The wrath of God
A very good post by Father Stephen on the wrath of God.
For various reasons, some people are determined to make the economy of salvation to be linked with the Wrath of God. If you do not repent, then God will do thus and such… I have always considered this representation of the gospel to be coercive and contrary to the love of God. I have heard convoluted ways in which this wrath is interpreted to be “the loving thing to do” but I do not buy it.
The common witness within Orthodox Tradition is that the wrath of God is a theological term which describes not God Himself, but a state of being in which are opposed to God. Thus the work of Kalomiros, The River of Fire, makes ample citation of the fathers in this matter. We may place ourselves in such a position that even the love of God seems to us as fire or wrath.
I find that many Western Christians speak about the wrath of God as if it were part of God’s nature. In Genesis, God says to Adam and Eve that they are not to eat of the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden. God says “for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” But many of those who advocate the penal substitution theory of the atonement seem to read this as if God had said “I will surely kill you”. But God did not say “I will surely kill you” but “you shall surely die”.
This leads to such distortions as I heard from one proponent of the penal substitution theory some years ago. He was objecting to the then-popular signs that had the smiley face symbol and said “Smile, God loves you”. His response was “God doesn’t love you. God is very angry with you because you are a sinner. He was so angry that he killed his son.”
But this is very close to the original sin.
If we go back to Genesis, to the conversation between Eve and the serpent, the serpent asks a theological question, “Did God say…?” The serpent’s question concerns the words of God, to establish what God said.
And Eve’s reply is an extensive exaggeration of what God said. God said that they were not to eat of the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, but Eve exaggerates this, and says that they were not to touch it as well.
And there is the temptation – to perceive God as an ogre-God. And it is exactly the same temptation that leads people to understand “you shall surely die” as meaning “I will surely kill you”.
And this is the problem of much Western evangelism — it has proclaimed the “good” news of an ogre god, so much so that this image has entered Western culture, because this ogre-god is the god proclaimed by many atheists as the god they don’t believe in. This is not the evangelion, the good news of Jesus Christ. It is the kakangelion, the bad news of an ogre-god.
See also Salvation and atonement.