Diminished by Wrath
It is a great thief.
It diminishes the senses, the mind and the heart.
Try speaking to someone who is in a state of wrath.
Try reasoning with them.
Try appealing to their better emotions.
No simple anger, this, no flash of feeling that must, like all of the emotions, fade in moments.
It can linger for a lifetime.
Diminishing, ever diminishing those possessed by it.
These considerations stymie my best attempts to understand the idea of a “God of Wrath” as we know wrath, for I doubt that God or God’s infinite faculties could be diminished by anything, and I doubt that God would suffer any form of possession.
Moreover, we do tend to associate the act of theft, indeed, all acts that diminish life, with a very particular agency that is quite distinct from God.
Would that we could, in our minds and in our hearts, sever our connections between the idea of wrath and the idea of God.
Would that we could, in our minds and in our hearts, sever our connections between the idea of wrath and any idea of righteousness.
For these connections have diminished us for millennia; they have given heart and justification to our worst offenses; they are the pavement that conceals our mass graves and the gags that are stuffed into the mouths of our victims; they are the essence of our grimly smug conceit.
They stamp destruction with the imprimatur of God; they raise the bloody sword of the Crusader; they are an unholy union that has produced the worst of demon spawn.
Mon dieu et mon droit.
My God and my righteousness.
Emerging again, now, in the current political debates.
Emerging again, now, in the contempt and the arrogance and the lies and the smears and the screaming that are emanating from both sides of the current health care debate.
Emerging again, now, in the racism and the regional factionalism and the class warfares based on educational or economic status that have thrown all other events, no matter their importance, into the shadows.
People say, as I have said, that we have never really resolved the issues of the sixties.
But not just the nineteen-sixties.
Try the eighteen-sixties, or the seventeen-sixties, or even much farther back.
I daresay that we have never resolved any issue that has stirred righteous wrath.
I pause here, now, as I step away from my writing and the glow of my house into the darkness of the lane that winds down to the main road.
Blessed as I am to live in a place where the brightness of the stars alone can easily light my path.
I fumble across the words of John Howard Griffin, that master journalist, who dared disguise himself as an African-American and travel across the deep south during the late nineteen-fifties.
His personal experience with human hatred drove him to interrupt his journey and seek the solace of monastic retreat. At journey’s end, he sought peace in the quiet countryside of his Texas home.
This business of righteous wrath is a dark thing; it is a fell thing, as the medieval writers would have said; it is the kind of thing that, fully revealed, would send any person running for their life or their soul or their sheer physical being to any altar of God and to cling to it, with the sheer desperation of an Orestes, for the sake of their salvation.
I pause here, on my particular stretch of the backwoods of New Hampshire, while some of my sisters and brothers worry about wild animals and while some of my sisters and brothers worry about demons that travel by night.
Oh, those things are not so bad.
I have no doubt that one could patch together a set of scriptures that justify righteous wrath.
For, given the vast influence of the scriptures on the world at large, promoted as they have been by so many faiths and their various denominations, such patchworks have been used to incite and condone acts of violence that emerge from notions of racism and racial supremacy, religion and religious supremacy, class warfare and class supremacy.
At the very least, such patchworks do not speak against such violence.
The problem is that they do speak against the two commandments of Jesus, so much so that various agencies have sought to expand the idea of love to include righteous wrath and the violence that it condones.
All for the sake of a God whose image we have twisted into the shape of a purely human wrath.
A truly ignoble box for the Lord our God.
What should I fear, here on this lane?
There are bears, and bobcats, and fisher cats and foxes, to be sure, but I am more concerned with being startled by the sudden woosh of a great horned owl that has spotted a vole on the lane, or of startling a deer that will thrash away through the woods, or of startling the nearby skunk, who, left to her own devices, will do a praiseworthy job of aerating our lawn and ridding it of grubs.
Not given to me on this quiet lane, the concerns of those in other places who must needs venture forth on missions by night.
Not given to me on this quiet lane, the real concerns for physical safety that were somehow transcended by she who set forth on her mission by night to the tomb.
But given to all of us the key that unlocked the door to her quest, a quest that was not moved by faith or hope, for she had no idea that she would perceive the risen Jesus.
As more than one person has observed, the key to the treasure is the treasure.
The key is love.
“Bottom-line” people expect from religion a guide for their actions.
For us Christians, the only guide that was given in commandment language was the two commandments.
Love God and love one another.
Nothing is more important.
Not even the image of a God that we have twisted into a human shape.
I realize that my position will cause some problems for those who choose to exalt seemingly-contradictory passages of scripture to an equal status with the two commandments.
Yet I cannot walk away from the primacy of those commandments, for their absence has birthed so much death and violence; I cannot walk away from the primacy of those commandments, for in their absence we birth such horrendous visions as a God of human wrath who invites imitation; I cannot walk away from the primacy of those commandments, for in such imitation we will lose our senses, our minds and our hearts.
The lane is quiet tonight.
Not even a vole to attract the attention of an owl; the skunk is busy elsewhere; I have struck no panic in the heart of a deer.
And a few miles away, under the same stars that light the quiet countryside of Vermont, the Carthusian monks have begun their somber midnight prayers for the peace of Christ upon the world.
I post new articles twice-monthly in “Author’s Corner”.
If you live in or near the Lakes Region of New Hampshire, and you would be interested in meeting with others for discussion and/or prayer, please contact me at email@example.com. All are welcome, regardless of identity or personal choices. Please understand that I do not have the resources to guarantee that I will be able to read or respond to all other correspondence.
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Rob Wright holds advanced degrees in education and performing arts, and he has been a professional teacher for over seventeen 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.