18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.
For the violent passion of God is revealed against everything that is not God’s heart for humanity. When men of influence who are in intimate relationships with other gods before Him, suppress the truth of His love, God is outraged. For the truth of God’s love and His violent power to overcome everything that tries to suppress His love is all around us in creation.
These powerful men are without excuse because although they knew they stood between God’s love and those they had influence over they did not make a way for God’s love to flow to those they ruled over. Although they began with the ability to see God’s love, the light of this reality began to go out, and these men grew empty of divine purpose. Instead of governing creation, ruling over and subduing, they made the things they had been given authority over, authorities over them.
God gave us the authority to create and we began to receive the affects of placing the things created for us to govern, over us as governors.
Our passions for relationships other than the ones God made us for began to manifest in how we treated each other. Women gave other women the relationship men were to have to them and men did likewise. The fruit of these broken relationships manifested in many ways. Things God never intended for humanity to have as their identity began to take root and grow: broken sexual identity, a diseased posture toward one another, instead of celebrating each other’s glory we tried to steal each other’s glory, we treated each other as if we were worthless, we shriveled up by wishing ill will on each other instead of blessing, we stole each other’s lives, quarreling with one another, deceiving each other, slandering each other, hating the giver of life, insulting and doing violence to each other, lessening the worth of others and increasing our worth above others,
creating things God never intended – to poison His creation, disconnected from right relationships with our parents, forgetting how God made the world to work, breaking our covenants with God and others, without natural affections toward our brothers and sisters – sons and daughters – mothers and fathers, unable to make peace or keep it, refusing to show compassion to one another, while knowing that these things lead inevitably to death, we did them anyway and encouraged others to do the same.
“Wrath of God”
This will take a while. So put on your patient pants. Here we go. . .
Revelation as it is contained in Scripture has been taught to us in a very particular way. Because of the time in history we live and the spiritual ancestry that is ours, we work inside a paradigm that insists that all Scriptural truth is the same. After all, scripture is without error, we are told. Somehow, seemingly opposite ideas come together in God and can be true. Once the immovable theological software of inerrancy is installed the only option for us is submission to authority regardless of whether it makes sense.
Some theological camps will offer us a little help with the idea of progressive revelation (Scripture builds truth upon truth as we move from Genesis through Revelation) as long as we assert the permanent nature of the central idea in each scriptural truth.
You have heard it said that Scripture does not contradict Scripture. So with a little bit of historical context and an eye toward systematizing the revelation of Scripture we wind up reinterpreting troubling or “less clear“ Scripture to agree with the Scriptures that hold up our theological system and are obviously “more clear”.
I would suggest to you that scripture works differently and that scripture itself repeatedly teaches us to treat scripture with a different paradigm. I won’t hide my personal conclusions from you.
I will not insist that you agree with me.
I will, however, offer you some of the data. (And there is plenty more scriptural data that I do not have space to include in this short essay.)
“Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing. . .”
God is speaking. Specifically telling His people through the prophet to cease their attention on what they have known. God is doing something new. Seek this out. Pursue the new thing. Do not be hindered by your loyalty to the old.
And again. . .
“From this time forth I announce to you new things,
hidden things that you have not known.
7 They are created now, not long ago;
before today you have never heard of them,
lest you should say, ‘Behold, I knew them.’
8 You have never heard, you have never known,
from of old your ear has not been opened. ”
God is doing something new and somehow different both with the spiritual realm and the physical realm. . .
For behold, I create new heavens
and a new earth,
and the former things shall not be remembered
or come into mind.
God Himself announces that the clock is ticking on Jewish temple worship. It will come to an end. How? When?
Jeremiah 7:1-14 (God will destroy the place where His name dwells – the temple – because of the choices of His people)
“I gave them statutes that were not good and rules by which they could not have life”
The prophet, speaking for God, invalidates even the very words of the Law, given at Mount Sinai. Is this possible? Has God deceived them? What is going on here, inside the “inerrant”, perfectly authoritative Scriptures?
In short, Scripture often guides us to allow new things God is saying and doing to replace “former things”.
The New Testament provides us with similar data:
1 John 1:17
For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
I believe that within Scripture we are encouraged to allow greater revelation to correct, modify and even replace yesterday’s revelation.
Why is all this relevant to the concept of the “wrath of God”?
Moses teaches us that it is God who punishes, who destroys, who kills, who strikes with sickness. Jesus however, ALWAYS brings life. If Jesus is the exact representation of the Father (Hebrews 1:3) and if Jesus only does what his father is doing (John 5:19) and if to see Jesus is to see the father (John 14:7), I think we must question what Moses, David and other Old Testament writers gave us as their understanding of who God is and what He does.
So the first idea I need you to wrestle with is that Jesus is perfect theology. His revelation of the Father supersedes and often contradicts the revelation put forward by the writers of Old Testament Scripture concerning what God is like.
If I told you that the Greek word translated “wrath” in your English Bibles represented the concept of desire (as a reaching forth or excitement of the mind), violent passion, anger, indignation, or vengeance, would you be able to see that our orthodox understanding of God’s wrath as being the expectation that he will bring eternal damnation on all who do not believe in Jesus might be a little lopsided?
This concept is more than an anger that leads to punishment. God has a desire for his creation. He reaches out with a violent passion to establish us in our created identities and is outraged, he is indignant at every being that would keep us from His love.
The second piece of data that most western Christians are unaware of is the ancient understanding of the spiritual realm.
Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. 7 The Lord said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” 8 And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” 9 Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? 10 Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11 But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” 12 And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord. . .
You know the rest. Things don’t go so well for Job after this. Apparently, Job’s virtuous life has caught the attention of this Satan character. So a reasonable summary of current teaching regarding the story of Job reads as follows:
Job did good.
Satan questioned his goodness to God as simply a response to God’s extravagant blessing of Job. Remove the blessing remove the goodness.
God agrees to allow Satan to kill Job’s family and to torment Job.
After much suffering and a bunch of talking God confronts Job and tells him, “who are you to question me?” And then restores everything Satan took from Job.
Without an understanding of historical cultures and ancient world views, and with a blind agreement to the inerrancy of Scripture we are left with a “revelation”(?) about God that should scare the stuffing out of us.
Is God that mean?
Does Satan have that kind of access to God?
Are we allowed to question God?
Should we expect faithfulness from God in His relationships?
Does having a new wife and new kids really make up for the tragedy of losing the others?
I’m sure you can think of other questions that our misreading of Job provokes. Let me share with you a few pieces of information that hopefully will allow you to read the story of Job with greater understanding.
* Our current understanding of what is meant by the name “Satan” did not exist in the time period when Job was written. In Hebrew this word “Satan” means something. It means to attack or to accuse – an adversary. This adversary existed in ancient the understanding of the spirit realm as one who interacted with and accused humanity, but was not necessarily seen as an adversary of Yahweh, Israel’s God.
* Ancient peoples, including ancient Israel did not see much of a separation in the spiritual realm between good “gods” and bad “gods”. The Hebrew term “Elohim” which is translated as “God” in our English Bibles, means “powers”, and is used through the Hebrew Scriptures to refer to Israel’s power – Yahweh, or demonic powers like Molech, Asherah, the Baals, and the Egyptian pantheon of powers. This term “Elohim” can even be used to refer to Angels. Put another way ancient thought did not see a division between the activities of Yahweh, the one, true God of Israel and all the other spiritual forces vying for their attention, worship and loyalty.
To say this another way, the spirit beings or powers that acted from the heavenlies toward humanity were not seen as belonging to two distinct camps; one ruled by Yahweh and the other by Satan.
Not much distinction is made or clarification is given throughout the Hebrew Scriptures as spirit being interact with humanity. Let’s take a look at one such story. . .
1 Kings 22:19-23
And Micaiah said, “Therefore hear the word of the Lord: I saw the Lord sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing beside him on his right hand and on his left; 20 and the Lord said, ‘Who will entice Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ And one said one thing, and another said another. 21 Then a spirit came forward and stood before the Lord, saying, ‘I will entice him.’ 22 And the Lord said to him, ‘By what means?’ And he said, ‘I will go out, and will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ And he said, ‘You are to entice him, and you shall succeed; go out and do so.’ 23 Now therefore behold, the Lord has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; the Lord has declared disaster for you.”
(We see the human perspective of this prophetic vision in 1 Kings 22:11-13
“And Zedekiah the son of Chenaanah made for himself horns of iron and said, “Thus says the Lord, ‘With these you shall push the Syrians until they are destroyed.’ ” 12 And all the prophets prophesied so and said, “Go up to Ramoth-gilead and triumph; the Lord will give it into the hand of the king.” 13 And the messenger who went to summon Micaiah said to him, “Behold, the words of the prophets with one accord are favorable to the king.”)
Does God have some angles who lie for him?
Does God commission lying spirits to deceive his people?
What other ideas did the spirits at this council suggest?
It is clear that the understanding of New Testament writers concerning what they learned about God from the life and teaching of Jesus throws this particular Scriptural story into a precarious place. Is this an accurate description of how God works? Or maybe there is less discernment at this time in human history as God’s people try to describe and interpret what they are experiencing in their relationship with God.
Angels of death and destroyers and spirits that afflict people with disease; agents of God’s will or spirits interacting with humanity from the heavenlies? You decide. . .
If we begin to see the concept of “righteousness” as covenant justice or faithfulness inside of relationships then we can begin to see “unrighteousness” as a descriptor for people who occupy relationships that are not just and that do not create connection with God and subsequent wholeness. In fact, much of humanity pursues relationship with powers other than their creator and inevitably receive the fruit of the nature of the power they cultivate relationship with. “Unrighteousness” is the inevitable consequence or fruit of worshiping (giving systematic, intentional worth) to any God but Israel’s God.