do things he, himself, is not capable of doing?
Do we claim God is good and yet believe He is capable of things we would not expect from our worst enemy?
Let’s assume the answer to each of those questions is a resounding “no” (if not, we may need to talk about that a bit more later). What this means is essentially that when God gives us commands/rules/laws to follow, it is not because he has arbitrarily decided this is a good thing to do or a bad thing to avoid; rather, they are given because this is what God is like – and what true life in his kingdom is like.
So, let’s look at a couple “commands” Jesus puts out there in Matthew:
“You have heard that it was said to an older generation, ‘Do not murder,’ and ‘whoever murders will be subjected to judgment.’ But I say to you that anyone who is angry with a brother will be subjected to judgment. And whoever insults a brother will be brought before the council, and whoever says ‘Fool’ will be sent to fiery hell.” (Matt. 5:21-22)
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist the evildoer. But whoever strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other to him as well. And if someone wants to sue you and to take your tunic, give him your coat also. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to the one who asks you, and do not reject the one who wants to borrow from you.” (Matt. 5:38-42)
— (And the pièce de résistance) —
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour’ and ‘hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be like your Father in heaven, since he causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Even the tax collectors do the same, don’t they? And if you only greet your brothers, what more do you do? Even the Gentiles do the same, don’t they? So then, be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt. 5:43-48)
OK, ready for some simple logic?
If God would not ask us to do something he does not do, then:
1) He does not get angry (in the way we usually understand it).
2) He does not repay “an eye for an eye” … he lets people “get away” with things instead of punishing them for what they do.
3) He loves his enemies and causes good things to happen to both evil people and good people. He greets those who reject him (while they are still rejecting him).
The last section above even shows us clearly that this is what God is like; you ought to do these things “that you may be like your Father”.
This is what God is like.
So, you can throw out any view of God’s wrath that sees it as anger directed toward you, as punishment for what you have done or as some form of “penance” for not doing the right thing.
God is like Jesus and has always been like Jesus;
“If you have known me, you will know my Father too. And from now on you do know him and have seen him.” – John 14:7
And that means, we need to search for other ways to understand what wrath is … I have a few ideas/interpretations based on the scriptures and what I have read, so let me know if you want a push in another direction 😉