The Tender Wrath of God

wrathThe wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness…(Romans 1:18)

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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Comments

  1. Bill Booth says

    Bruce
    Quick check with the Hindu stories about Krishna finds a story of Krishna acting as a direct advisor to a king against his rebellious relatives. Although this was after the failure of Krishna’s attempted peace negotiations. At the start of the battle The king refuses to fight because he doesn’t wish to go to war against his relative but Krishna insists he battles citing the refusal of the kings son to accept . “Krishna asked Arjuna, “Have you within no time, forgotten the Kauravas’ evil deeds such as not accepting the eldest brother Yudhishtira as King, usurping the entire Kingdom without yielding any portion to the Pandavas” So polytheistic gods can be wrathful or at least promote wrathfulness in their followers. tp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Krishna#Kurukshetra_War_and_Bhagavad_Gita
    Also Thor is said to have killed all the trolls and other non humans.

    I like your discussion about the wrath of God being passive in nature or non intervening.
    anyway just a few quick thoughts., BB

  2. says

    Hi Bruce,
    I love the expression “the wrath of God”. It sounds so absolute. I can see the analogy of us humans choosing to step away from the truth of God, from our inherent spiritual and divine nature, and by that throwing a spanner in the works, unbalancing our own real relationship with life. We become ego-centric, selfish and arrogant. Thus parting from God’s love. But I feel that “wrath” points to more of a direct encounter, a personal denial in the face of God (or in Israel’s case, a national affront). I can hear Jesus reprimanding Peter for saying that no ill will befall him. Jesus rebukes Peter instantly without pardon. Almost like a knee-jerk spontaneous reaction coming from a source so pure it can’t entertain even a speck of untruth. I have personally felt this impact to my soul from the hand of God himself but not in the degree of wrath but definitely as a non-compromising admonition. But I can envision a stern absolute hand of God even violently correcting untruth done in the face of our Lord. I believe the closer we walk with our father the tighter will his control be. Just as a parent will demand more from his most beloved son (don’t we know this to be true!). Israel was chosen by God and therefore he had a personal relationship with them and a special investment in his plan. He would have to demand a lot, put a lot of pressure on them to walk the straight and narrow. Any disobedience close up, in the face of God, will ensure the “wrath” of God as he loves you more and hates to see you sidestep. A loving fire that will feel like the heat of his breath, fuming at our stupidity :-)

      • William Walker says

        Thank you Bjorn. I resonate with your comment.

        My sense is that when we engage the different faces of God (God as I, as Beloved Other, as It) just what the Wrath of God is, and how personally felt it is, shifts, as does our interpretation of it. I’m going to share mainly from the first perspective, God as I, because that’s where I am sourcing wisdom from in this moment and because I feel it helps to invite directly perceived truth as to what the wrath of God is in any moment.

        If I invite, align, and merge more and more, and devote myself to the God nature and impulse that I am, to True Nature, and love it more than anything else, it begins to transform my experience, moment to moment. Any sidestepping away, hiding, ignorance, turning away from the truth of what I am will bring subtle or harsh suffering from this self-truth denial. At some point on the path, when one begins to ‘be’ the perspective of true nature, the course correcting starts to happen on its own. In some moments that ‘correcting’ is tenderly pointed out and held, in other moments it feels like a bombshell, whether that’s feeling the shame of our turning away and needing to burn in that, or feeling the deep pain of self-God betrayal.

        At this point it’s very personal, there’s actually not much need to talk about God as an it except for philosophical interest. You and the Beloved are so close, that to betray Her/Him/It is to betray your very Self.

        From this point of view, this experience of the Divine, God is not passive at all, not is she non-intervening. He is very active and very intervening, because anything that is not in accord with Truth, with the true nature of who you are, will be annihilated, always from Love, sometimes felt tenderly, sometimes felt devastatingly painfully. Once we give our allegiance, our Will, to True Nature, we are inviting it in without condition, and so it wil knock, spring forth ecstatically, or bang up agains whatever within us is resisting. Whether this is tender, terrifying, shameful, humiliating, is secondary.

        The Wrath of God, is our own longing for Truth to consume us fully. It is our own deepest love for our Self.

        William

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