“There is the dreadful pit of the glowing flames of the wrath of God; there is hell's wide gaping mouth open; and you have nothing to stand upon, nor any thing to take hold of; there is nothing between you and hell but the air; it is only the power and mere pleasure of God that holds you up.” ~Jonathan Edwards
Today’s scripture passages were, to say the least, challenging. In Malachi; God rebukes and curses the priests and vows to smear dung on their faces. I was understandably less than enthusiastic regarding this pronouncement. And so; I flip over to the new testament passage in Revelation to find horse; bridle deep in blood from the proverbial “Grapes of Wrath”.
OK. So God is angry. God is mad.
I guess I should not be surprised. Every natural disaster - every hurricane, tsunami, earthquake – is explained by various prophets and preachers as the natural and expected outpouring of God’s wrath. I am not surprised but I am confused.
God destroys most of Haiti because of a generations old “Pact with the Devil”. God allowed or possibly even caused New Orleans to be ravaged by hurricane Katrina in order to prepare or for another terror attack or possibly to prompt the confirmation of a particular Supreme Court nominee. And yet; No natural disaster has stopped genocide in Rwanda. No earthquake has swallowed the evil in Darfur. And the state of Pennsylvania, or at least Penn State University, remains safe and untouched.
So we struggle with the idea of an angry God. We struggle because, if he is angry, it seems that he is, at very least, somewhat arbitrary in the way he rations out his wrath.
Many of us learned very early that god was angry and that his anger was more than justified. I opened with an excerpt from Jonathan Edwards’ sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”. The sermon was given on July 8, 1741. Let me read the quote again:
“There is the dreadful pit of the glowing flames of the wrath of God; there is hell's wide gaping mouth open; and you have nothing to stand upon, nor any thing to take hold of; there is nothing between you and hell but the air; it is only the power and mere pleasure of God that holds you up.” ~Jonathan EdwardsMost of us look back at these words, spoken 270 years ago, and smile that we have risen above this view of God. That we have gained considerable ground in those almost 300 years and that, while historically important, Edwards’ sermon has not footing in 21st century mainstream Christendom.
I want to read another quote. A quote made more recently; within the last few months rather than the last few centuries.
“Some of you, God hates you. Some of you, God is sick of you. God is frustrated with you. God is wearied by you. God has suffered long enough with you. He doesn’t think you’re cute. He doesn’t think it’s funny. He doesn’t think your excuse is “meritous” (not an actual word). He doesn’t care if you compare yourself to someone worse than you, He hates them too. God hates, right now, personally, objectively hates some of you.”You might assume that this quote was taken from a fringe, outside-the-mainstream, preacher. Maybe the pastor in Florida who wanted to burn the Koran or the pastor in Oklahoma who protests at the funerals of veterans. The quote comes, in fact, from a very mainstream and very popular pastor; the pastor of a very young, hip church in a very hip city; a church of 10,000 plus members and several church plants; a bestselling Christian author and highly in demand speaker; the poster boy for young, hip, cool evangelicals.
The idea of an angry God is central to many, if not most of our teachings on salivation or atonement. Most of us were taught that there was this gulf between us and god – a gulf that burned with his anger toward his creation. Anger toward each and every one of us. And that we are saved, not so much because we were forgiven but because God decided to pour ALL of that anger out on his own son… on Jesus. (well… all except what he saved for Haiti and New Orleans).
My favorite theologian, N.T. Wright has written recently about the atonement and how our theology is a bit off point. Let me read from his response to a recent question on the topic of atonement and God’s anger.
“If you say Christ died in our place and took our penalty and our punishment, that’s fine. But if the narrative that you have in mind is of a malevolent, capricious, angry God who is determined to punish somebody for all this sin that’s going on, and, ah! here’s somebody who happens to be his own Son, right, he’ll do, we’ll punish him and then the rest of you can go free—that story radically distorts the beautiful biblical meaning of substitionary atonement.You guys remember the old Saturday Night Live bit, “Deep Thoughts, by: Jack Handy”? One of my favorites was this pearl:
Now I deliberately caricature to make the point. But substutionary atonement which is so central to justification means what it means within the biblical story, which is not that rather arbitrary angry God, determined to take it out on somebody, and it just happens to be an innocent victim. I’m not surprised that when people hear the story told like that, they often react against it” ~N.T. Wright
If a kid asks where rain comes from, I think a cute thing to tell him is "God is crying." And if he asks why God is crying, another cute thing to tell him is "Probably because of something you did."It’s funny because we know two things about the statement. First; that it is so - very - wrong. And second; that it is pretty close to what most of us have and, maybe on some level, still believe.
Again, Tom Wright:
“This is what happens when people present over-simple stories… …with an angry God and a loving Jesus, with a God who demands blood and doesn’t much mind whose it is as long as it’s innocent. You’d have thought people would notice that this flies in the face of John’s and Paul’s deep-rooted theology of the love of the triune God: not ‘God was so angry with the world that he gave us his son’ but ‘God so loved the world that he gave us his son’.” ~N.T. Wright
I don’t pretend that scripture does not fully express God’s anger or His wrath. I would not suggest that these elements of his nature are false or that he has changed. I simply say this: that He is most fully and completely revealed in Jesus. In Christ we see Him fully for the first time. This is why Jesus said “if you have seen me, you have seen the father”. And so, all of God’s story, all of his character, all of what can be known of Him must be filtered through the gospels and through the person Jesus.
When we embrace and embolden ourselves with the angry God, we give ourselves license to be angry. When we embrace a God who hates, we are then able to justify our own hatred. We use this Anne Lamott quote a lot around here:
“You can safely assume you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”
A God who hates releases us to hate. To hate anything other – anything we do not understand, anyone who looks or behaves, or believes differently - Anyone not like us.
Kris Kristofferson wrote a song in the early 70s entitled “Jesus Was a Capricorn”
Jesus was a Capricorn, he ate organic foods.
He believed in love and peace and never wore no shoes.
Long hair, beard and sandals and a funky bunch of friends.
Reckon they'd just nail him up if He come down again.
'Cos everybody's got to have somebody to look down on.
Who they can feel better than at anytime they please.
Someone doin' somethin' dirty, decent folks can frown on.
If you can't find nobody else, then help yourself to me.
Egg Head's cussin Red Neck's cussin' hippies for their hair.
Others laugh at straights who laugh at freaks who laugh at squares.
Some folks hate the whites who hate the blacks who hate the clan.
Most of us hate anything that we don't understand.
May we be a people who throw away hatred and embrace love. May we be a community where hate and anger find no ground fertile enough to grow. May we remember that Jesus came, not because God hated the world, but because he loved it… and because we are loved may we love the world, both inside and outside our own tribe. His Kingdom Come…