Christianity and the Problem of Human ViolenceChristianity and the Problem of Human Violence: Part 57: The Wrath . . . of God? part 1: Introduction
from Guide to Kingdom Living

True Christian living requires us to live according to Kingdom standards which bring Heaven to earth.

Christianity and the Problem of Human Violence: Part 57: The Wrath . . . of God? part 1: Introduction

By Stephen R. Kaufman, M.D.

Many people struggle to reconcile the temperament of the God as described in the Hebrew Scriptures (HS) with that of Christ in the New Testament (NT). Many passages in the HS describe God as angry or even wrathful, though this image is not uniform. As discussed in previous essays, the HS also describe God as concerned about victims, and many stories portray violence as inspired by humans rather than God. The later prophets described God as loving and compassionate, epitomized in Micah’s famous passage, “what does the Lord desire of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and walk humbly with your God?” (6:8b) The NT shows Jesus as kind, compassionate, loving, and forgiving. The only time Jesus appears to have acted in anger was at the Temple, when he turned over the money exchange tables and liberated the animals. Even here, Jesus did not hurt anybody.

Is God multifaceted, sometimes inclined towards anger and wrath and other times towards love and compassion? Many Christians think so, but (as articulated in an insightful essay by Rev. Paul Nuechterlein ) there is good reason to hold that this is incorrect. Nuechterlein has argued that a principle reason for this error is a mistranslation of “the wrath” in Paul’s letter to the Romans. Nearly all texts have translated the Greek wording for “the wrath” in Paul’s letter to the Romans as “the wrath of God” or “God’s wrath.” Attributing the wrath to God has reflected translators’ assumptions about what Paul meant, but “God” isn’t there in the Greek texts.

Why is this important? For centuries, Christians, seeing God as vengeful, have been tempted to assist in “God’s work” and mete out violence against perceived wrongdoers in the name of righteousness and justice. In theory, whatever vengeance God might want to mete out, God is fully capable of doing so: “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord” (Deut 32:35; see also Heb 10:30). In practice, however, when we believe we have been wronged, our desire for revenge can be great (recalling previous essays on self-esteem), and our offense is heightened by the frequent smugness of perceived evildoers. So, eager to see “God’s vengeance” satisfied, people have been inclined towards righteous violence. But is God really vengeful, or does God have only one essence, which is love (see, for example, essay #51)? Let’s take a closer look.

The Apostle Paul used the word wrath (orgé) ten times in Romans. The first time, Paul actually wrote “the wrath of God” (Rom 1:18), but not subsequently. In Paul’s time, people generally attributed calamities and general strife to God’s wrath, so it was reasonable for Paul to introduce orgé – the problem of human misery and strife – in association with God. Otherwise, readers would likely have been confused. However, Paul then quickly clarified his position by showing that human suffering was actually a consequence of human action. In Romans 1:24, 26, and 28 Paul described how God “gave up” people to the consequences of their idolatry of worshipping human desires rather than God. In other words, in Romans 1:18, Paul introduced the well-known topic of “the wrath of God,” because it was universally believed that our miseries are a consequence of God’s anger. However, Paul next argued that human misery is actually a consequence of human actions. After Romans 1:18, Paul repeatedly described conflict and misery as “the wrath,” and did not attribute “the wrath” to God.

In next week’s essay, we’ll explore Romans 3, which more fully articulates Paul’s position that the wrath is a consequence of human wickedness. We will then look at Romans 9:22, which, due to translators’ dubious work, again attributes the wrath to God.

Go on to: Part 58: The Wrath . . . of God? part 2: Romans 3:1-7
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