c) 2012' name='copyright'/>Michael DeShane Hinton: What Is Wrath?

Friday, August 30, 2013

What Is Wrath?


Paul wrote, “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” (Romans 1:18 ESV) 

If something is revealed, it can be observed.  What did Paul see that he called wrath? 

In the immediate literary context wrath was seen as the consequence of actions.  Paul described the actions taken: suppressing the truth of what is called natural theology (intelligent design in the things that are made), failing to honor God or give thanks to him, claiming to be wise, though they were foolish in the previous incidences, and finally exchanging the glory of God for idols.  I would call these theological or religious sins.  In contemporary American society, for instance, we have a form of idolatry called celebrity worship, into which can be folded the worship of athletes, also dependency on the government, aka statist idolatry. 

“Therefore,” Paul says, wrath ensues.  He then describes the wrath.  Three times, verses 24, 26, and 28, it says, in defining wrath, “God gave them up.” 

Now, we must be quick to point out that it does not say God gave up on us, for anyone can repent.  The Bible is full of stories about those that turn and are saved.  In fact, that is the purpose of God in giving us up to the sin and foolishness upon which we insist.  But in this post let us consider what is meant by wrath: it is God giving us up.  The reprobation has specific content.  By observing that content we see wrath and can say one is under wrath: 

·         Impurity and dishonoring of bodies
·         Homosexuality
·         All kinds of unrighteousness (a long list of things) 

Now, one might think that the sin lists above are the cause of wrath.  But no, they are presented as the result of the previous wrong thinking concerning “what can be known about God,” the violation of which is “without excuse.”  Likewise, we might be tempted to think that wrath is something like fire from heaven or those descriptions of the end of the world with plagues and fiery judgment – something that is frightening and physically hurts or destroys people.  Yes, those things do appear in Biblical prophecy and are called wrath.  There will be plenty of time for that!  And yes, even the New Testament tells of those that are punished in extraordinary ways for their sins.  Judas hung himself and his guts fell out.  Herod was stricken and died of worms in obvious consequence of his becoming an object of false worship.  Ananias and Sapphira lied to the Spirit and were struck dead.  Throughout history we might be able to point to those that suffered a deserved end for the evil they perpetrated. 

But in the closest he comes to systematic theology Paul explains in the first few chapters of Romans how we can see the wrath of God in less dramatic terms … and escape it though repentance (2:4) and faith in Jesus (3:21-26).  In fact, his discussion of small scale personal wrath goes on quite some time, subsuming Jews under wrath in several paragraphs, before he even mentions the way of salvation.  One could say that his clear perspective concerning wrath, seeing individual people suffer it, is what moves and motivates his evangelistic explanation as God giving them up.  If God gives people up then he can take us back, which he does in Christ when we are converted. 

But again, how is being given up to the list of bullet-pointed experiences above painful or a punishment relative to the common meaning of wrath?  One might consider some of those things fun!  In fact, a hedonistic personal ethic (if it feels good do it) or a non-judgmental ethos in society (whatever floats your boat) allows people to explore and experience whatever makes us happy, right? 

With that question we have come precisely to the point: what some might call the pursuit of happiness Paul calls wrath. 

Why? 

Because no one is truly happy that God has given up.  The assumed pleasure and personal benefit derived from sinful behavior is the biggest lie on the face of the earth. 

From the beginning mankind has been deceived concerning the true source of our happiness.  The first words out of Satan’s mouth were, “Did God say …?”   Eve’s focus was turned from God, the Creator, to what she saw in the creature, “that it was a delight to the eye, good for food, and desirable to make one wise.”  She committed many conceptual errors, lies, before acting wrongly and incurring wrath. 

We Christians must rid ourselves of conceptual errors, mainly that of antinomianism http://michaeldeshanehinton.blogspot.com/2013/07/the-spiritual-danger-of-antinomianism.html but also of “this world” theology.  We must re-focus intently on God and his eternal purposes in Christ. 

We as Christian people that truly love others need to be able to see wrath revealed and to say, “No, you are not happy.  No one can be happy doing what you are doing.  I see the pain in your face, the anguish in your eyes.  In fact, there is a distinct possibility that you are perfectly miserable without God, and want to get back to him, who is your Creator, your heavenly Father, and lover of your soul.”

David was a great psychologist.  Long before Freud wrote of projection David prayed this:
 

                With the merciful you show yourself merciful;
                                with the blameless man you show yourself blameless;
                with the purified you show yourself pure;
                                and with the crooked you make yourself seem tortuous. (Psalm 18:25-26 ESV) 

As Christian people we need to be merciful, blameless, and pure enough to know and experience deeply within ourselves the blessedness, peace, and joy of being with God.  Then and only then can we see the wrath that abides on the bulk of humanity that does not know him, who are tortured by God, not directly but for the lack of him, who has sadly given them up. 

Paul said virtually the same thing as David: 

To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. (Titus 1:15 ESV) 

People that act foolishly do not feel good about themselves.  They are not truly happy or free but tend to feelings of emptiness, guilt, shame, self-loathing, and often lash out in anger because they are not happy.  That is the wrath revealed, which Paul saw.  But no one needs to live like that.  Christ our Lord saves to the uttermost.  He will forgive past sins and empower us to live victoriously in this life.  If we repent and pray then we can experience grace and not wrath.

2 comments:

dat sneefa said...

I find it absolutely disgusting that Christians condemn homosexuals to hell, and turn around and celebrate God's genocides.

Truly all Xtians are slaves

Michael DeShane Hinton, M.Div. said...

Yes, dat sneefa, in fact, we Christians are supposed to be slaves of God. The word in Greek for "servant" is actually better translated "slave," which corresponds to the word for Jesus as Kyrios, Lord.

Jesus is Lord.

There is no genocide in Christianity. But Satan and his minions commit mass murder of innocent un-born children in elective abortion.

Thanks for visiting!