While there is a light in which I can appreciate this sentiment about more recent traditions commenting on the character of God and his relation to humanity (thinking about Jonathan Edward’s Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God), nevertheless you are wrong if you think the proclamation of the wrath of God is an innovation. The wrath and justice of God is very much a theme permeating the whole of scripture and spanning the breadth of Christian traditions.
The Cup of the Lord’s Wrath
The OT prophets spoke often of a “cup of wrath” or of God’s wrath being poured out:
Thus the Lord, the God of Israel, said to me: “Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it. They shall drink and stagger and be crazed because of the sword that I am sending among them.” Jeremiah 25 (:15ff.) See also, Ezekiel 21:31 and Isaiah 51:22
This OT theme of a cup of God’s wrath is taken up by Matthew and Luke in their depiction of our Lord in Gethsemane and of his work accomplished on the cross and in the emptying of the tomb:
And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” Matthew 26:39-40
And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” Luke 22:42
God’s plan of salvation/atonement is a gem of many facets, if I may speak informally. And to overlook God’s wrath/justice is to undermine the very reason God’s forgiveness and forbearance exploding onto the human scene at the crucifixion are such a beautiful gift:
For there is no distinction: for fall have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Romans 3:22b-26
I do not pretend to be an expert in all things Pauline and Patristic, but I think it safe to say that, based on Romans (and Hebrews), the acknowledgment of God’s wrath and Christ as the sacrifice of atonement was (and remains) integral to all theological questions, including the question of theodicy.
I like what Flemming Rutledge says:
Forgiveness in and of itself is not the essence of Christianity, though many believe it to be so. Forgiveness must be understood in its relationship to justice [including God’s wrath] if the Christian gospel is to be allowed its full scope. (The Crucifixion, 115)
(I wrote this because your comment on God’s wrath made me anxious. Am I correct in my sense that here may reside a disparity between us? Is my anxiety justified? I apologize if this takes us too far afield from the theme of this thread and am happy to let it rest at this. Peace!)
Can I just say, right off the bat, that you’re both right? Is that allowed?
In any case, thinking about the wrath of God, I found this thought helpful. Some try to understand God’s wrath in terms simply of anger, which can create a problem when considered in light of verses that condemn anger (e.g. Col. 3:8, Ps. 37:8, Ecc. 7:9, etc.). God’s wrath is not simply anger, but his righteous anger. For example, when we see outrageous moral evil, such as that perpetrated by Hitler or Stalin, we become angry, and rightly so, for that is the appropriate response. This is righteous anger expressed against evil, which is what we speak of when we speak of God’s wrath. The difference between him and us is that we have become so accustomed to evil that we do not react in righteous anger to the everyday evils around us; it requires something truly monstrous for us to be stirred to anger by evil. The Most High God, on the other hand, has higher standards than ours …
I want to make a shout out to @Jonathan_Burke. He posted a possible solution to the problem of evil some time back that I had never seen before, but I can’t locate it at the moment. Help! Help! (Repost it or direct me to the original post, dear sir!)
While I can agree that Scripture asserts God made no mistake and that the crucified Messiah was always the plan from eternity (Christ is not the B plan), in contrast to GJDS the story seems to be that Christ certainly did live among us to avert/take-into-himself/atone for God’s wrath against human sinfulness. While the averting of wrath is by no means an exhaustive account of what happened in the incarnation, it must be considered as we talk about God’s plan for redemption and our understanding of our place in creation (old and new).
Let me begin by expressing my appreciation for your thoughtful comment. My remarks were brief because they were motivated more by an impression I have formed as a result of what I think is a revisionist approach to Adam and Eve and the doctrine that emanates from there - which may be expressed crudely as “God failed to get things rights, and now he, like any spiteful deity of pagan religions, gets mad at us”.
By fulfilling the Creation and bringing many sons and daughters into God’s spiritual Kingdom, Christ is now understood as the alpha and omega of the entire Creation. God’s justice however, cannot be fully comprehended by us as it includes forgiveness, entering into communion with God, being recipients of His Holy Spirit … all matters that are understood as acts that show us both the justice of God and the grace of God (concepts of the infinite that we struggle to fully grasp). However, one of my favorite teachings is - “God will not be mocked, what a man sows, that shall he reap”. This shows us the wrath of God is related to our capacity to accept our responsibility for our intent and acts, and if we willfully work against God’s will, the results are inevitable and bad for us as we are the agents of our acts- this is justice and God cannot be appeased in some way, as it could amount to crucifying Christ again.
I agree with you that we begin to better appreciated divine forbearance, and the infinite patience shown by God. All of these matters were known and forordained by the Almighty before the Creation.
I doubt very much is there are significant differences between us on these matters - I am inclined to add some emphasis on matters that seem to be less than orthodox often derived from evolutionary accounts that are not imo theologically sound.
I do not disagree, but I would like to add that Christ completed all things and His resurrection has set the future of all of the Creation. Certainly there is a distinction between righteous anger and petulant ravings - I am simply trying to point out that within the One-ness of God, all attributes, including justice and anger, are comprehensible within the Love of God as revealed to us in Christ.
Yes, that was it. Thank you, sir. As you said, the problem of evil requires a multi-faceted approach. This angle tackles so-called “natural evil,” but that still leaves moral evil and other disputes.
You’re both right, just looking at things from different angles. @JustAnotherLutheran is focused on our redemption accomplished in Christ, which, as he noted, has many facets. Salvation from God’s wrath doesn’t exhaustively describe it, but it is an aspect of it that shouldn’t be forgotten. @GJDS is focused on God’s ultimate purpose in creation, which is not the creation of man. God’s ultimate goal in creation is the consummation of all things in Christ. Christ is the image of God – man as man was meant to be. 1 John 3:2 “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.”
Indeed, thank you @Jonathan_Burke. The pamphlet was an interesting read. I’d had similar thoughts/speculations myself about God’s use of titanic, if terrifying, means to govern and preserve a particular place (e.g., earth) for a multivalence of life and phenomena (convergent theological evolution?). Still, we do well to categorize them as “speculation”. Not to dismiss them but to appreciate them for the thought experiments that they are.
Going in a different direction, in this conversation about creation, suffering, redemption, and incarnation, we are having a conversation ABOUT God. Whereas, for example, Job, mixed conversations about God and conversations WITH God. Humans have attempted conversations with one another about god and gods and the questions of suffering and evil as far back as our cultural memories go. In many ways, it has been a Sisyphean task to attempt and get God off our backs; this talking with one another.
The God of the Christian faith, by contrast, invites us into a conversation with himself. He makes the claim that he is ultimately responsible for everything (Isa. 45:7) including those things which shatter our preconceptions of how a just and merciful God should act, and he makes another claim/promise that though he works all things - including those things which would either convince us God is evil and hates us or that there is no God - he nevertheless works all things “for the good of those who love God, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). When our experience (of ourselves, of one another, of the natural world, and of the God who mysteriously and in hidden ways works all these things) apparently contradicts the promise, we, like Job, go to God in prayer and lamentation. The answer/“solution”, or, more accurately, response to the questions of theodicy being the remaking of the ancient promise that someday, as @Jay313 puts it, all will be consummated in Christ, the creation shall be recreated (whatever that means), and God shall be all in all (1 Cor. 15:28). In the now, we struggle with cognitive dissonances between our experience and God’s promises, sometimes making progressions, sometimes reneging and being humbled. In the not-yet, we trust that God and God’s promises for his people and creation will be vindicated, rectified, and justified in the face of his actions and the actions of his creations in history. (1 Cor. 13:12)
In my tradition, these three moments form something like a cyclical, monastic, Christian experience which shapes and molds the theologian. In Latin: oratio (prayer and conversation with God), meditatio (meditation on God’s words of promise in scripture, in the proclamation and sacraments, with the body of Christ, and on God’s self-identifications), and tentatio (the attacks and temptations [experiences, doubts, trespasses, apathies, etc.] which appear to kill us and our faith and ultimately drive us back to oratio).
I bring this up - oratio, meditation, tentatio - because I am curious if our laments and questions about God’s justice and mercy in the face of eons of pain and extinction (in the evolutionary schema for example) might be more holistically encountered in this cycle. I wonder if we are not attempting to justify God (and ourselves) by means of our reasonableness (in these questions of theodicy and elsewhere), rather than exploring the issues as people who live by faith in the promise that, for Christ’s sake, God is already and will be justified in the face of all questions, doubts, and experiences, and we along with him.
A next question would be: “How then does one explore the issues as one who lives by faith?”
I would answer in part with: “By doing exactly what we’re doing here.” I appreciate and applaud you all and your willingness to point out, for example, that earthquakes are apparently a necessary part of what keeps us alive, even if they have horrific ramifications and sometimes kill us. And to then hold this experience of God’s horrific action in tension with God’s self-identification with love, not letting go of either world, but trusting that God (and “those who love him”) will be vindicated if not now, then in the end.
The central issue that seems to be missing when theodicy is discussed within the context of any, or all, of science, is the fact that we are material beings and the creation is material, and thus subject to corruption and death. So in Adam and Eve, we are taught that God created a setting in which the problems of the material could be avoided, and if the couple displayed through faith and works obedience to God’s will, THEN they may eat of the tree of life.
Humanity has displayed the attributes of Adam and we are all subject to death - God however, has sent His Son to live as one of us, with human attributes and weaknesses, and yet He lived without sin. So in His life, He did what Adam failed to do, in His death, He defeated death, and in His resurrection, He has set the end result of the Creation, to be born of the Spirit - a nature that displays Godly attributes. We can see that the problem of evil is solved, and also the difficulties corruption of the material world bring, are removed.
These matters are understood by faith - and by faith, it is right and proper that we commune with God through our mediator, Christ.