The Wrath of God (WOG), and a New Zealand theological debate.

Its refreshing to find in these days a debate out there in Anglican Land about the Wrath of God. Not content with smaller bits of theological controversy, several New Zealand worthies are serving up a tasty dish of seriously pecante theological sauce. Go to Liturgy and Anglicans Down Under for the debate.

The Wrath of God...The primary biblical references for the wrath of God are enough to scare the pants off anyone. Here is a sample, from The Revelation to John:

11 Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in[a] blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. 14 And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. 15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty."

Ho, ho, ho.... not a pretty sight! "treading the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty."  Stomping those grapes of wrath, making blood in which one supposes the Faithful and True has dipped his clothing so that it is blood red.  

If that doesn't do it, consider Psalm 75:8 

"For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed, and he pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs."

So out of all this sort of imagery comes the words of the hymn that Bosco Peters found questionable,
“Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied”

Now I am an ol' Wrath of God sort of guy. Of what I know of God I am dead sure that God is mad as hell about the general screw-up that human kind has passed off as progress and civilization. The WoG is particularly reserved for nations and the power brokers, the principalities and powers, and the report is we don't want to see the WoG implemented.  The fury of God and the WoG is not something we want to see expressed in our back yards.

But, dear friends, the wrath of God is not satisfied by the Cross of Christ. If anything the death by crucifixion of the One God calls Son ought to send God into a frenzy of wrathful action. 

Even given that Jesus asks "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do," the beginning proposition is that God might not otherwise withhold his wrath. That God does not do the WoG thing may indicate that he is listening to the Son, but it does not mean that the act (crucifying Our Lord) was not worthy of wrath.

The WoG, it seems to me, is part of why we have the Fear of God (FoG) as part of our repetoire of response to God. The FoG is in place so that we might excape the WoG. Apparently in these days the FoG has been lifted sufficently for the WoG to be a topic of theological conversation, with the sense that the WoG is not to be dismissed lightly.

About the FoG, William Stringfellow had this to say (From a Public and Private Faith), 

"In the end, what distinguishes the Christian faith from mere religion, what set apart the practice of the Christian life from religiosity in any of its forms, what distinquishes the self-serving prudence of many of the churches of Protestantism from the freedom of participation in the ministry of Christ in the world, is the fear of God.

The fear of God in the Christian faith is the unanimous and elementary knowledge of the Church that God is God. The fear of God is grounded in the spontaneous response of a man to the active presence of the Word of God in the common life of the world, including the life of an ordinary man....

The fear of God, thus, is the initiation of worship. For the fear of God confesses the integrity and freedom of God an negates all substitutes for God....That is the beginning of the ethics of redemption in which men are emancipated from the struggle to justify themselves. Now the dread of death is dissipated, since God, and not death, reigns. And now, at last, men are free to be men."  (p. 92-3)

Now, lest our local and specific wrath gets out of hand, we need to remember that Bill Stringfellow wrote when talking about "men are free to be men" was more or less generic. Although, I think Stringfellow had he been able to stay, would have admitted that "man" is not generic as all that, and that God might be a tad wrathful over how much we men really meant men when we said men... But I digress.

What Stringfellow points out here is that behind the WoG imagery there is the "unanimous and elementary knowledge of the Church that God is God."  God is not apparently open to suggestions that the judgment of God or the righteousness of God or even the mercy of God can be replaced by any other thing.

Which leads, of course, to the thought that God's mercy and judgment and fearsomeness and even wrath are no placated by the death of Jesus, for who can escape the awfulness of God?

My sense is that God's wrath withheld even with Jesus' death at the hands of principalities and powers and even at the hands of our own negligences is a sign of the wideness of God's mercy. Perhaps the death of Jesus finally drives it home that God loves us quite in spite of God's anger, wrath, and even righteousness.  But it is not because Jesus dies that God has mercy, but rather that God has mercy, even to the point of not lifting up the hammer and driving it down on our heads when we drove the nails in His hands.

But God is God, unchanged even by the death of a loved one.  Mercy prevails even while justice is demanded.

There it is.     




  1. You might look around for a less unfortunate acronym than WOG. Tricky things, acronyms. There's a reason the Bush administration ditched The War Against Terror in favor of The War On Terror.

    Nice to see Eocene in word verification.

  2. Thanks for these thoughts, Mark.

    Your reflections bring to mind a comment by David Earle, "there is a really important point at the start of Bosco’s post which has got lost in the argument – that the words of songs should be read to mean what they mean in plain English to the person who has just walked in the door and should not require a course in NT theology to explain their deep and hidden meanings."

    I am pleased that there is some thoughtful reflection like yours as a result of my looking again at a regularly-sung song.

    Christ is risen.


  3. The praise song in question, “In Christ Alone” can be experienced on YouTube here. The tune is catchy; the rhymes are often charming; but the setting is in some ways defective; and the theology is decidedly wrong. The song is very popular in evangelical circles.

  4. Bill Coats9/5/13 8:01 AM

    Hey Mark,
    Stringfellow's summation points to a basic reality: the wrath on the Cross was, of course, ours. (unless you believe God engineered the will of political, religious and mob actors - all at once!) WE killed him and hence as Stringfellow's buddy Jacques Ellul pointed out the wrath or judgement here is revelation. And so as Stringfellow would then conclude what is at stake on the cross and the empty tomb is the possibility of our death, i.e the death of our attachment to those human features and activities which lead us to kill. This is what the wrath of God accomplishes.


OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.