Sunday, February 12, 2006

The Wrath of God

Last year at this time I talked about posting church memories which influenced me for good and called me to live out Jesus' commands. I posted one memory, but have struggled since (for multiple reasons) to write additional postings. I made a list of several memories and wrote a little on each, but instead of feeling encouraged and hopeful I got down and frustrated. I'm not entirely sure where the frustration comes from.

One outcome of the frustration was the realization that my understanding of Jesus' sermons is limited. I've read them multiple times and listened to related homilies and sermons, but for whatever reason I now see that my understanding of His words are kinda foggy and clouded. It bothers me that I'm not able to articulate the essence nor principle foundations of my Lord's manifesto.

Since then I've been reading Frederick Dale Bruner's commentary on the Book of Matthew [thanks to RLP (see very end of his post) ]. My progress is slow, but that's okay. Seems that each time I read his words, they jump off the page with warmth, hope and strength.

Today I reread his description of the "wrath of God" from his section on John the Baptist and the Sermon on the Mount. I've been mulling over his description in my head lately.
The wrath of God is not the irritability of God: it is the love of God in friction with injustice. It is the warm, steady, patient, but absolutely fair grace of God in collision with manifest selfishness...God's wrath does not contradict God's love; it proves it. A love that pampers injustice is not lovable (p. 92).

We do not honor love by omitting references to judgment. We do, however, do a disservice when we merely rant or pound the pulpit or use florid language. Some hell preaching can actually be the preacher's "dissing" or verbal violence, ecclesiastically camouflaged. But the abuse of a thing does not make wrong its use. Jesus teaches everywhere that serious ethical instruction should be undergirded by serious warnings. The holiness of God is at war with all bitterness, hatred, and hurting. And where divine holiness collides with our hostility the crash is called the wrath of God. God's wrath is God's war of love against everything gratuitously hurtful. God's love would not be love if it did not work to remove all that ungraciously hurts. The wrath of God does not disapprove; it proves the love of God (p. 213) (bolding mine).
When I think of my conception of God's wrath darkness surrounds me. By this I mean unpredictability, out of control, scary, death, epic anger. Everything about these words makes me feel afraid. Bruner's words are strong, but something about them draws me out. I want "to know" this holy wrath that collides with my own "manifest selfishness", my inner "bitterness, hatred, and hostility". For I do desire to build instead of destroy, to reunite instead of divide. I want "to know" this holy wrath that is "against everything gratuitously hurtful" and will work to remove "all that ungraciously hurts".

Something just dawned on me as I am finishing up this post. I'm realizing that Bruner's description of "God wrath" more closely matches my picture of Jesus than my conception. It makes me wonder where I came up with mine...