At Bible study someone confessed their distaste for the bits on wrath and judgement in the Psalm we were reading, referencing an upbringing of fear mongering and shaming. Someone else I know falls quiet anytime wrath is mentioned in a worship song.
Despite the word “wrath” rolling off the tongue like fingernails on a chalkboard, we unequivocally cannot deny that God’s wrath is a part of the biblical story. And since some of the most extreme and uncomfortable parts of the Bible (like loving your enemies) are what also make the Bible deep and transformational, I’m not sure we can just toss the subject of wrath aside simply because of how if feels.
Living in Haiti has taught me that being wealthier, more educated, and/or more ‘civilized’ doesn’t necessarily make you right. In fact sometimes your (perceived) sophistication can hinder your ability to see certain things. So instead of chalking up the wrath of God to the imaginations of ancient barbarians, is it appropriate to ask what we might be missing?
Let’s face it, we have an authority issue…and for fair reasons. There’s been enough corruption in the higher ranks for so long we are naturally critical and suspicious of our political, religious, and civil authority figures. And now that much of the world lives in a democracy and owns a twitter account, it’s open season on leaders. I think if we’re honest we’d admit the same approach about God, though it’s harder to pinpoint. “Trust and Obey” is an oft-sung hymn in church; but today it sounds kind of weird when it precedes: “to be happy in Jesus.”
We’ve also lost the connection between love and order. To love a child is to give them what they want or to do everything for them, our culture says. Now children of helicopter parents are in the real world, surprised that there are actual consequences to their actions or inaction and wondering why they haven’t been given a 5th chance or why someone didn’t cover for them. Order is a good thing, and it doesn’t happen without accountability. Accountability has to…it just has to be enforced. That’s why we have police. Someone in our Bible study mentioned a quote they once heard: “Hell is God giving everyone everything they want.” That’s right. It’s chaos…complete anarchy.
And consider this: God’s grace (a biblical characteristic we all love) gains potency in the presence of wrath, not in the removal of it.
So as hard as it is to match our modern understanding of love with the ancients’, let’s not assume that we’re so in the right. This modern age of on-demand, consumeristic, hyper-individualistic, materialistic mentalities of disconnected people looking for an identity is not so noble either.
I really don’t know about heaven or hell or wrath, but I want to commit to wrestling with its mysteries. Throwing it aside simply because it doesn’t jive with modern worldviews isn’t helpful theologically, unless if we’re fine molding God into our own graven images.