A common enough complaint urged against those of us who spend a good deal of time on the subject of God’s love is ‘what about the wrath of God?’ It is a fair enough comment. I would certainly be open to the suggestion that in its reaction against a long period when almost nothing but the wrath of God was stressed, the Church may have gone too far in forgetting about it: God’s love, and our love for him are paramount – but the wrath of God should not be forgotten.
Several times in the first chapter of the letter to the Romans Paul writes about the ‘wrath of God’. It is perhaps significant that the second century heretic, Marcion, should have omitted ‘God’ from verse 18 and thus have ended up with something impersonal, he was, after all, steeped n Greek philosophy. It seems, sometimes, that the modern commentators who struggle with this and explain it away as archaic, are prone to the same line of thought, as such a concept of God has more in common with Greek philosophical abstractions than it does with the personal and active God we meet in Holy Scripture. Certainly Paul’s use of the phrase ‘wrath of God’ along with the idea that God ‘gives’ sinners ‘over’ to a ‘darkened mind’ seems many miles away from the notion of an impersonal God.
All of which takes me to the text Romans 1:28-32, where we see the results of turning from God. God’s wrath is directed against the sins we commit. How can a just and loving Father be indifferent to our destructive selfishness and the effects of our departure from his holy law? What sort of Father would that be? Which of us seeing our child holding a knife would not be concerned, and who, among us, having told the child of the danger, would not be angry if he or she used it to harm others or him or herself? Here, in the last few verses of Romans, we get a picture of what life looks like when we reject God and trust in our own will and wisdom. We see, here, the almost inexhaustible list of vices which arise from human depravity. We may try to rationalise certain sins, but God judges them all.
When we reject God, we are unable to think correctly about him or his will for us, and from our darkened minds comes forth this list of vices. It is humbling to reflect how many of them one is guilty of oneself, and they should serve us as a check-list of what to avoid. But if our mind is twisted out of shape by our worship of our own image, then we shall go where we should not go. God is unable to stop us – we will not let him, so he lets us go our own way.
But should we repent, why then how wonderful it is. Then we do not walk as the ‘rest of the Gentiles’, alienated from God with darkened minds and conformed to the world. Rather, conform to Christ, and our minds will be enlightened and renewed, and we shall know his will, and through Grace, we shall follow it.