Monday, December 11, 2006

Advent: 3. The Wrath of God

Monday Morning

The beginning of a busy week. It has been a long time since I have been able to take a break. I am hoping to take the Sunday off after Christmas, but it is proving very difficult to find anyone to cover for me. It is one of the biggest pressures here: feeling that everything depends on me and that there is no-one able or willing to help. Let’s hope that by the end of the week I will have found someone! I hope so.

On a happier note, our congregation here is growing, numerically at least, and everyone is getting very excited now Christmas is drawing near. Yesterday was Pledge Sunday when we ask the congregation to pledge themselves and their resources to God for the year ahead. It met with a most encouraging response.

Today, I post the third in the series for advent. This one is about a little discussed topic nowadays. Back to the Personal Journey series tomorrow.

Have a good week!

The Wrath of God

The Bible tells us that we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God. It is because we are trapped in sin that we need saving. Salvation, in traditional Christian terms, is from sin and its consequences. One of the consequences of sin is that it incurs the wrath of God. To put it another way: it makes God angry and receives his response.

It is very easy to dismiss this idea as simply being a throwback to the middle ages: to a time that we have now, thankfully, left behind. And this is what just about most of us Christian and non-Christian alike are doing. You won’t hear many sermons in Church about the wrath of God. This is in part because of what was an unhealthy emphasis on it in some sections of the Church, in times past; in part because we prefer to talk about the love of God; and in part because we just don’t believe in it. A God who gets angry seems far too primitive for our advanced taste.

As far as we are concerned: if God exists (and it’s a big if) he had better be grateful to me for believing in him at all, and be nice to me if he wants me to take any notice of him. Like the genii in the lamp, he is there to grant my wishes, and if he wants my continued attention, then he had better give me more than three. So we have a god for all seasons. A god who is always there. A god who never has a bad word to say about us, who not only accepts me for what I am, but who also would never dream of trying to change me. A 21st century god without any of the nasty bits. A god you aren’t ashamed to be seen out with.

If this is our god, or anything like it, then I have to say that this god does not exist – no matter how much we may like him to. The God of the Bible is not at our beck and call. He is the Creator of all, who calls us all to account, and who holds us all accountable for our behaviour and actions. He is a God who gets angry at sin and who expresses that anger. And one day, the Bible tells us, we all will have to appear before this God for judgement.

We may find this goes against all our prejudices and preconceptions, but the alternative god is a god who does not get angry with sin, who does not judge it, and who does not respond to it. Such a god is one who does not care about the inequality, injustice, exploitation, and downright wickedness of our world. For if we humans care and get angry at racism, or child abuse, or political corruption, then a god who does not is either irrelevant or heartless. But we cannot have a god who is selectively angry at sin. If social and political sin call for a response - and it does - so, too, does our own sin. We are prepared to condemn social and political sins, but we have to guard against seeing the speck in society’s eye and not seeing the beam that is in our own.

It is not enough, however, for God to get angry: that anger must be expressed, otherwise God is either impotent or useless. When the Bible talks about the wrath of God, it means more than just God being angry. It means that God does something about the things that make him angry. He judges them, condemns them, and punishes those who perpetrate them: both now in this life and, more finally and completely, in the life to come.

Sixty years ago, the allies in Europe conducted the Nuremberg trials in which those who were suspected of war crimes and crimes against humanity were put on trial. No matter how imperfect, most think this was not only justified, but necessary, and that not to have done so would itself have been a crime. Why, then, do we find it so strange that God should put those who are guilty of crimes before him on trial?

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