Reflections by someone trying to learn what it means to live under God's Reign
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Zeus vs. God
I hear a phrase every once in a while that makes me cringe a little bit, but is popular in some circles of Christianity, "To understand the mercy of God, we must understand the wrath of God." I don't hear it very often at Truett, but I do read it on blogs, hear it in sermons, and in popular Christian literature today. Partially, I agree with that statement, but where people go after that statement horrifies me. Most of the time, they then go on to present a god who is angry all the time and who just wants to deal out punishment to the wicked people of earth. It is a judicial presentation of a god sitting on a throne ready to zap those who do wrong. The only way people are then saved from this angry, lightning throwing god is that they have Jesus in some sense as their lawyer. Jesus then is almost presented as Johnny Cochran who always gets his defendants acquitted. The problem I have with this system of looking at God is that it is not the God encountered in the Bible. I agree, humans are totally deprived. We all have a sin nature and are in need of a Savior in Jesus Christ. God, however, is not sitting on his throne ready to zap us. That is not God, that is Zeus. What I am about to say is an idea taken from one of my seminary friends, Chris Doe. I am taking his initial idea, and then expounding upon it a little bit. God as he is presented in the Bible is a "Holy God," meaning that God is wholly other than his creation. As a result, we will never fully understand God. God time and time again is presented as a being of love. Over and over again the Old Testament says that God is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abiding in steadfast love (Psalm 145, Jonah 4, Exodus 34:6). So how do we understand his wrath? Since God is a Holy God, we do not understand the full implications of his wrath. However, my friend Chris has a good statement: "God's wrath is tied in with his love." It is a wrath born out of his love for his creation. Therefore, God's wrath is not ultimately just arbitrary against wicked people, but has a purpose of redemption and restoration. Take for instance the flood account. After the fall in chapter 3, Genesis presents a human society that grows more violent and wicked by the generation. By the time we arrive at chapter 6, all the human hearts are wicked and their thoughts evil, outside of Noah. So God is grieved. God is hurt and upset that humans are destroying the world he created and loves. The God presented here is a God who feels, who hears suffering, and who wants to restore his creation. God's wrath here is not to arbitrarily wipe out human society, but rather to recreate the world God loves. This is a story not of destruction, but one of salvation. Through God's love of the world, he saved the world from itself. That is the wrath of God, not a destroying wrath, but one of recreation. God's wrath is born out of his love for humans and his creation, and is in some way a representation of God's mercy.