An Inheritance of Wrath
No matter your political persuasion, you may be aghast at the events of the past year.
No matter your political persuasion, you may find yourself grasping for your bearings.
No matter your political persuasion, you may find yourself lost in a sea of information that challenges your long-standing beliefs about your country.
You may have found that there is more racism, conservatism and irresponsible behavior than you had ever imagined.
Or you may have found that there is more progressivism, liberalism and irresponsible
behavior than you had ever imagined.
No matter your political persuasion, you may find that your previously-held picture of the country is shattered forever.
And well it may be.
But, as in times before, we cannot expect to be coddled.
As in times before, political reality demands that we press forward and deal with a multitude of specific issues.
And if we cannot catch our breath on our own time and get up to speed on things, we will drag our outraged visions of our country into the fray.
Little wonder that our political dealings will be governed by these injuries; little wonder that we will split into “us/them” camps, with some trumpeting an America that has no room for “retro” beliefs, and with others “wanting their country back”.
So it happens now; so it has happened before, over and over in our history.
And, as in times before, our worst enemies are not the "others".
Our worst enemies are our outraged visions.
And the steps that we take to avenge them.
For they are our pride and joy, these visions that we have.
They are the apple of our eye.
As they have been for most people through the ages.
And when we seek vengeance on those who would injure them, we join in one of the grand refrains of human history.
And ally ourselves to the ongoing violence of the world.
We are not “special” in this regard, this jealous defense of what makes us, “us”.
Nor can we Christians claim to be above the fray.
Who, we Christians? We of the million splintered denominations? Not hardly.
But I call these things to mind now, because in our time, in this particular political circumstance, there are sincere Christians on all sides of the current debates.
And there is no Christian who is immune to the temptations of vengeance.
Who is our role model here?
The world? Human history?
Perhaps so, despite our attempts to put off “the worldly mind”.
Our family? Our past history?
Perhaps so, despite our increased understanding of pedigrees of violence.
Our Christian tradition? Our own history of rage?
For our history has it’s share of violent action, and our history is peopled with major figures who have promoted such violence.
But beneath these figures and beneath all of our more commonplace angers and errors, there lurks at our core the penultimate role model for dispensing violence as an answer to shattered visions and plans.
It is the traditionally-formulated figure of God.
It is the figure of the God of wrath.
Over the last millennia, people of good will have sought to distance themselves from this figure.
Some have worked for peace by reminding people that “Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord”, a statement that may discourage violence among people but that reinforces a belief in a vengeful God.
Some have asserted that our traditional understandings of God, as they are described in scripture, reflect an imperfect and fragmentary revelation; this is a statement that may keep God out of a box, but it holds little weight with those who bring a literal approach to the scriptures.
Some have asserted that the pacifism of the “gentle Jesus” trumps the violence of the “God of wrath”, as if threats of violence disappeared with the advent of Jesus, forgetting the hands that flogged the money-changers in the temple, forgetting the image of a second coming of Jesus in wrath amid the promised punishments of hell and forgetting the various Marian apparitions that warn us of the wrath of Jesus.
Forgetting the fact that Christians are reminded continuously of the wrath of the “Old Testament God” in the expulsion from Eden, the destruction of most of humanity in the flood, the plagues of Egypt, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the destruction of a multitude of cities and armies, and forgetting that we claim for ourselves this same God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Forgetting the simple facts that we humans have always striven to imitate our leaders, that we have been called explicitly to the imitation of God and that we learn more from role models than from instruction in principle.
By diffusion alone, we have learned all manner of divine responses to shattered visions, plans and purposes.
By diffusion alone, we have learned all manner of violence from the traditionally-presented Prince of Peace.
Creating patterns of behavior that are nearly inextricably bound to one’s faith.
One hardly even knows that they are there.
Nearly unnoticeable in any self-examination.
My God and my righteousness: question the one, you question them both.
Without a doubt, this image of God is not responsible for all of the violence of the world.
But it is, at best, an indifferent advocate against the use of violence.
And it can be linked directly with all manner of bloodshed through the ages.
For too long has this image informed our marriages, our parenting, our teaching, our pastoring and our secular leadership, as generations of husbands, fathers, teachers, pastors and world leaders applied the rod and the scourge to those who offended their plan, their purpose and their vision of the way that things should be.
It has inspired ancient and post-modern Holy Crusades.
My God and my righteousness.
Personally speaking, I choose to lay down this image and work to remove those traces of it that remain within myself, for they have crept into most of us.
Personally speaking, I choose to seek out and listen carefully to those Christian witnesses who are shamefully weak in the vengeance department.
The choice is yours.
But make it carefully.
For our politicians and commentators are now ramping up the rhetoric, hurling disdain, contempt and inflammatory statements at each other, whipping the citizenry up to a near-riot pitch; for, in our human drive to imitate our leaders, we regular citizens have now entered the fray through blogs and town meetings, where we can hurl our own abusive garbage at our leaders and each other; for, in our striving for human righteousness, we are now uttering covert threats of murder into the air for all to hear; for, in our time and in our place, people are openly strapping on weapons of assassination in the presence of the President of the United States.
Choose you this day whom you will serve.
I post new articles twice-monthly in “Author’s Corner”.
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Rob Wright holds advanced degrees in education and performing arts, and he has been a professional teacher for over sixteen years. In his home denomination, he has served as a lay minister in liturgical, educational and ecumenical activities. He lives in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire with his spouse of twenty years and their daughter.