Poem of the Week · Reflections

The Comfort of God’s Wrath

 

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In contemplating the relationship between two scripture passages suggested in Between Midnight and Dawn, I experienced the most surprising feeling: comfort in God’s wrath. Not comfort because His wrath will  bring justice on evil, as the psalmist David often reflected, but comfort that this wrath may at some point be directed towards me. Bear with me as I explain. The first of the two passages is the famous Romans 1:18-25 where Paul explains that humankind are “without excuse” for not knowing God because it is their own suppressing of truth and pursuit of wickedness that prompts God to give them up to their lusts. The second passage is Ezekiel 7: 1-12 where God calls out the wrath that will be poured out on his people Israel for their abominations. This is a side of God that feels heavy in the pit of our stomachs, right? Whether chosen citizen of God’s nation, or immoral pagan, both are objects for fury and destruction.

The warm light appeared on second glance when I realized the profound difference between the wrath expressed towards these two groups of people. For the self-blinded unbeliever who has been “given over” to their lusts, the wrath is a withdrawing of the only One who could keep them from self-destruction. It is not active punishment, just no longer obstructing the direction that those who don’t desire God’s propitiary righteousness are pushing towards. In contrast, the punishment directed towards God’s chosen people in Ezekiel (who surely indulged similar abominations to those of the godless) is God’s intentional movement towards them. He is riled enough–concerned enough– to bring punishment with the design of curtailing their self-annilation and reconciling them to Himself. This design reverberates repeatedly in the anguished voice of the Lover who says, “Then you will know that I am the LORD”, “Then you will know I am the LORD who strikes” (Vs. 4, 9)–desperate means to arrest the gaze of a people headed in the wrong direction.

This fills me with hope because I know my tendency, as that age-old hymn expresses, to “wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love”. If the rebelliousness of my heart might eventually be too much for God to handle and would cause him to withdraw and leave me to my own means, then I am utterly terrified! I am done for without the intervention of my Creator and Sustainer. However, if, as part of His chosen ones through trust in Christ’s payment for my sin, God is even willing to tear me to pieces that I might return to him, rather than turn His face from me, I am in a place of utter security. I know that I will always find my way home. I can imagine few things more hurtful than a parent saying, “You have done so many wrong things it’s not even worth my effort to interfere, I’m done with you, you do what you want.” Even negative attention, when needed, shows love. God’s wrath towards His people in the form of payment for sin was entirely satisfied by Christ’s offering, but His furry over my destructive behavior still determines to hound me back to safety and life. This brings me great hope.

For further thought, Irish 20th century poet W.B Yeats contemplates God’s wrath in the relation between the “end times” and the baby born in Bethlehem.

The Second Coming
William Butler Yeats

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
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