What if God’s wrath is part of God’s mercy?
We all know something about wrath. There’s Kylo Ren wrath, the kind when something goes wrong and you take out your lightsaber and slice up a bunch of computers. The stormtroopers in your life just turn away until the hardware stops smoking.
Then there’s the smoldering wrath, the kind that you just stoke, deep in the recesses of your heart, tending and training your grudge and your affront into a wonderful, beautiful plan to destroy your enemy. And when you unleash your plan, it’s so sweet to see the pain in the face of other. That’s good wrath—takes some planning and execution, lots of reward. You could call it white-collar wrath.
Then there’s God’s wrath. Lots of people don’t want to hear about it. They call this the Old Testament God, as if the Old Testament God wasn’t also the New Testament God. But it is scary to think about. The Almighty God, not just angry—wrathful. The Iliad starts with, “Sing, Muse, of the wrath of Achilles,” and when Achilles comes out of his tent, people die. So imagine wrath, but with God as the warrior, not just a Greek hero. We’d be right to pause and wonder if we really want to worship a God like that.
But what if—what if, “Because of his holiness, God can only offer resistance to evil.” What if “the Bible calls this the wrath of God…God’s resistance to sin and injustice….For the pious people of the Old Testament, God’s justice is a fundamental presupposition beyond debate. On the basis of his holiness, God can’t do anything other than punish evil and reward the good. For the Old Testament, that is anything but a fear-inducing truth; on the contrary it is an expression of hope.”
I’ve been reading this book called Mercy by Cardinal Walter Kasper, and I just love this. Because there’s another wrath that I haven’t talked about. It’s the kind of feeling you got on the playground when the biggest kid shoved the littlest kid. Or when you open the paper and you read about town that Dupont owns, head to heel, and pollutes with impunity. God’s wrath is the reality that God opposes evil, and will burn every evil down.
And that’s mercy, too, because those who suffer under life’s crushing load, as the Christmas hymn says, need to know that help is coming, that help his here. That the righteous God will remove every evil, and lift up the lowly. That’s mercy.
So, we’re going to talk about this at dinner church tomorrow night. Join us?