Monday, May 25, 2009

God of Wrath...? Immature Perspective...?

More and more I see the evidence of fear ... and the fear people have of losing their fear...! As if, without fear, they will run amok into licentiousness. As if God has nothing else going for Him. As if we won't have a relationship with Him without fear. As if a fear-based relationship is a relationship at all. As if Love is not more powerful than fear.

As if God's love, and God's wrath, are in competition with each other. As if who He is depends on how we behave. As if He is schizophrenic. As if our choices can thwart Him.

Wrath, as we perceive it, is just the most severe form that His love and mercy can manifest.

I see that Scripture tells us that God IS Love ... that this is His nature ... nowhere are we told that "God IS wrath." As I see it, everything about God comes out of His love ... everything is a manifestation OF that love. I see that perfect love casts out all fear (including, I believe, fear of God ... that the fear of God is [merely] the beginning of wisdom ... that we're meant to move on from that immature perspective).

I'm thinking that it's our perspective that's skewy ... that we keep putting our stuff onto God, and thinking it's Him.

As I see it, He loves us so much that He goes after that which is destroying us -- that's His wrath -- it's His fierce love in the form of destroying that which destroys us.

I've got a couple of true-life examples (both involving 2-year-olds) of how we perceive God's wrath (which, to my thinking, is just the most severe form His mercy can take):

Let's say my Benji, age 2, is in the front yard, playing with his ball. Let's say the ball goes out the open gate, into the street, and he goes after it (of course), happily. But I see the danger Benji is oblivious to -- I see a log truck bearing down, heading straight for him, and too fast to stop. I take off for Benji, running full steam ahead, likely frowning, looking fierce, and tackle my boy to the ground, hitting his forehead hard on the curb - whew, just in time! However, how does Benji perceive this? All he knows is: "Mama just hurt me! Mama hurt my head, bad, and kept me from getting my ball! Mama is mean. Mama betrayed me. Mama must hate me."

Such would be his limited perspective -- but the truth is I was motivated by fierce love to save my boy. My wrath against the truck, against something harming him, propelled me across the yard, and was willing to let him be hurt, so that he would be saved. That's wrath. The most fierce expression of mercy.

Here's another living metaphor, from Wayne Jacobson (from his book, "He Loves Me"):

"It was the most poignant picture of wrath I've witnessed. I had taken my family camping in the Sierra Nevada mountains to escape the heat of our home on the valley floor and to soak in some rest and relaxation. I was hunkered down in a lounge chair deeply engrossed in a novel. My wife, Sara, was coming to join me when suddenly we heard screams of pain from our two-year-old son, Andy.

He'd been playing in the dirt not far from our campsite. As I looked up he was stomping his feet and waving his hands wildly. Swirling around him were flying insects, backlit by the sun, Sara immediately recognized them as bees. Somehow he had stumbled into their nest in the ground and they were attacking him relentlessly.

Before I could extricate myself from the reclining chair, Sara had already rushed to the sounds of his screams. Even though she is allergic to bee stings and got stung for her efforts, she angrily swatted at the bees as she scooped up her son to run with him to safety. When I got to them she was stroking his head with comfort while still panting from the overload of adrenaline still coursing through her veins. Soon she reacted to the venom and we took her to the hospital for treatment.

If you want a picture of God's wrath, I can think of none better. She was as angry as I've ever seen her, but the anger wasn't directed at Andy nor did it seek retribution. She simply risked herself to rescue someone she loved so deeply.

That's what God's wrath is like. He sees the evil that mars his creation and destroys people he loves and he must be rid of it. His wrath consumes evil and wickedness and as such does not exist as the opposite of his love, but as an expression of that love. It must protect and set free the object of his affection.

I'm sure when my son first saw mom running at him eyes blazing with anger, he thought he was in trouble. Even though he didn't know what he'd done wrong, he was already recoiling from her as she approached. Only after she had swept him to safety did he realize he was not in trouble.

I think our shame-consciousness toward God does the same thing. Whenever we see God acting to consume sin, we internalize the anger against ourselves. But that isn't where the wrath is primarily directed. "The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men…" (Rom. 1:18). It's not people that God seeks to destroy but the sin that destroys his people. In that sense God's wrath is far more curative than it is punitive. Its primary purpose is not to hurt us, but heal and redeem us."

That so deeply speaks to me...!

Shalom, Dena


Benjamin Graber said...

I really like the example of Benji and the street - that is the best picture of God's wrath that I've ever heard.
If God IS love, how could His wrath be motivated by anything but love?

Dena said...

It speaks to me, too, Ben ... because it comes right out of my life (it didn't actually occur, but was one of those "flash-images" that came to me, while pondering fierce love). It's all about perspective ... our limited one, or God's all-encompassing one. We can move from one to the other, and I believe that's the point of this life ... to have our minds renewed, to move from egoic thinking to the Mind of Christ (this is His doing, and our cooperation ... we can do it the hard way, or the easy way, but it will be done).