I know. I promised to redeem the “wrath of G_d”. Not sure it’s possible. What I can say is that my etymological research revealed that the Indo-European root means “to turn” (as on a lathe), then later to turn against, and eventually to turn against in anger. The problem is that in most monotheistic religions, including Christianity, G_d’s anger is usually directed toward polytheists. It is a projection of a ethnocentric worldview onto G_d—our hatred of those who don’t belong to our family, tribe, belief system, or culture attributed to the divine. It has justified way too much bloodshed over the centuries.
In polytheistic religions I haven’t been able to find similar examples of the wrath of one god turned against the people who worshiped other gods. There seems to have been a general acceptance of other gods. I heard a story about a village in what is now Mexico welcoming the Spanish missionaries and their G_d. It turned out that this newby Christian G_d nicely rounded out some missing qualities from the local pantheon. Always room for one more god at the table. It makes you wonder doesn’t it, whether monotheism was an evolutionary advance or a regression? It’s not that tribal people’s were necessarily kinder or gentler to their neighbours, but the violence wasn’t enacted because their god was jealous of the other guy’s god, as in the Hebrew scripture. (I’m open to correction here).
When Paul writes about the wrath of G_d in the first chapter of Romans, it is exercised passively by “giving them over” to sin. The sin comprises the usual list of suspects, idol worship, lust, homosexuality, etc., etc. The list is invariably culturally determined. But the main point is that G_d is not portrayed as actively meting out judgment. Rather, there is a passive allowance, or an honouring of free will, even when that free will is exercised against abundant life. I think of how I once got caught as a twelve year old stealing candy from Gambles Department store. The security agents intended to see this one through. Called the police and worse, called my parents. The way our house was set up, I actually had to walk through my parents bedroom to get to mine. I wasn’t actively punished. I wasn’t grounded. My allowance wasn’t taken away. Nothing corporal. The only words ever spoken to me, as I passed by their bed, were “Bruce, don’t we give you enough?” I was crushed. Never stole again. I was “given over” to my “sin”.
Okay, so that’s hardly wrath, at least as we’ve come to think about it, with images of the firebrand preacher, holding threats of eternal damnation over the cowering congregation. And stealing from Gambles doesn’t exactly meet the criteria of “wickedness”. Still, being left alone that night to consider the depths of the affront to my parents was as much “turning against” as I could stand, and I was indeed a penitent soul. History could be understood as the long suffering of G_d waiting for humanity to awaken to its true identity and purpose. The “wrath of G_d”, this patient and loving willingness to turn us over to stew in our foolishness, is thus understood as the only viable strategy of Love in dealing with willful ignorance, greed, and violence.
In this sense, we can think about how the cosmos and Earth participate in the “wrath of G_d” against our ecological foolishness. We are “given over” to our foolishness. Just as we read in scripture that the heavens declare the glory of G_d, and the trees clap in praise, so Earth dries up, vomits out, stops producing, and is deluged with rain, when the people of G_d choose to live alienated from their divine nature. The effects of anthropogenic climate change are not caused directly by G_d (obviously) but rather represent humans being “given over” to their foolishness.
To be honest, I don’t believe that G_d could intervene wrathfully, but chooses not to. It’s not that G_d withholds an angry intervention. I don’t believe that it’s in love’s nature. But because we are made in the divine image, we have the capacity for both free will, and to be conscious of how our exercise of free will is aligned with or against G_d. To discover ourselves as aligned against is to experience that our turning against life has caused life to turn against us. We find ourselves to be in a state of excruciating alienation and separateness. We have been given over to our foolishness. We have undergone a kind of tender wrath.
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