Friday, July 31, 2009

God's Wrath: Romans 1:18-32 Revisited

The Church is deficient at many points today. But there is probably no point where it is more evidently deficient and even explicitly contrary to the teachings of the New Testament than in its neglect of the wrath of God. To judge from most contemporary forms of Christianity, God's wrath is either an unimportant doctrine, which is an embarrassment, or an entirely wrong notion that any enlightened Christian should abandon.

The biblical writers had no such hangups. Rather than suppressing this foundational part of the gospel like so many do today, they spoke of God's wrath frequently, obviously viewing it as one of God's great "perfections"---alongside His other attributes. In the Old Testament, more than 20 words in nearly 600 important passages are used to refer to God's wrath. Other, very different words relate to human anger. These passages are not isolated or unrelated, as if they have been added to the Old Testament at some later time. They are basic and are integrated with the most important themes and events of Scripture.

In the New Testament, there are two main words for wrath: 'thumos,' from a root that means "to rush along fiercely," "to be in a heat of violence," or "to breathe violently," and 'orge,' which means "to grow ripe for something." The New Testament portrays wrath as something that builds up over a long period of time, like water collecting behind a great dam.

We find this understanding of the wrath of God in Romans, where Paul refers to wrath 10 times:

"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness." (Romans 1:18)

"But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God." (Romans 2:5)

"But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath. (Romans 2:8)

"But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance? (I speak as a man)." (Romans 3:5)

"Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression." (Romans 4:15)

"Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him." (Romans 5:9)

"What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction." (Romans 9:22)

"Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord." (Romans 12:19)

"For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil." (Romans 13:4)

"Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake." (Romans 13:5)

In each instance the word he uses is 'orge.' His point is not that God is suddenly flailing out in impatient, irritable, ill-tempered anger against something that has offended Him momentarily, but rather that the firm, fearful hatred of God of all wickedness is building up and will one day result in eternal condemnation of all who are not justified by Christ's righteousness.

13 comments:

satire and theology said...

'To judge from most contemporary forms of Christianity, God's wrath is either an unimportant doctrine, which is an embarrassment, or an entirely wrong notion that any enlightened Christian should abandon.'

Yes I came across this in PhD research.

thekingpin68 said...

There is of course also the related debate of propitiation and expiation and the issue of covering for sin in regard to atonement.

Jeff said...

satire and theology,

Yes I came across this in PhD research.

Interesting.

Jeff said...

thekingpin68,

There is of course also the related debate of propitiation and expiation and the issue of covering for sin in regard to atonement.

I think, for now at least, I'll leave such heavy theological topics for theologians such as yourself working on your PhD revisions and already having a MPhil.

My main interest, primarily, is evangelism, and secondarily, apologetics.

Jeff said...

Though I am no theologian, in my more simplistic understanding (and correct me if I am wrong here, Russ), I understand propitiation to mean that Jesus Christ, God the Son, absorbed God the Father's full wrath in our stead, so that we now stand favorable with God (as well, God has now also become favorable to us, since we have a new nature that loves and desires God); and expiation, if I understand it correctly, means that our sins have been washed white as snow---in effect, completely removed. Justification, which I believe is related to expiation, means that we have been legally declared righteous and holy before God, because of the work of Jesus; it is granted freely, by grace, to all who have faith, but even that faith is a gift from God.

thekingpin68 said...

Good points.:)

Jeff said...

Thanks, Russ.

BTW, I was just thinking the other day that I have learned from you to recognize, and to avoid committing, Ad hominem arguments. It recently came in handy twice.

thekingpin68 said...

Cheers, Jeff.

You know, we live and learn. I initially allowed ad hominem on my blogs, but would try not to use it myself. But, when attacked by atheists, cultists, that radical gay advocate and that Facebook friend (now former by his choice) my anger would surge, as would the traffic as I marketed conflict. But I reason surging anger risks sin and many readers could become sick of squabbles.

With the second part of my latest post, the letter to the Canucks, I use strong language to perhaps jar some folks I reason are not thinking enough, but do not use ad hominem.

Now, Jesus did call the Jewish leaders names (brood of vipers) and so I admit that there is some room for stating someone is a jerk etc., but that is not necessarily ad hominem. I do not use it within the argument, but outside of it. Sometimes people do act in a bad way and do need to be told so strongly, but we must be careful.

I answered you on thekingpin68.:)

Jeff said...

Good points and good examples, Russ. As far as Jesus calling the Pharisees 'whitewashed sepulchers,' 'serpents,' 'vipers,' etc., He was/is God, and He was saying that about creatures He created, that were in rebellion against Him, their own Creator---so to me, that is very different from one human creature calling another human creature names, since they are both created beings and are both sinful and wicked and are both guilty, and therefore, are both on the same plane or level. Jesus said that if you call another man a fool ('Raca'), you are in danger of Hellfire.

thekingpin68 said...

With Jesus being God, I reasoned out in context of his dialogue with others, he does have greater status and more knowledge of course.

I still reason though he is setting an example of how we can deal with people, although as I am not God I would need to be more careful. Jesus warned of using hateful language against another...I heard a good lecture on that recently.

Jeff said...

I still reason though he is setting an example of how we can deal with people, although as I am not God I would need to be more careful.

Yes, since we are not God, I agree that we should be careful in how we address others. But now that I think about it, I'm not sure that chastising some cult leader by telling them, "You're a venomous snake! You are leading people straight to Hell!" would be the same as saying to someone, "You stupid idiot! How could anyone be as stupid as you?!" In one case, it would likely be righteous anger, inspired by a compassion for souls to be saved and a desire for God's Truth, and standing against false doctrine. But in the other case, it would likely be emotional anger inspired by dislike or hatred for someone.

thekingpin68 said...

'But now that I think about it, I'm not sure that chastising some cult leader by telling them, "You're a venomous snake! You are leading people straight to Hell!" would be the same as saying to someone, "You stupid idiot! How could anyone be as stupid as you?!"'

Thanks Jeff, good points on this blog and mine. Much appreciated.

Jeff said...

I'm glad that we are helping to increase the number of comments on each others' blogs, Russ!