Isaiah 10:5-19– God is punishing Israel using Assyria, then Assyria gets called into the principal’s office. Just screams baby-Jesus-in-the-manger, doesn’t it? The problem was, the king of Assyria started to think his spectacularly great run of luck was all down to his smarts and good looks, as one does.
“‘By the strength of my hand I have done this,
and by my wisdom, because I have understanding. ‘”
If there is one thing that guarantees a tangible experience of God’s wrath, it’s pride — the denial of God’s agency. He can’t get enough of it. But is God angry? Is the Uncaused Cause, like, actually angry? How much agency does evil have in this scenario? That’s another thing; what is the definitive answer to the problem of evil? Do I look like Alvin Plantinga to you? But, I will at least try, with the help of people far smarter than me, to show why a perfectly just God who is angry at injustice is actually a good thing.
The poet W.H. Auden describes God’s anger as, “not a description of God in a certain state of feeling, but the way in which I experience God if I distort or deny my relationship to him.” But can we really feel it, this distortion? In today’s post-Christian society, do we still have the categories of experience necessary to understand what the passage is talking about? I asked the question to the theologian and author, Rev. Dr. Paul F. M. Zahl. He claims we do:
God’s wrath is empirically verifiable because, when we have even the smallest (and always undesired) window into our own inner conflictedness, let alone our un-conflicted self-centeredness and self-involvement, we feel so witheredly terrible, that we MUST “Get Out of This Place” (The Animals, 1965) — in short, either commit suicide (see, “The Sentinel”, 1978) or “let go and let God” (Like ES at the decisive penultimate situation in “A Christmas Carol”). The old but accurate expression for this was “conviction of sin”. Excruciating place where the ‘old man’ is destroyed.
So, basically, I’m toast. All that “self-centeredness” and “self-involvement” Rev. Zahl talks about is hitting a little too close to home. You could swap out my name for the king of Assyria and have a good description of us both! It’s all starting to sound like incredibly bad news! Au contraire, that is exactly why it’s also part of the good news — the good news that none of this came as a surprise to God. Rev. Rutledge in her book, The Crucifixion, points to Calvin, quoting Augustine, who shows that the rectifying blood of Christ is an expression of an eternally pre-existing love God had for us.
“For it was not after we were reconciled to him through the blood of his Son that he began to love us. Rather, he has loved us before the world was created.”
Problem solved, great! Okay, so how come things still suck? Why don’t I feel fixed? The reality is, you are fixed, now and forever, and Christ is coming back to right all the wrong that has already been cosmically righted, This is why we say, already and not yet. Advent is the time when our frustrated tears are a testament to our hope in what was promised, what is promised, already and not yet. Rev, Rutledge brings us back, in her book, Advent, to where we started; God’s anger at injustice, and why this is good news for us.
The Christian hope is founded in the promise of God that all things will be made new according to his righteousness. All the references to judgment in the Bible should be understood in the context of God’s righteousness—not just his being righteous (noun) but his “making right” (verb) all that has been wrong. Clearly, human justice is a very limited enterprise compared to the ultimate making-right of God in the promised day of judgment.
“Making right all that has been wrong” — that sounds like something worth celebrating! Robert Farrar Capon in his book, More Theology & Less Heavy Cream, describes why our Advent lament inevitably turns into a party:
[Pietro] thought of the early Christians and their hope for the second coming of Christ. People wondered why, when Jesus failed to show up, they didn’t get depressed. The answer was that they never thought of his return as a future event; rather, it was a present fact in their lives… They kept right on partying–enjoying their present–because they didn’t make the mistake of trying to figure out which minute he meant. Instead they said, “He’s coming back! Isn’t that terrific?
Christ’s coming back…that is terrific! The guilty have been made innocent as our justice has already been served. The death of death has been declared as a done deal. Frustrated tears will finally be forever dried. The party which is presently going on — and has been going on for the last two-thousand years — has barely gotten started!
Originally from Ohio, Josh lived on the island of Maui for 10 glorious years. Inexplicably, he moved back to Ohio. Josh is ministry adjacent, with few qualifications, and fewer prospects. And ladies, yes, he is single! Aspirationally Anglican, Josh, defying reason, attends an Evangelical Friends Church. Josh is a regular contributor to Mockingbird.