American author Laird Barron once said “Mom was all about hellfire and brimstone. Her Old Testament God was a colossal, ancient brute, a maelstrom of blood and fire, of appetite and wrath.” Sounds familiar.
Our society has been shaped by a narrative, both subtle and overt, about how we think of God. And, for many people (could we say the majority?), God is exactly like Barron’s mother described: A colossal and angry deity, filled with exacting wrath to punish the “evildoer.” Here’s the problem; that description sounds more like the pagan deities of the ancient days than the God described in the scriptures. To be sure, there is lots of talk about wrath and God’s “anger”, but do those words mean what we think they mean?
Look at our lesson today in Romans 1:18-27:
BRETHREN, the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse; for although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error.
St. Paul certainly talks about God’s wrath here in this passage and he’s pretty specific about who are the folks subject to the wrath of God.
Notice what he says: The wrath of God is “revealed” (significant!) against people who know better! The people who have every advantage in knowing the truth, in knowing God Himself; the folks who have access to the wisdom of the ages; the faith “once delivered to the saints,” they are the ones who experience the wrath of God.
And what does God do? He “gave them up” (an amazing phrase that literally means God gave them exactly what they wanted: the freedom to do whatever they wanted) to their desires. And He did this because He loved them and never intended to impose Himself on anyone! And this all resulted BECAUSE they exchanged the true God for “gods” created in their own image rather than humbly embrace the God Who Is! They preferred their delusions and illusions over the Real Thing! They preferred their fantasy to reality.
And the result is that God’s wrath is “revealed from heaven against all ungodliness” In other words, the Love of God is experienced by these people who prefer fantasy over reality as punishment. It’s like how kids experience the kitchen light coming on while they are stealing cookies! And to make matters worse, these folks should know better! They have purposefully chosen to reject reality for their own “creation.” They insist on being “god” in their own fantasy and actively reject the reality of the True God.
No wonder Paul describes how they experience being forced to deal with reality as wrath! Just like we hate to “wake up” after a “good dream” these folks despise having to deal with the reality of their fantasy. They hate being told “No, that will hurt you. Don’t do that.” They rebel against any suggestion that what they want must be tempered and tamed by what is good. In other words, they feel like they are being punished when in reality they are BEING LOVED!
Today, are you willing to deal with reality and stop living in a fantasy world of your own creation? You have so many spiritual treasures available to you to help you wake up and live in reality. Rejecting these treasures will mean when you can’t run from reality anymore, you’ll think God is angry with you or punishing you. But He isn’t. He’s just calling you to be Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. Dear Lord, You are a consuming Fire! We, who are created, cannot come into Your Presence without confronting reality and that confrontation will reveal whether my life is filled with the precious stones of spiritual maturity or the flammable waste of selfish living. When I confront this reality, I am filled with dread. Please help me live a life of repentance so that I can come into Your Presence, having prepared myself through Your grace to possess spiritual treasures and not waste my life hiding from reality! Amen.