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August 02, 2016



Revelation 21:5
"And he that sat upon the throne said, *Behold, I make all things new.*"


Well, yes, that's certainly a keen literalist read of the text as data. But following Christ, the apostles, and the early church, I've recognized that a literalist read of the wrath texts runs counter to the gospel revelation of Abba and indeed, ultimately creates an idol. It's not about avoiding the harsh language so much as reading it through the Emmaus Way hermeneutic of the New Covenant, recognizing anthropomorphism, phenomenological descriptions, and the function of wrath rhetoric as it develops throughout Scripture. What I see in your comments is a flat, modernist hermeneutic that, when followed to its end, reverts to the ancient gods of retribution that Christ came to displace with the Cruciform.

A. J. Derxsen

You're underselling God's wrath here. YES: we merit it by our own choices and actions; YES: God would /prefer/ to bring us into relationship with Himself; and YES: sin brings natural consequences.

BUT . . . the Bible is equally clear that God's wrath isn't /only/ "passive" or of the "natural consequence" variety.

1) For starters, even to say God "gives over" isn't to say He's being entirely passive; He has to actually /choose/ to "give over." Nothing outside of His own nature is "making" Him choose that; it's not as if He's pursuing us with love and mercy and we somehow manage to outpace Him. He has officially deemed the "giving-over" as just, which it is; there comes a time when God STOPS extending mercy to the unrepentant.

2) Paul himself, still in Romans, states that God "inflict[s] wrath" (Rom. 3:5, ESV); literally, "the one bringing [active voice, NOT passive voice] the indignation." Likewise: God is "willing to show [middle voice] His wrath" (Rom. 9:22). God actively, not passively, deals out vengeance at the appropriate time (Rom. 12:19). God's /active/ (not "passive") wrath is seen clearly in Revelation 6:16ff.

3) God is explicitly said or overtly implied to be /angry/ at unrepentant sinners - not merely sad and passive, bemoaning our self-willed slide into oblivion (Deut. 29:20-28; 1 Kings 14:15; 2Ki. 22:17; Psalm 78:21, 31, 49-50, 58; Isa. 10:5, 25; 13:3, 9, 13; 30:27, 30; 63:3, 6; Jer. 4:26; 7:18-20; 30:24; 33:5; 51:20; Lam. 3:43; Ezk. 5:13; 13:13; Mic. 5:15; Zep. 3:8; Matt. 21:33-41; 22:1ff; Luke 19:12-27; Rev. 14:10).

Mark 3:5 tells us that God's anger is conjoined to His grief.

And the "passive" idea cannot possibly be reconciled with a "harsh"-sounding verse like Deuteronomy 28:63. Now, of course that verse must be interpreted in a way commensurate with God's insistence in Ezekiel 18 and 33 that He "takes no joy in the death of the wicked." I therefore construe Deut. 28:63 as meaning that God delights /in His own justice/ (cf. Ezk. 5:13) - not specifically in the suffering of the /targets/ of that justice.

Analogously, an honorable human judge has no particular desire to make anyone suffer - yet s/he would be deeply dissatisfied with having rendered anything less than a just verdict, even though that verdict will cause the criminal to suffer. When s/he renders a just verdict, s/he has a sense of satisfaction with having done his/her job honorably.

4) The Bible's various examples of divine wrath - most notably in Deuteronomy 28-29 and the book of Revelation - cannot be rightly viewed merely as God "passively giving sinners over" to natural consequences. It is abundantly, unmistakably clear that God actively brings about forms of punishment that, if all He did was passively leave sinners alone, they might never actually experience.

A prime example outside of the above passages is in Numbers 21:

"And the people spoke against God and against Moses, 'Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.' Then Yahweh sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died." (Verses 5-6)

An onslaught of poisonous serpents is NOT a "natural consequence" of grumbling and disobedience! God was NOT merely "passive" here. The same principle applies to many other biblical examples.

Rene Lafaut

As far as the Wrath of God is concerned...I have many people to thank for correcting my notions of hell...among them are you Brad...Thanks:
I have not always seen hell the same way. I went through a sort of evolution in the way I saw it. At first I saw it as a place where the demons punished those there. I rejected this when my dark night began and so for a long time did not know what to think about it. But then, while at a bible study I met a lady that had an intriguing conception of hell. She saw it as redemptive in naure but that those there suffer because they resist the purging fires. This satisfied me for a long time...but when I came to see God's love as non-coercive in nature this did not appeal to me like it did before. But now I have a model that I think is more representative of the natures of both God and mankind.

I now see the burning experienced by those in hell as a burning thirst for God that is not satisfied out of pride. I see the fear experienced in hell as a result of never having received the forgiveness of God for one's sins. Both the burning and the fear cause horrendous pain and suffering. The wrongly directed thirsts of those there are directed to idols that never satisfied and are nolonger available. When we do not receive forgiveness from God and land up in hell, then we don't know what to expect and so have tormenting fears and nagging wormy, riddled guilt and shame that Satan planned and seeded within us while on earth; this guilt and shame will torment those in hell. It is through the forgiveness of our sins that salvation is realized. Ultimately pride keeps us from letting go of our attachments to our idols (even when they are taken away from us) and from not being able to say we are wrong and make things right. When we attempt to satisfy our thirsts with idols, those thirsts are really thirsts for God that get redirected by lies to unworthy lesser things. Pride kills us, and fear torments us. God knows the proud by afar, but God grants grace to the humble: His empowering presence.

Rene Lafaut

We all deserve the consequences of our sins, but that doesn't mean we should relish it when
people reap the horrible consequences that they sow. Sin is bad, and it along with its
consequences are the punishments for it. Jesus, God the Father, and the Holy Spirit don't delight
in the death of the wicked. God is not mean, and does not meanly punish anyone.
The places where Jesus gets angry in the Gospels are not where He is hateful of the people He is
angry with. When Jesus tells parables where the bad guy gets his due he is not saying He hates
the bad guy, He is saying He hates what the bad guy did. Jesus is slow to anger...but when the sin
has run its course in rebellion hurting people and rejecting God’s pleas all the way, God wants to
put an end to it for justice sake. Often people think there are only two kinds of justice:
restorative and retributive. God however, is gentle. Justice also means putting an end to an
injustice. Those who dislike the “end” see it as retributive because the party has come to an end
for them. What happens after the injustice is stopped, will depend on the attitudes of those
involved in the situation. God can give people over to their sins, or He can restore them. No
amount of punishment is going to undo the injustice. Only God is able to save.

Mark Basil

I very much appreciate this correction, or addition, or "going further," into the language of God's wrath. I did not find that section of "A More CLG" the most helpful. As I examined my own life, I felt a sense that God was so often sparing me from the terrible (just/natural) consequences of my sin yet when I would persist and become hopelessly addicted He would use his wrath with a physician's skill and carefully allow just enough bitter medicine to bring me to my senses (most dramatically in the conception of my first son).

I relate very strongly to G.M.'s words you quoted:
"The Lord never came to deliver men from the consequences of their sins while yet those sins remained: that would be to cast out of the window the medicine of cure while yet the man lay sick; to go dead against the very laws of being (George MacDonald, Life Essential, 15). "

And especially appreciated your linking this punishment-as-medicine to the story of the penitent prodigal and (self-)righteous older son:
"And sadly, for the kid who didn't run away, it didn't end in the Father's arms. Avoiding sin, he was still bound in self, a slave to his own self-righteous striving."
Thank you for taking us deeper than the "sins" into the underlying problem of self-will too. (My spiritual father used to say, "trying to stop sinning is like plucking mushrooms- a pointless task! You must cleanse the soil to stop the mushrooming fruit from ever sprouting."

I know you have to write with a specific audience in mind, and I'm learning I'm often not that audience. For me, I always like trying to redeem the scriptures and the fullness of the biblical, classical Christian lexicon through nuanced, God-breathed 'definitions' and interpretation (thus I didn't like doing away with "the wrath of God" neither do I like doing away with "punishment")
I worry that to try and remove biblical, classically Christian language from our contemporary lexicon is just to delay the problem folks will have to have when they encounter the 'difficult language' of the gospels, or worse the psalms, read in worship). I have a similar problem with loose contemporary translations that want to avoid 'harsh language' rather than interpret and define the language rightly.

So I enjoy your points 4 and 5, as they give me a way to work with the concepts of God's wrath and His punishments when I find them on the lips of Christ or the prophets, etc.

Thank you;
-Mark Basil

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