In my last post I discussed the objection that many theologians make to the figure of God as a father. This post is a continuation of that discussion as I explore a second attribute that many theologians, feminists included, prefer to ignore: the wrath of God.
One of my favorite shows on television right now is the Colbert Report. It comes on Comedy Central and it’s hilarious. It also provides at insightful look at the culture and politics that surround us . Since the show’s creation, Colbert has becomes a media icon, and for good reason.
Now to my great delight, Colbert decided to put together a Christmas special, and it’s called “A Colbert Christmas–The Greatest Gift of All!” It premiered last night and while I didn’t see all of it, what I did catch was pretty hysterical.
Throughout the Christmas special, Colbert sings about various themes involving the Christmas season and culture, and what I want to highlight here is a particular song that he performed with Elvis Costello. It was entitled, “There Are Much Worse Things to Believe In,” and it’s a critique of Christmas cynics, arguing that of all the ridiculous beliefs in the world today, a belief in Christmas is not the worst you can do. One of the “worse” beliefs that he enumerates in the song goes as follows:
Believe in the judgment, believe in Jihad, believe in a thousand variations on a dark and spiteful god.
As I said, Stephen Colbert is one of the premier commentators on culture today, which means that his perspective represents and influences a large segment of the American population.
And what is that segment saying? “We don’t want a God of wrath.”
In today’s culture, even within Christian circles, grace is in and wrath is out. In a society of tolerance, wrath is a scandal. Our culture prefers a God who looks more like Santa Claus than the God who burned Sodom and Gomorrah to the ground.
What, then, does this cultural perspective have to do with feminist theology? Well let’s begin with what the attribute of wrath means for Christian theology on the whole. A theology of wrath depicts a kind of God who implements punishment, judgment, hardship, and eventually kills his own son in what some feel is little more than infanticide.
That kind of theology can be scary, not just in eternity, but in the present.
What, then, does this mean for women?…
In a world where the Son of God endures his father’s wrath through a humiliating and excruciating death, and in a Church that calls Christians to follow that same path–such a world is perceived as being dangerous for women.
Why? Because throughout history, countless women have remained in abusive marriages and unhealthy situations from which they should have fled, instead remaining in them, all the while justifying the abuse. It was their “cross to bear” so to speak.
The logic of this mindset follows that we live in a fallen world in which sin has consequences, and we must bear those consequences, so we must press on in whatever situation we find ourselves
That said, a theology that views suffering and hardship as a natural part of a world estranged from God, and even encourages its followers to endure that suffering—such a theology is seen as unhealthy for a population that already suffers. That message is not redemptive. It offers no hope for individuals who are presently being persecuted. It only compels them to remain in their hardship.
And to some extent, I agree. A theology of suffering must be balanced with a theology of redemption and grace, or else we offer no picture of hope to a presently suffering world. Following Christ does not mean enabling abusive husbands and genocidal dictators.
But again, there is a temptation to throw out the baby with the bath water. Because this God of wrath has been used to justify persecution, unrighteous anger, and judgment, some theologians are fearful of this God. In their minds, He does not coincide with the God of love that they prefer.
With all of this in mind, why is it then crucial for women to affirm this attribute of God? If this aspect of God’s character has been used to victimize women, why must we defend it?
The first reason is that you cannot have a theology of grace without a theology of wrath. By definition, grace does not exist without wrath because there must be a punishment from which you are being delivered. Grace is the word we use to describe the mercy shown us when we deserved wrath.
So from a strictly theological perspective, this attribute is necessary.
But in addition to that, we should never think of God’s wrath as meaning little more than hardship upon hardship when what we really need is deliverance. It also means justice in a world plagued by injustice. When you endure a family or work relationship in which you experience difficulty or persecution, you do not have to despair because there will be vindication. God tells us that vengeance is His, and those who hurt you will face consequences. Either today, or in eternity.
Without God’s wrath, there is no hope that evil will be defeated. There is no guarantee that those who steal, kill and destroy will be held accountable. Without wrath, the wicked never pay.
As women, we should therefore affirm this divine attribute, not only for the sake of having holistic theology, but because it reminds us that God is not done with our circumstances. In a world where we experience persecution and suffering, we can know that God hears our cries and does not turn a blind eye to our oppressors. There is hope, and it ironically comes from the doctrine where you would least expect to find it.
So the next time you hear someone talking about the “scandal of God’s grace,” I would ask them what they think about God’s wrath. Grace is the en vogue theology of the day, but wrath is another measure. The test is whether you have a theology that incorporates both.