If you do not keep up with the comments on this blog, Jessica once emailed me, you miss the best bits. That was typically modest of her, and whilst we all appreciate how busy she is, I think I speak for many (for once) in saying that we miss her presence, but never forget it is her blog. What put me in mind of that was a link posted by Servus Fidelis yesterday. It was to a piece by Msgr. Charles Pope of the diocese of Washington. I was very taken by it, and recommend it highly, but what I want to dwell on here is what he had to say about God’s wrath.
It has been a theme of mine here that modern churches dwell too much on Jesus who forgives everything, and in so doing they miss out the central part of Christ’s message – a call to repentance; if we are not conscious that we have something of which to repent, that is of sin, then how can we begin to realise why we need Christ?
Msgr. Pope tells us that ‘God’s wrath’ is the revelation of the results of our wickedness:
The wrath of God is our experience of the total incompatibility of unrepented sin before the holiness of God. The unrepentant sinner cannot endure the presence, and the holiness of God, There is for such a one wailing and grinding of teeth, anger and even rage when confronted by the existence of God and the demands of His justice and holiness. God’s wrath does not mean in some simplistic sense that God is “mad” as if being emotionally worked up to fury. God is not moody and unstable. God is not subject to temper tantrums like we are. Rather this, God is holy, and the unrepentant sinner cannot endure his holiness, but experiences it as wrath.
Now that I liked. I’ve always held that the idea of God as a bad-tempered Father throwing temper tantrums was no more than a projection of our own worst selves on to God. We don’t want to confront our sins, we say, in the words of Isaiah:
Which say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits.
Aye, we want to hear that it is not us, it is ‘our nature’; we wish to be perpetual victims. There’s nothing wrong with adultery, it was my genes (or her jeans); homosexuality is not contrary to God’s law because God doesn’t exist, or if he does, he’ll understand and love us all the same, and if necessary we’ll offer novel interpretations of St Paul to take away the sting: ‘right things’, there are no such things, there are only things which harm no other person and are pleasing to us. Tell us more about how it isn’t our fault; indeed, if you can tell us it is good for us, all the better.
Paul tells us in Romans where that leads:
21 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,
23 And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.
As Msgr Pope says, that is our times to a tee.
God’s wrath is that we are given over to our sins. If, looking around us, we think that what our wisdom is creating is good, then we shall continue down the road until enlightenment come. God is not punishing us, any more than he exiles us from his presence if we end in hell. We are the ones who, in the folly of our pride exile ourselves. We call our wickedness goodness and we cannot see the face of God even as through a glass darkly. Like Caliban in The Tempest we cannot bear to look in the mirror lest we see how monstrous we are.
The wrath of God is not to come, it is here and it is now, and it is every soul who exiles themself from Him by insisting that they are qualified to tell God what is and is not good. Like the children of Israel of old we have erred and strayed from His ways like lost sheep. The answer then, now and always is we turn to the Lord our God in humility and repentance. A broken and contrite heart He will not despise.