The Wrath of God

Proper 23A.

Three lines most every preacher will try to avoid in this morning’s Lessons:

Exodus 32:11 – “But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?”

Psalm 106:23 – “So he would have destroyed them, had not Moses his chosen stood before him in the breach, to turn away his wrath from consuming them.”

And from Jesus’ parable in Matthew 22:13 – “Then the king said to the attendants, Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Hard to find a lot of “good news” to proclaim in our Lessons today when the main theme seems to be “the wrath of God!” How are Christians to understand that topic? What are we to make of “the wrath of God?”

Well, a common approach is to say that “the wrath of God” is really an Old Testament concept — That we have the God of wrath in the Old Testament and the God of love in the New. Unfortunately, that just will not bear scrutiny if you simply read the Old and New Testaments. There are plenty of passages in the Hebrew Scriptures that speak of a God of love, and there are nearly two-dozen New Testament passages, from the Gospels through the Epistles to the Book of Revelation, which speak of the “wrath of God.” It’s not an “Old Testament versus New Testament” thing.

So, what is the concept? And how can we reconcile God’s wrath with God’s love? I certainly cannot do justice to this in one sermon, but let me give it a whirl. For some of which follows, I am indebted to an article I read recently on the topic by a Monsignor Charles Pope from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington. And he points out several things:

First of all, we need to understand that the biblical idea of God’s wrath is related to God’s passion to set things right again! God has a passion for justice and wants what is best for us. What incurs God’s wrath are all the things that afflict us and get in the way of our living the kind of full life God wants for us.

The Ten Commandments themselves (which we heard in our OT Lesson last week) indicate what some of those things are: not obeying God, putting other things in place of God, not respecting God or worshipping him, neglecting our families, violence and not valuing life, promiscuous or exploitive sex, stealing and cheating and taking advantage of people, lying and greed and jealousy. Those are the kind of things that keep us from living “the good life,” the life God intended all of us to have. And they do indeed incur what the Bible calls “God’s wrath”…his passion for justice and righteousness.

But it’s important to understand as well that God’s wrath is not like our anger. God’s wrath, whatever it is, is not like ours. When you and I get angry we often experience ourselves as out of control, our tempers flare, and we say and do things that are either sinful or excessive. God doesn’t have temper tantrums or fly off the handle! The way God experiences anger is not something we can fully understand, but it is certainly not an out of control emotion.

God is not “moody!” It doesn’t pertain to God to have good and bad days like we do! Good moods and bad moods. God doesn’t change like that. And even though it may sometimes seem to us – as it did to a few of the biblical writers – that God “changes his mind,” the overwhelming witness of Scripture is that God is not variable. St. James is very clear that “…every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James 1:17)

Think about this as an example, an image. We have a light in our bedroom with a 100 -watt bulb in it. At night, when we may be reading in bed before going to sleep, we delight in that light. When we’re ready for sleep, we put out the light. Often when we wake up in the morning, it’s still dark outside and we turn on the light again. Now the light seems harsh and we shield ours eyes and don’t like the light so much! I’ve even been known to say bad things about that light!

Of course, the light hasn’t changed one bit. It’s still the same 100- watt bulb it was hours earlier. The light is the same…it is we who have changed. We blame the light and say that it’s harsh, but the light isn’t harsh. It’s just the same as when we were happy with it.

So, when all is said and done, the primary source of what the Bible calls God’s wrath is not in God. It’s in us! We often project on to God our own kind of anger and think of that as what the Bible refers to as God’s wrath. That’s not right!

God’s wrath is the backside of his love and his passion for justice and righteousness and to set things right again for his people. When we’re in tune with God’s passion we experience it as God’s love and God’s justice. When we’re out of synch with God, it may feel more to us like God’s wrath or even his anger.

When that happens, or when your read about it in the Bible, remember that the concept of God’s wrath is his passion for justice and to set things right. Remember that God’s anger –= whatever it is – is not like our anger. Remember that God is not moody and never changes.

It is we who change. And that is what allows us to experience either God’s wrath – or God’s unfailing love.

The choice is, and always has been…ours!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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