Wrath of God in today's World?
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God’s Wrath in Today’s World?
Paul tells the saints of Ephesus that we “were by nature objects of [God’s] wrath”, “like the rest” of the human race (Ephesians 2:3). It’s a disturbing thought: we and they, Ephesians and Canadians, believers and unbelievers, Libyans and Japanese and Americans, says Paul, are by nature “objects of wrath” – divine wrath. We don’t like….
Today’s New Age thinking has it that earth and God are one entity. God, we’re told, is in the animals of the field, in the trees of the forest, in rocks of the hills, and in our own hearts; there’s something divine in all things. Very understandably, this very modern (and very heathen!) religion has no room for considering seriously the wrath and justice of God. It can’t have, for God would surely not be angry with himself – as would necessarily be the case if God is in the flowers and the birds and the stones and the people…. The Governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, described the recent earthquake and resulting tsunami in Japan as “tembatsu” – divine punishment brought down because (he said) there were particular wrongs being committed in Japan’s politics. But he had to withdraw his comment; tembatsu is possible only if there is a divine being outside of planet Earth, outside of Mother Nature. In today’s thinking, that can’t be….
We live in this society, and so it’s no surprise that weeds from society’s thinking grow in our mental gardens. No, not that we deny the reality of God’s wrath; we know only too well that the Bible speaks of God’s wrath. But it is very tempting to put God’s wrath at a far distance from the goings on of communal and national and international life as we experience it daily. As we in our thinking put the wrath of God at a distance from daily life, the doctrine of God’s wrath against sin becomes vague, something that doesn’t have a place in our day-to-day thinking. That is tragic, for herewith we loose a sense of God’s direct hand in the happenings recorded in the newspaper – from the events in Japan to the unrest in the Middle East, and even to how Canada’s Parliament has become dysfunctional.
The Lord announces in Romans 1 that “the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men” (vs 18). Notice Paul’s formulation: Paul words this statement in such a way as to make clear that this wrath of God is an ongoing reality. That wrath is continually being revealed. In the verses that follow Paul interweaves answers to two questions about this wrath. The first is the question of why God’s wrath is being revealed, and the second is how God’s wrath is being revealed.
Why does God reveal His wrath? Because, says the apostle, people turn a blind eye to what God has revealed of Himself in creation. “The heavens declare the glory of God” (says Ps 19), and so do the crocuses in our gardens and the birds in the trees and the sunshine of last week and the earthquake off Japan’s coast; all by virtue of their existence they declare the greatness of the Creator. But people refuse to acknowledge the Creator, decide instead to worship the creature. In Paul’s day people did that by worshiping idols made by human hands from created things as wood and stone - as if these idols had created the world and supply the daily needs of their worshipers. Today people commit the same sin by worshiping Mother Nature. Look, we’re told today, at how marvellous Mother Nature has made her world over the millions of years of her care…. Though God displays His greatness and power in the things He made, people refuse to acknowledge Him as Creator, and God responds by pouring out His wrath.
Idolatry of the Body
How He displays His wrath on those who worship the creature – including Mother Nature? Vs 24: “God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.” Notice: satisfying the sinful desires of the body is a curse from God! What does this plague look like in real terms? Surely one can think here of idolizing the body, with its muscle-building and fat trimming. One can think too of clothing styles that accent what a body has for you, can think too of all the gels and perfumes and ointments intended to hide blemishes. This worship of the body and sexuality has become an entire industry in our culture, and we’ve become so used to it, but according to Paul, it’s all, dear reader, expression of God’s holy wrath! God’s wrath is not far removed from daily life, but –the inspired writer would have us know- it’s right there under our noses.
Paul continues. Because people don’t bend under the weight of that wrath in repentance, the Lord reveals His wrath in stronger measures still. Vs 26: God gives people up to vile passions, so that people give themselves to homosexual behaviour. Our land no longer sees homosexual activity as a crime; rather, homosexual behaviour is talked up in our culture as an acceptable –and normal– alternative lifestyle. We say: this development must bring the wrath of God on our land, and that’s true. But Paul says: this development is itself an expression of the wrath of God. That’s why I say: we can’t think of God’s wrath as something far away, something vague that doesn’t touch daily living. “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all godlessness and wickedness of men,” and the expressions of God’s wrath are evident for the eye to see. And because people still do not repent under the weight of these expressions of God’s wrath, such activity earns more wrath from God – a wrath also expressed in tangible form. Vs 27: homosexuals receive in themselves the penalty for their error, and one can think of plagues like AIDS, and one can think too of the loneliness that must creep upon the homosexual in his older age when he has no children to love him….
God’s wrath reveals itself in more ways. Look at the attitudes described in vss 29f: no society can survive when its members are “filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity.” Folk “full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice” cannot be happy together. More, society must collapse upon itself when people “are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful,” when people “invent ways of doing evil,” “disobey their parents,” are “senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless.” And make no mistake: these attitudes abound in our modern society – think of how Parliament has functioned in the last few years, think of what the classrooms in so many public schools have become, think of the atmosphere in a home of marital strife. All of these and so much more are concrete evidence of the wrath of God.
Is the wrath of God far removed from the events of our daily lives? Are we to see the wrath of God only in earthquakes (Japan) and wars (Libya)? Let our eyes be open, dear readers, to the reality of God’s wrath as it presses down day by day on today’s Canadian society! God is terribly displeased with [man’s] original sin as well as our actual sins, and so He punishes them by a just judgment both now and eternally (Lord’s Day 4). A godless society receives from God’s hand a foretaste of the eternal weeping and gnashing of teeth that characterizes hell…. For God would have people repent while it is called Today. Behold our Canada!
Must Christians see themselves living, then, in a cauldron of holy wrath? I referred earlier to Paul’s statement to the saints of Ephesus that we “were by nature objects of wrath”, “like the rest” of mankind (Ephesians 2:3). Now we need to notice that Paul uses here the past tense! We “were”, he says, we “were by nature objects of wrath.” But not anymore! Why not? Because, Paul explains, “God is rich is mercy” (vs 4). Though we are deserving of God’s wrath, God has “made us alive with Christ” (Ephesians 2:5), for Christ “became a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13). That is: the wrath we deserve has been poured out on Jesus Christ so that we might go free, might have no curse, no judgment, no wrath left on us!
I’m reminded of a remarkable text at the end of John 3. The Holy Spirit says: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him” (vs 36). I refer now especially to the last few words, “God’s wrath remains on him.” The implication of the word ‘remains’ is that the wrath of God was on him in the past, and it continues to linger on everyone who does not believe. For the unbeliever, then, there is continuity; he’s by nature a child of wrath, God’s wrath was on him from birth, remains on him and will continue to press on him forever. But for the believer there is discontinuity! To say it in Jesus’ words in John 5: “I tell you the truth, whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not be condemned; He has crossed over from death to life” (vs 24). Note again those last words: he “has crossed over from death to life.” He who believes in Christ’s atoning work is an object of God’s wrath no longer, and so shall not come into judgment; he has passed to a new stage in life, passed from death into life itself. The hellish agony Christ endured on the cross of Calvary is what I deserved but did not and will not receive! Ever!
The believer sees expressions of the wrath of God in our modern society. The believer is also affected by these expressions of God’s wrath inasmuch as he gets carried along by the ebb and flow of society. In fact, the believer may also experience the bitter fruits of sin in his personal life. Does that mean that the repentant believer in fact feels God’s hand of wrath pressing upon him so that he must conclude that there remains wrath from God on him also? The believer knows: I do not live under the cloud of God’s wrath, and so the adversity I’m tasting is not expression of God’s anger on me. Instead, my Father in Jesus Christ has other reasons to put affliction on my path – even if they are afflictions that the human eye sees as identical to the expressions of wrath my God pours out on my unbelieving neighbour. The words of Lord’s Day 16 are true for the confessor of Lord’s Day 4: “My Lord Jesus Christ, by His unspeakable anguish, pain, terror, and agony, which He endured throughout all His sufferings but especially on the cross, has delivered me from the anguish and torment of hell” – specifically in my daily life.
Our hearts go out to the afflicted of Japan as the nation continues to struggle with the immeasurable devastation caused by the tsunami, as well as the fear and (potential) sickness caused by the failing nuclear reactors. Yes, we recognize in the tsunami a small repeat of what happened in the days of Noah when “all the springs of the great deep burst forth” (Genesis 7:11), and we recognize too that that terrible event foreshadowed in small measure the panic there shall be when the Lord returns in judgment, when “kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man” shall call to “the mountains and the rocks” to “fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!” (Revelation 6:15f). But we know better than to think that the people of Japan are more deserving of God’s judgment than Canadians are. Instead, we’ll confess that God’s wrath is already expressing itself on our society – but (for now?) it does so in a different way than in Japan.
March 25, 2011