Is the Denial of God's Wrath also the Denial of God's Love?
Preparing for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost: Two Days before Sunday (Year C)
Psalter: Psalm 82
Old Testament: Amos 2:4-11
Epistle: Acts 7:9-16
Psalter: Psalm 25:1-10
Old Testament: Genesis 41:37-49
Epistle: Acts 7:9-16
Move us to praise your gracious will, for in Christ Jesus you have saved us from the deeds of death and opened for us the hidden ways of your love. We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Rise up, O God, judge the earth, for all the nations belong to you! (Psalm 82:8).
Thus says the Lord: For three transgressions of Judah, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment (Amos 2:4).
Thus says the Lord: For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment (Amos 2:6).
by N.T. Wright
Face it: to deny God's wrath is, at bottom, to deny God’s love. When God sees humans being enslaved – and do please go and see the film Amazing Grace as soon as you get the chance – if God doesn’t hate it, he is not a loving God. (It was the sneering, sophisticated set who tried to make out that God didn’t get angry about that kind of thing, and whom Wilberforce opposed with the message that God really does hate slavery.) When God sees innocent people being bombed because of someone’s political agenda, if God doesn’t hate it, he isn’t a loving God. When God sees people lying and cheating and abusing one another, exploiting and grafting and preying on one another, if God were to say, ‘never mind, I love you all anyway’, he is neither good nor loving. The Bible doesn’t speak of a God of generalized benevolence. It speaks of the God who made the world and loves it so passionately that he must and does hate everything that distorts and defaces the world and particularly his human creatures.
And the Bible doesn’t tell an abstract story about people running up a big debit balance in God’s bank and God suddenly, out of the blue, charging the whole lot to Jesus. The Bible tells a story about the creator God calling a people through whom he would put the world right, living with that covenant people even when they themselves went wrong, allowing them to become the place where the power of evil would do its worst, and preparing them all through for the moment when, like the composer finally stepping on stage to play the solo part, he would come and take upon himself, in the person of his Son, the pain and shame, yes, the horror and darkness, yes, but also, in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, in Paul and Acts and Hebrews and 1 Peter and Revelation, in Ignatius and Irenaeus and Augustine and Aquinas, in Luther and Calvin and Cranmer and Hooker, in Herbert and Donne and Wesley and Watts – he would take upon himself the condemnation which, precisely because he loves us to the uttermost, he must pronounce over that deadly disease we call sin. To deny this, as some would do today as they have for hundreds of years, is to deny the depth and weight of sin and the deeper depth and heavier weight of God’s redeeming love. The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
So when Matthew Parris says that ‘this is the century during which, after 2,000 years of what has been a pretty bloody marriage, faith and reason must agree to part, citing irreconcilable differences,’ we must make two comments. First, faith is not a thing in itself. It is like a window in a house, defined not in terms of its type of glass but in terms of what you can see through it. And what Christian faith sees is the God who loved the world so much that he sent his son to die and rise again and thereby to redefine for all time what is true and what isn’t, what is wise and what isn’t, what is weak and what is powerful and what is deadly and what is salvific. And, second, as today and tomorrow we hold our gaze through that window on that God, we learn to meet the sneer of the sceptic not by hiding in a corner and taking refuge in unreason or anti-reason, but by seeing reason itself in the light of the cross. The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the wisdom of God and the power of God. As Paul goes on to say, among the mature we do teach wisdom, but it is a redefined wisdom which confronts the sceptical powers of the world and declares to them that in crucifying Jesus they have signed their own death warrant.
PRAYER: Divine Judge, you framed the earth with love and mercy and declared it good; yet we, desiring to justify ourselves, judge others harshly, without knowledge or understanding. Keep us faithful in prayer that we may be filled with the knowledge of your will, and not ignore or pass by another's need, but plumb the depths of love in showing mercy. Amen.
More of Tom Wright’s work can be found here.