Monday, May 5, 2008

Wrath of God

Peter Venkman: This city is headed for a disaster of biblical proportions.
Mayor: What do you mean, "biblical"?
Ray Stantz: What he means is Old Testament, Mr. Mayor, real wrath of God type stuff.
Peter Venkman: Exactly.
Ray Stantz: Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies! Rivers and seas boiling!
Egon Spengler: Forty years of darkness! Earthquakes, volcanoes...
Winston Zeddemore: The dead rising from the grave!
Peter Venkman: Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together... mass hysteria!

People often think of "the wrath of God" in this Ghostbuster-ish way. Our church is currently working through Romans on Wednesday night, and I talked about Romans 1.18-32 gives us a slightly different perspective on God's wrath last Wednesday night.

Saint Paul tells us that the "wrath of God" is the other edge of God's two-edged sword: Righteousness and Wrath. So, in a sense, it is merely another way of "putting the world to rights," as N.T. Wright would put it. Saint Paul was writing primarily against idolatry in this section. People were fashioning gods from clay, wood, or metal and worshiping them. Absurd! Not only did they make the mistake of not worshiping God the Creator, but they even one-upped the common pantheistic mistake of worshiping His creation. They took that falsehood a step further by worshiping their OWN creations (images of humans, animals, birds, reptiles) that mimicked the Creation of God. This is TWO (three?) steps removed from the only source worthy of worship.

Romans 1 reminds us to acknowledge God in all things. "The righteous will live by faith." Those who abandon this are given over to their desires to be "free" of God or to be God (not that they will actually BE free or BE God, mind you). This results not in an elevation of their own status, but a degradation of their lives. Instead of pursuing the immortal God, they tout their own ways, human ways, of thinking. This leads to a false sense of intelligence and knowledge which leads away from God even as they believe that they are being enlightened.

Thus, the wrath of God is the other edge of that sword of righteousness. Both edges ensure that we understand who is the Creator and ruler of all. Wrath can be viewed as punishment, but it seems to be more of a way of setting things right.

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