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The wrath of God

16 January 2009

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.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Doulos permalink
    16 January 2009 8:26 pm

    Very true and something has disturbed me for a long time, back when I was a Protestant and a Roman Catholic. What a breath of fresh air though to learn the original, and Orthodox understanding.

  2. robertbravery permalink
    16 January 2009 9:27 pm

    God loves the sinner but hats the sin. He will punish those that offend. Punishment and retribution have nothing to do with whether God is an ogre. It has got to do with God’s desire for man to be forgiven. God chastise those whom he loves.

    If you punish your child does that mean you do not love him/her does that mean that you are an ogre?

    Man has to know both sides of the story. He has to know what will happen if he rejects God. He will be punished and banished to Hell. But God is loving “not willing that any should perish”
    “It is a fearful thing to fall in to the hands of the living God”
    “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life”
    Many say that God is love. While this is absolutely true. God is also Hate. He hates sin, but loves the sinner.

    We have to preach the whole council of God. Not this wishy washy lovey dovey gospel. Man needs to know his responsibility. What will happen if he rejects the Gospel.

    For God is Holy. He Loves man. Man must repent or be punished in an eternal hell fire. If man repents and call on Christ for salvation, then he has an eternal home prepared for him in heaven

  3. 16 January 2009 9:28 pm

    It’s a good semantic point.

    Also, I would say that it’s good to understand that Scriptures must by definition speak functionally about God for the simple fact that God’s essence cannot be directly known. The economy of salvation is our contact with God, and within that matrix the idea of penal substitution might make sense, but we must always tack onto it that the blood of Christ has defeated ALL sin for ALL times. It’s not as if God was sending them all hell-bound for a few thousand years until God the son felt so sorry for us that he finally intervened. The justice of God has eternally been coupled with the mercy of God; God the father is ALWAYS understood through the lens of the self-sacrificed son; the solution made sense of the problem and not vice-versa.

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