The following is a direct excerpt from Rethinking God, Chapter 3: Bigger

Rethinking God’s Wrath

Often God is thought of as a blood-thirsty dictator, perpetually pissed off at mankind, continually seeking opportunities for punishment and revenge.  But is that really the God who exists?  By understanding God and existence to be one and the same, it gives us opportunity to re-evaluate exactly what we mean when we refer to God’s wrath.

Out of all of existence’s physically created objects or beings, mankind, as far as we know, is the only one capable of actually rebelling against the laws that govern the universe.  All other created things or beings strictly fall in line, whether through natural occurrence or instinct, with the laws that created them.  But mankind is unique in many ways, including most significantly the power to choose.  This power to choose is one of the things that makes them to be “like God,” but also, ironically gives them the capability to be most unlike God as well.

When mankind rebels against God and the personal and physical laws of existence they suddenly fail to be exactly what they were made to be – they stand in direct opposition to existence and themselves.

Several years ago my eldest son began to live in conflict with not only my wife and me but also with himself.  He not only deliberately disobeyed rules we had established but also participated in self-destructive behaviors such as drugs and alcohol and self harm.  He began failing his classes and even participated in activities that got him in trouble with the law.  Once he turned 18 he began telling us that we had no legal authority over him and threatened multiple times to move out on his own, yet continued to live with us and enjoy the benefits of our provision.  This created continual tension in the home, all while his younger siblings looked on, wondering if our family rules even applied any more.

It eventually became evident that no matter how much we loved our son and no matter how much we tried to enforce the rules, things could simply not continue as they were.  Our son was living in violent opposition to himself and to who we were as a family.  We took him up on his “offer” to move out and forced him out of the home, hoping that the struggles and consequences of living on his own would serve as a wake up call for him and turn things around – and if nothing else, to restore order to our home and provide peace for our other children.  Never once did we stop loving our eldest son, but in spite of our love, and in fact because of our love, he finally met our “wrath.”  This was the hardest decision we ever made, but also the most necessary.  Fortunately, after three months on his own, our prodigal returned.  He agreed to live by our rules, turned his life around, and we have a closer relationship with him today than we ever had before.

This is not meant to be a heart-warming tale so much as an illustration of what it means when we talk about God’s wrath.  Most often, God’s wrath is simply a natural consequence of our failing to be who we were made to be – reflections of the one law that created us.  Yet often we complain about God’s lack of compassion, remaining offended by his anger against our rebellion and accusing him of being a divine dictator.

I find it interesting that there are many areas of our lives that God’s physical laws dictate us that we rarely find offense.  For example, the laws dictate that we must eat nutritional foods and drink water regularly, we must sleep, we must breathe oxygen, we must relieve our bodies of food waste, and because of gravity, we simply cannot step off a cliff or tall building and hope to float.  The consequences, of course, of ignoring such dictatorial rules are nothing but tragic.  While we may often wish we could ignore such rules and we may even become angry at occurrences that result in the demise of someone as a result of these rules, rarely do we shake our fists at the heavens for the rules themselves.  We chalk it up to, “That’s just the way things are.”  Those are simply rules of existence – nature’s wrath.

And yet, God is existence, and the personal laws (which are ultimately the same law as the physical laws) are also “the way things are.”  This world and people were made to love, and made to be compassionate, and made to self-sacrifice, and made to be intimate, and made to forgive, and made to be faithful, and made to be generous – all qualities of the existence that made us.  When we ignore these rules for living, we live in violent opposition to ourselves and to the universe we live in.  When we live in opposition, we consequently meet existence’s wrath.

Wrath is not a mean-spirited, power-hungry attack; it is simply existence being what it is.  In chapter one, I discussed that one of the primary characteristics of existence is order.  There is chaos and there is order, but ultimately order always prevails.  When man chooses to ignore the personal laws of order and instead engage in such things as hate, selfishness, unforgiveness, and greed he commits himself to chaos.  But existence will never bend to chaos and cannot allow any of its creation to freely participate in it.

Some may object to wrath simply being thought of as a natural consequence of existence, when the Bible clearly portrays God as not only actively participatory but also having feelings such as anger, weariness, and jealousy.  However, we also must remember, first of all, that existence is active and present all the time.  Existence did not kick off the universe and sit back.  It is here and now, actively running the universe, and without it nothing would happen at all.  Secondly, the feelings used to describe God are simply personifications of God, meant to tap into something we can understand about ourselves in order to attempt to describe something about God.  We experience anger when something is in conflict with what should be and jealousy when someone is not in alignment with us.  But such feelings are merely reflections of the governing law of existence that makes order out of chaos by fighting against what should not be and demanding alignment with itself.[1]

Earlier I quoted a verse from Exodus, “…for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me.” (Exo 20:5 ESV).  The Hebrew word for “iniquity” here actually implies a “bending.”  In other words, an iniquity takes place when something is bent out of place of what it was meant to be.  Adding in the very beginning of this verse, which states, “You shall not bow down to them [other gods] or serve them…” and taking into account the idea of God being existence, the verse could be paraphrased to say, “You shall not serve the rules of chaos, for I, existence, your governing law, am unbending and demanding of order, attempting to straighten out the bendings of people who rebel against my order for many generations.”

I also discussed earlier the severity of the consequences of Adam and Eve’s fall.  Ultimately, the consequence for the simple act of eating a forbidden fruit was death – which seems a bit harsh.  But what I did not discuss was how natural of a consequence it was.  By choosing in that moment to live outside the order of existence, mankind chose to live in chaos.  In that moment their physical and emotional bodies became in direct conflict with ordered existence.  In that moment, their physical and emotional bodies became chaotic itself, living in conflict with the order of the world (thus having to toil the earth), living in conflict to what their bodies were made for (thus experiencing greater pain in childbirth), and submitting themselves to the chaos of bacterias, diseases, and other destroying agents (thus ending in death).  God’s promise that they would “surely die” was not a curse, but a warning of the consequences of living in opposition to the order of existence.

Not only now was man bent out of shape, but so was the world.  The world had been put under the submission of mankind, and mankind was the ultimate reflection of God.  But now key words in God’s story were changed.  The story itself was bent out of shape and has continued to be for thousands of years.  And the world has been subject to God’s wrath ever since.

But is there no hope?  Is mankind forever the object of wrath of an order demanding universe?  Or is there something more intimate, more loving, and more gracious to save the day?


[1] Some may still object to how impersonal this makes God sound.  However, I will address this in chapter four where I discuss how God is actually the most ultimate in personal.

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