Christianity and the Problem of Human ViolenceChristianity and the Problem of Human Violence: Part 59: The Wrath . . . of God? part 3: Romans 9:22
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 59: The Wrath . . . of God? part 3: Romans 9:22

By Stephen R. Kaufman, M.D.

The two previous essays have explored how the notion of “the wrath” has repeatedly been mistranslated as “God’s wrath” or the “wrath of God,” reflecting translators’ assumption that “the wrath” derives from God rather than from human idolatries and wickedness. Romans 9:22 reads, “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience the vessels of wrath made for destruction.” Rev. Nuechterlein has noted that the first “his” (autou in Greek) is not there. A more literal translation is, “What if God, desiring to show the wrath and to make known his power . . .” In other words, I think Nuechterlein is correct in arguing that “the vessels of wrath made for destruction” reflect human destructiveness and include things like the whip, the crown of thorns, the nails, and the cross. The power of God is not manifested in creating the wrath; rather, it is in enduring the wrath “with much patience” in the personage of Jesus Christ. Wrathful judgment is something the power of God endures; it is not something God sponsors.

Why is human judgment wrathful? It is because people have repeatedly worshipped false gods to whom people have attributed their own desires for violence and scapegoating. This is why Jesus told his disciples, “The hour is coming when whoever kills you will think that they are offering a service to God, and this they will do because they have not known the Father nor me.” (John 16:2-3) I think this is the reason that Christianity has a long and sad history of scapegoating violence against Jews, non-Christian people of color, Christian sects with “heretical beliefs,” homosexuals, “witches,” animals, and others. Christians have repeatedly made the error that has plagued humankind since the foundation of human civilization of projecting their own wrath onto God. Believing in a wrathful God has encouraged people everywhere, including Christians, to perform acts of violence “in the name of God.” It is tempting to believe that God hates the same people we do, but I think the apostle Paul was trying to show that the wrath exists among humans and is not an attribute of God.

Why have translators of Paul’s letter to the Romans so often converted the Greek orgé (literally, “wrath”) to “wrath of God” or “God’s wrath.” I think the reason is that, despites Christ’s messages of love and forgiveness, we have remained so mired in scapegoating violence that it seems natural and obvious to attribute our own wrath to God. In addition, the Bible has passages that seem to describe God as wrathful. One of the most notable passages is Deuteronomy 32:35, which reads, “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord” (Deut 32:35). But, there is another way to look at it. Perhaps we are to understand that only God has the right to mete out vengeance, though God does not necessarily do so. If prophets had told the ancient Hebrews that God had no desire for vengeance at all, these prophets would have been dismissed as insane or killed as heretics.

Mired in the scapegoating mechanism, the ancient Hebrews would have found it impossible to believe that God did not seek retributive “justice” against evildoers. The only way to have the ancient Hebrews refrain from vengeance against those they hated as perceived “evildoers” was to convince them that God punishes “evildoers.” They would have found it unacceptable to believe that “evildoers” would not eventually get their comeuppance. The pronouncement “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord” satisfied the ancient Hebrews that God would punish evildoers, because they likely did not consider it possible that vengeance is not part of God’s plan.

We are now ready to turn to one of the hardest aspects of Jesus’ ministry, the instruction to forgive those who have offended us. I will devote a considerable amount of time to this subject, because I think it is central to Christian faith.

Go on to: Part 60: Forgiveness
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