Monday, July 27, 2020

Reading Romans (12) Wrath Intrudes

In My article on Reading Romans, I noted that the first chapter of Romans has a jarring intrusion between verse 17 and verse 18. Paul has been describing his gospel and explaining that it reveals the rightness of God's actions and character.

In the gospel the rightness of God is revealed (Rom 1:17).
God's response to the human condition is grace and mercy. He wants to rescue his people from the mess they have got into. The following verse is a shocking intrusion.
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven (Rom 1:18)
This is not good news. The Jewish Judger sees humans as being under the wrath and condemnation of God and wants to ram that home. This is a harsh message compared to Paul's message of grace and salvation. Paul focusses on God being right in everything he does, whereas the judge claims that God is angry and hostile to the people of the world. This is a shocking distortion of the gospel, but modern Christians are not shocked, because we have been trained to be comfortable with the wrath of God.

I was once part of this problem, because when I first became a Christian and a preacher, I was comfortable speaking about the wrath of God. I think that I was a bit of a Pharisee, better at seeing other people’s faults, than see my own, especially my judgmental attitude. I presume that was driven by personal pride and a false belief that I was better than others whom I considered to be under the wrath of God. Strangely I had never felt that I was under God’s wrath before I had decided to follow Jesus.

The first jolt to my comfort with wrath was when a friend challenged me to read James 2:3.

Mercy triumphs over judgment.
I presume that he thought I was overly judgmental and lacking in mercy, and in hindsight, he was right, but it took a long time for this truth to sink in.

More recently, God gave me greater insight into the role of the spiritual powers of evil. I came to realise that Wrath is a powerful evil spirit that pretends to be doing God’s work, but he actually loves wrecking God’s earth and doing harm to humans. Seeing that really changed my thinking about wrath.

I realised that the common belief that we serve a God of Love, who is also a God of Wrath is an enormous contradiction. Love and Wrath are opposites. Wrath demands vengeance. Love motivates mercy and forgiveness. A person cannot be full of wrath and full of love, even if they are as big as God, because when wrath overwhelms, love inevitably gets squeezed out. When love prevails, anger has to dissipate. Wrath and love cannot remain together.

“Wrath” is not an aspect of God’s character. It is the name of an evil spiritual power that seeks to dominate the world.

Getting back to Romans 1:18, the claim that God’s wrath is being revealed through Jesus represents a massive graunch of the gears of anyone who has not become comfortable with the ugly idea of God’s wrath. It might not shock Jewish listeners, but it would be a huge shock to Roman listeners. Wrath was what the Roman Emperors and the Roman army did, and it was ugly. Their wrath was revealed when they killed and destroyed without qualms.

For Romans, wrath was cruel, so saying that God was doing what was right and that his wrath was being revealed in the next sentence was an enormous contradiction. It would have jarred the Romans. They only reason that it does not jar us is that we have been trained to be comfortable with the idea of God’s wrath, which is really sad, because it grossly misrepresents God’s love and mercy.

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