Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Waters of Marah

North American popular culture, as brought into your home and heart by the North American media, is a very powerful force, and it seems that we too easily underestimate its transforming power.  How else to explain the results of a poll undertaken by the Public Religion Research Institute regarding the popularity of the view that favours allowing gays and lesbians to legally marry, and opposing policies that would give business owners the right to refuse services to a same-sex wedding?  The PRRI, a Washington, D.C.-based polling firm, polled 40,509 Americans in 2016 for its American Values Atlas.  That the majority of Americans favoured gay marriage is not surprising (58% versus 32% who opposed it and 10% who had no opinion).  More surprising is that of those surveyed a full 44% of American Muslims favoured gay marriage. Given Islam’s famously unenthusiastic view of homosexuality, this is a bit of a jaw-dropper.  I do not know how long the Muslims polled by the PRRI had been in America.  Were many of them new immigrants, fresh off the immigrational boat from Sudan and Libya?  Or had they been in America for a long time, or perhaps even been born in America?  I suspect the latter.  But it seems clear that the longer one is exposed the proclamations of the North American media and the more one drinks from the deep wells of its popular culture through books, radio interviews, songs, magazine articles, movies, news programmes, and interactions at the school, workplace and on social media, the more one’s views will conform to these new modern norms. If even our Muslim neighbours end up jumping on the popular LGBT bandwagon, we can clearly see the power of our popular culture.  As far as traditional Christianity is concerned, that cultural well has been poisoned.  In our long trek to Kingdom through the desert that is this age, we have come to the waters of Marah.    
            You remember the waters of Marah.  Israel had been liberated from Egypt and was trekking through the deserts of Sinai on their way the Promised Land.  They were tired and thirsty, and after three days in the wilderness they came to a place they later called Marah, “and when they came to Marah, they could not drink the waters of Marah, for they were bitter; therefore it was named ‘Marah’” (Exodus 15:22f).  In Hebrew “marah” means “bitter.  And by “bitter” the text did not simply mean the water tasted sour or unpleasant, but rather that it was poisonous, undrinkable, and would make you sick if you drank it.  (This is apparent by the later reference to “diseases” in v. 26.)  It was a terrible and terrifying moment in their journey, for they soon faced certain death if drinkable water could not be found. 
            God provided the answer.  “The Lord showed Moses a tree and he threw it into the waters and the waters became sweet”—i.e. drinkable.  The tree changed the well from being a font of poison to being a font of life, and they could find life-giving water even in the desert.  Christians meditating on the miracle have always been struck by the instrument which produced that life—a tree.  It irresistibly reminded them of the tree of the Cross, and how the Cross could turn doom into deliverance, and transform death into life. That is why the story of the waters of Marah is read in church at the service of Great Vespers on the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross. Through the Cross we can journey through the world and not be poisoned by it. 
            We need to remember this as we journey through the desert that is the 21st century West.  No one can live without culture, and after a short time we too grow thirsty.  When then we open the pages of a magazine or turn on the daily news or settle in to watch a movie or read a book or otherwise interact with popular culture, we must remember that the well has been poisoned.  That does not mean that there are not also good things in the cultural well.  There was water in the well of Marah, after all.  But there were also things in the good water that were not good, and it was these things which made it poisonous.
            The answer, then as now, is the Cross.  As Paul said, through the Cross of the Lord Jesus Christ the world had been crucified to him and he to the world (Galatians 6:14).  Through the Cross we count ourselves dead to the world and to its poisonous values.  We do not belong to the world, but to God, and we refuse to make all the values of our secular culture our own.  Our values come from the Church’s Holy Tradition, and whether or not these values coincide or overlap with the values of the world is a matter of ultimate indifference to us.  In baptism the Church casts the tree of the Cross into the waters of the world and transforms them.  Through the Cross we can drink in the world and not die; we can pass through our secular culture and not be poisoned by it.  But everything depends upon discernment.  If we would pass safely through the desert, we must know when we come to the waters of Marah.


Saturday, September 16, 2017

Another Coffee, Anyone?

After a break of many months, I am happy to announce that the Coffee Cup Commentaries podcast is starting again.  There will be some changes, to which the new visual logo attests.  It will still be found at Ancient Faith (of course) and will still offer every weekday a five to six minute casual exegesis of the Scriptures as we look at the text verse-by-verse and phrase-by-phrase.  But the field has been expanded, so that instead of confining ourselves to the New Testament, we will together look at the Old Testament too.  That is partly because since the podcast series began in 2008 we have worked over the New Testament material pretty thoroughly, but also because this allows us to examine the Old Testament together in ways not otherwise possible.
            For I am credibly told that, weird as it may sound, commentaries on the Old Testament are not that easy to sell, and it has been a while at least since one of them made the Best Sellers List of the New York Times.   I have been often asked by many people to write a commentary on the Book of Isaiah (one person even giving me a good title for it, The Fifth Gospel), and I agree that such material would be good for a Christian to have.  There are good commentaries out there already naturally, such as John Oswalt’s massive two-volume work which forms part of the New International Commentary on the Old Testament.  The work is massive (volume one runs to 746 pages and volume two to 755 pages), which means that the books come with an appropriately massive price tag.  They are wonderful and scholarly, they form part of an ongoing dialogue with other scholars in the field, and should form part of any student’s technical research. 
But that is just the problem.  The majority of people whom I meet in the Church have neither the time, the money, nor the inclination to plough through such massive volumes, but they still have questions about Isaiah and the rest of the Scriptures.  It was for them that I wrote the Orthodox Bible Study Companion Series.  I appreciate the thanks they send me for the work, including their repeated calls for an Old Testament encore and an expansion of the project to include the Old Testament as well.  But like I said, it is difficult to sell such books to more than a few people, and of course any responsible publisher will have to take such inconvenient truths into account.  So, no Orthodox Bible Study Companion Series on the Old Testament any time soon.  But we can still deal with the Old Testament texts, even if in a more casual way than could be accomplished in a written commentary.  That is why I have agreed to re-launch the Coffee Cup Commentaries, with an emphasis on the Old Testament material, beginning with Isaiah.  I hope you will join me.  It is coming to an Ancient Faith website near you.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Feast of Byzantium

The Feast of the Elevation of the Cross does not primarily commemorate the crucifixion of Christ.  That saving event is commemorated every year on Great and Holy Friday.  Our feast of September 14 commemorates the finding of the Cross in the fourth century, when the bishop of Jerusalem took it in his hands, lifted it up (i.e. elevated it), crying out over and over again with joy, “Lord have mercy!”  Until that time the wood lay hidden in a cistern, lost and forgotten amid the other debris of Jerusalem in the decades before and after the city’s destruction in 70 A.D.  When the Emperor Constantine (aided and abetted by his mother, Helen) began excavating the site preparatory to building the Church of the Resurrection there over the place where Christ was crucified, buried, and raised, his workmen found the discarded wood in a cistern.  After prayer, the story goes, a miracle revealed which bit of wood was the cross of Christ, at which time the bishop lifted it up in joy.
            This feast is not simply about the wood, but also about the Church.  After years of laying in the dark, the cross was finally lifted up and subjected to honour, veneration, and enrichment.  It was kissed and displayed before all the world as the divine weapon of peace.  In the same way the Church in those centuries also lay hidden in the dark, dreading and avoiding persecution and death, living in the metaphorical catacombs.  Now it could emerge from the darkness of obscurity and fear and stand blinking in the bright sun of a new Constantinian day.  Christians would find themselves honoured and their churches subject to veneration and enrichment.  Decius and Diocletian were dead.  The long day of Byzantium had come, a day which would not see final sunset for a thousand years. 
            The Feast of the Elevation of the Cross is therefore the feast of Byzantium, a celebration of the Church’s new status under a Christian regime.  One can see this from the original words of the tropar hymn for that feast:  “O Lord, save Your people and bless Your inheritance, giving victories to the kings over the barbarians and guarding Your citizenry with Your Cross.”  The kings of course were the reigning Christian emperors, and the barbarians were the pagan powers next door.  The supplicated victories were not spiritual, but military; the hymn prayed for military triumph on the field of battle.  The citizenry (Greek politevma) was the Byzantine state.  Now that the situation has changed so dramatically, we sing a different version of the tropar, with the kings becoming “Orthodox Christians” and the barbarians becoming simply their “adversaries”.  The victories are commonly thought to be spiritual ones, since the adversaries are no longer our national foes, but our spiritual ones, the demons.  It is no bad alteration, though others have suggested political alternatives more in keeping with our current political reality.

            I love the Byzantine brocade and Imperial-style pomp as well as the next man—or at least I understand why it came to be.  But the brocade and the gold and the precious stones now adorning the Cross do not constitute its true glory, nor ours either.  Even during Byzantium, the true glory of the Cross consisted not in gold, but in the shame of God, the astonishing divine humility which He would dare to endure even the humiliating death of the cross for our sake.  This is what St. Paul meant when he wrote, “Far be it from me that I should boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world (Galatians 6:14).  That is, Paul cared no more for the world’s glory, applause, and fame than a dead man would care for it.  He was content to share the shame of his Lord, and to hang on the cross with Him, vilified and misunderstood and hated by all, so long as he could do the will of God.  That is the true glory of the Cross—and of the Church which kisses the Cross every Sunday, and which lives by its power.  Brocade is fine and the applause of the world is wonderful (though it should always make our consciences a little uneasy).  But all brocade will eventually rot and the world will one day fall into the fire of the Last Day.  Then it will become apparent that our true glory lay in our willingness to suffer with Christ.  We surround the Cross with flowers at this feast to honour it, and this is as it should be.  Let us take care to also adorn it with our love, and a determination to hang upon it ourselves if God wills, caring nothing for the world, and giving everything to God.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Simplicity is a Wonderful Thing...

...and so I will be concentrating on my No Other Foundation blog (found at: blogs.ancientfaith.com/nootherfoundation) and of course the Coffee Cup Commentaries podcast, newly re-launched.  For some time now the Straight from the Heart blog has served simply as an archive for blog pieces, with the same material found simultaneously here as well as at No Other Foundation.  Given the difficulty of coordinating two separate blogs and their comments sections, I have decided to shut down the comments section for Straight from the Heart and concentrate on No Other Foundation.  Thank you to all who have commented here in the past!  Your comments are abundantly welcome at the other site.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Allegory and the Old Testament

          It is safe to say that the allegorical method has fallen upon hard times in the scholarly world.  What was once considered a discovery of the deeper meaning of the Old Testament text is now almost universally derided in the academic halls as the arbitrary and perhaps even perverse ingenuity of commentators with altogether too much time on their hands.  To quote but one scholar’s evaluation of the method (as used for interpreting the Song of Solomon), “To read a single allegorical interpretation is to be impressed, and to wonder if the author is on to something profound; to read a hundred allegorical interpretations is to be depressed, and to want to discard the whole…I do not believe that the allegorization of any text of the Song is of theological or exegetical value”.  Okay then.  Like I said, hard times, and not just for the Song of Solomon.   Most modern interpreters would hold that finding value in an allegorical interpretation of the Law, the historical books, and the Psalter is also passé.  In the words of one author (Hanson, in his Allegory and Event, cited in O’Keefe and Reno’s Sanctified Vision), the use of allegory by people like Origen “since the arrival of historical criticism has had to be entirely abandoned and is, as far as one can prophesy, never again likely to be revived”.
            But a method which has won the assent of pretty much all the Fathers cannot so easily be discarded by Orthodox who look to the Fathers as their guides.  One need not agree with the Fathers in all their detailed conclusions (for example, in their dating of the Book of Daniel), but Orthodox commentators will accept their basic mindset and approach, including their acceptance of allegory as a valid method of interpretation.  One sometimes reads that the School of Antioch rejected the allegorical method while the School of Alexandria accepted it, but actually interpreters hailing from both cities accepted the allegorical method as legitimate.  It was a matter of proportion and enthusiasm, with Antioch tending to the historical side of the continuum and Alexandria tending more to the allegorical side.  But both Antioch and Alexandria accepted the basic historical reliability of the sacred text as well as the legitimacy of some further allegorical interpretation.  I believe that we Orthodox should follow them, and accept both the historical meaning of the text and its allegorical application.
            How to do this?  Are there any rules?  Following our forebears of Antiochene provenance (such as St. John Chrysostom), I suggest the following.
             The historical meaning of the text must be regarded as the primary one in that it lays the foundation for further interpretation.   One cannot deny the historicity of the events portrayed in the text because we happen to find them difficult or uncongenial.  If an historical text like 1 Kings reports that a miracle happened, then it happened, and our modern distaste for the supernatural or our materialist dogma that “miracles cannot occur” cannot be allowed to over-rule what the text says.  If the text reports that God commanded Joshua to slaughter the inhabitants of Jericho, then that is what God commanded.  We may wonder why God said that, but denying that He commanded it is not an option.  Laziness may push us to simply deny that it happened and exempt us from the hard work of wrestling with the text and its modern implications, but such a course must be resisted.  We must accept the historical reliability of the report and try to work out what it means—and more importantly perhaps, what it does not mean—for us.
            In other words, allegory must not be used as an easy escape hatch to avoid theological difficulties.  It simply does not follow that because a text has an allegorical interpretation and application—as most texts do—that this somehow nullifies the historical meaning.  Take for example the crossing of the Red Sea.  The plain historical meaning is the escape of Israel from the peril of the advancing Egyptians.  An historical reading will accept that it happened more or less as reported.  But we accept that the passage through the Red Sea is also an allegory of our own escape from the kingdom of Satan and his demons, so that just as Israel passed through the waters and emerged safe on the other side to advance towards the Promised Land, so we also pass through the waters of baptism and advance towards the Kingdom of heaven.  The allegorical interpretation does not nullify the historical, and it is illegitimate to somehow set up the two interpretations as alternatives from which we may choose.  The historical and the allegorical interpretations are not rival choices or two halves of an exegetical dichotomy.  They are two parts of a total interpretive house, consisting of its historical foundation and the allegorical superstructure based upon it.
            Also therefore one must not build an allegorical superstructure inconsistent with the original historical foundation or interpret the text allegorically in a way that does violence to the original.  Take for example the slaughter of Jericho.  The original text asserts that the Israelite armies were to put to the sword the inhabitants of the city, sparing only the harlot Rahab and her family.  An allegorical interpretation would equate Israel’s enemies within the city with the demons and sins which wage war against us and which will destroy us unless we eliminate them from our life.  The allegory is rooted in the history and represents a consistent interpretive trajectory:  in both interpretations the enemies are enemies to be destroyed; what has changed is our own situation.  The Church is not national, but supra-national—and in fact, eschatological, not of this world at all.  Our enemies now are thus not national but spiritual—armies of wickedness in the heavenlies, as St. Paul has said (Ephesians 6:12f).  This allegory thus builds on the historical.  But we cannot say that because there is a legitimate interpretation that equates the Canaanites with the demons that the historical command to slay the Canaanites never occurred or to say that such a command was immoral simply because it is capable of allegorization.  In fact everything is capable of allegorization, given enough time and ingenuity.  A total interpretation of the text therefore will declare:
  1. God commanded the slaughter of Jericho for some good reason (even if we cannot immediately say what that reason was);
  2. The event actually occurred;
  3. Its historicity was descriptive, not prescriptive—i.e. it does not give us permission to slaughter that way today;
  4. Its more immediate application and meaning have to do with slaying the enemies currently warring against us, namely the demons and our sins.
  5. This allegorical interpretation represents a deeper and more abiding truth.
This I believe may set a paradigm for all allegorical interpretation.  All of the Old Testament must be
interpreted allegorically as well as historically—as I argued at length in my 2012 book The Christian Old Testament (as I do in an upcoming commentary on the Song of Solomon to be published by SVS Press, in which I attempt to rehabilitate the allegorical method for a deeper understanding of the Song).  Appealing to the Old Testament history does not mean a rejection of the allegorical.  It only means that the two ways of reading the text are not mutually exclusive.  It is perverse to suggest otherwise.  We begin with the historical, and dig deeper to find its abiding meaning—a meaning consistent with the historical, but of more immediate concern to us as Christians.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Why We Need a God of Wrath

           Every age faces the temptation to remake the true God in its own image—or in other words, the temptation to idolatry. The brutal ages of barbarian northern Europe tended to refashion God into a kind of Christian Viking, a warrior God, one who disdained weakness, a God who did not allow Himself meekly to be nailed to a cross, but who boldly mounted the wood Himself.  The same area of Europe much later in the 1930s refashioned the God of the Jews once again and put forth a blonde Aryan Christ who despised the Jews as heartily as they did.  Southern portions of America produced a God who endorsed slavery, forbade inter-racial marriage, and enforced the so-called “curse of Ham”, inflicting black skin on one of Noah’s progeny as a punishment.  The temptation to remake God into our own image and imagine that He conforms to our own cultural norms is enduring and universal.
            Today this temptation pushes us to proclaim that God has no wrath—to (as one of its proponents phrases it) “unwrath” Him, so that the words “God is love” means “God could never be wrathful”.  It is not hard to see how closely this new picture of God (for its proponents cheerfully admit the picture is new) conforms to our own cultural norms.  We are a culture which has (quite properly) developed a horror of war and conflict—not surprisingly, since the twentieth century arguably saw more international blood-letting than all previous centuries combined.  We lionize men and woman of peace—persons like Gandhi and Anne Frank—and in our eyes the worst criminals are war criminals.  We rightly look down upon delight in war and look back upon the enthusiasm for armed conflict that swept over the young soldiers going off to fight in the first world war with a kind of amazed pity.  We know only too well that anger leads men and nations into bad places and we have no trouble believing St. James when he writes, “the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God”.
            We may see clearly then how our horror of war and human anger sets us up to have a horror of hell and of divine anger.  What may not be so clearly seen is how our awareness of human sin has eroded and all but vanished, and how this too sets us up to regard divine anger as unreasonable and unworthy.  The convergence of these two largely unacknowledged factors—our twentieth century horror of war and longing for peace and our twentieth century loss of awareness of our own sinfulness—drives us to refashion the biblical picture of God into a more congenial likeness—a God whose love leaves no room for wrath or anger.
            The biblical picture of God, from the early passages of Genesis to the final words of Revelation, is of a God who exhibits both tenderness and anger, or (in the words of St. Paul) both kindness and severity (Romans 11:22).  He judged the transgression of the first-created man and woman with a sentence of mortality, and the sin of Cain with expulsion and exile.  When sin multiplied and overflowed on the earth, He sent the waters of death to overflow in response, and drowned all of the world save Noah and his family.
            Detailing every biblical instance of God’s judgment would require a book, not a blog-post.  Perhaps the best way to sum up the Old Testament portrait of God is by citing its first liturgical song, the so-called Song of Moses found in Exodus 15.  This song celebrates the judgment of God upon the Egyptians, avenging His oppressed people and setting them free.  It concludes and culminates a long series of His judgments on the Egyptians when plague after plague laid them low and humiliated their idols, whose powerlessness to save was thereby revealed.  Familiarity with Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments with Charlton Heston playing Moses has both dramatized and sanitized those terrible days of plague.  In the movie version, the plagues lasted only days; in the biblical text the terror and disaster went on for weeks and months.  What the movie did not miss was the terror of the final plague—the death of the first-born.  “Moses said, ‘Thus says the Lord:  About midnight I am going out into the midst of Egypt and all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the slave-girl who is behind the millstones; all the firstborn of the cattle as well’…Now it came about at midnight that the Lord struck all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of cattle.  Pharaoh arose in the night, he and all his servants and all the Egyptians, and there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was no home where there was not someone dead”.
            Even the spectacular closing of the Red Sea upon the pursuing Egyptian soldiers shortly thereafter could not, I suggest, compare with this horror.  But the night of terror and the deaths of Egyptian soldiers in the Red Sea are not lamented in the Song, but celebrated:  “I will sing to the Lord, for He is highly exalted!  The horse and rider He has hurled into the sea!  The Lord is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation!  This is my God and I will praise Him; my father’s God and I will extol Him!  The Lord is a warrior; the Lord is His Name!  Your right hand, O Lord, is majestic in power, Your right hand, O Lord, shatters the enemy.  In the greatness of Your majesty, You have overthrown Your adversaries.”
            One could, if one had a low view of the Scriptures, write this off as a bit of cold-hearted Israelite nationalism.  But then one would need to write off pretty much the rest of the Old Testament as well:  the Mosaic slaughter of the apostates worshipping the golden calf at the foot of Mount Sinai, the judgment befalling the rebels Dathan and Abiram when the earth swallowed them up for their rebellion, the destruction of Jericho, the striking down of Uzzah for his irreverence against the Ark, and the leprosy smiting both Uzziah the king and Gehazi the prophet’s servant.  Time would fail me if I would tell of all the other instances of divine judgment in the Old Testament.  It is best summed up by the opening utterance of Nahum the prophet:  “A jealous and avenging God is the Lord; the Lord is avenging and wrathful.  The Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries and He reserves His wrath for His enemies.  The Lord is slow to anger and great in power; the Lord will by no means leave the guilty unpunished.”
            One might, I suppose, break faith with the unbroken tradition of the Church and side with the heretic Marcion, who happily unwrathed the Christian God by rejecting this Old Testament picture as inaccurate and unreliable.  Marcion simply consigned the entirety of the Law and the Prophets to the ashcan.  Today, taught by Darwin to regard everything as evolving and improving, some retain the Old Testament text itself and simply reject the bits they dislike, declaring them insufficiently developed and not yet spiritual.  That spirituality and acceptability would come, they declare, with Christ and the Gospel.  (One imagines Marcion simply shrugging and saying, “I could live with that.”)
            The problem for these Latter Day Marcionite Saints is that the New Testament also partakes of both the kindness and the severity found in the Old Testament.  Christ, for all His tenderness, compassion, and patience, still drove out the animals of the money-changers from the Temple with whips.  He denounced the Pharisees as hypocrites, children of Gehenna, serpents, whited sepulchres, and a brood of vipers bound for hell.  He pronounced woes upon the cities of Chorazin and Bethsaida and said that Capernaum would descend to Hades, the land of death.  He declared that the wicked would be cast into the outer darkness, a place of weeping and of gnashing of teeth, into the unquenchable fire, and into eternal punishment, however much they hammered on heaven’s door and sought entry.  He said that those who opposed Him were children of the devil who would die in their sins, and that it would have been better for the one who betrayed Him if he had never been born.
            Christ was the same after His ascension into heaven.  John saw Him in glory standing in the midst of His seven Asian churches, still the Saviour and the Judge.  To those who rejected His teaching said, “Repent, or else I am coming to you quickly and I will make war with the sword of My mouth.”  
Concerning a local teacher and her disciples He said, “I gave her time to repent and she does not want to repent of her immorality.  Behold, I will throw her on a bed of sickness and I will kill her children with pestilence and all the churches will know that I am the one who searches the minds and hearts and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds.”
            One person (Brad Jersak, in his A More Christlike God) has suggested that a key to understanding Christ is found in Revelation 5:5-6, where the Lion is revealed not only as a lamb, but as a lamb slain, and that this means that Christ has no more wrath or judgment than a sacrificial lamb in its meekness.  Such “exegesis” is spurious—a chapter later we see men fleeing from the wrath of this Lamb and from “the great day of wrath” (Revelation 6:16-17), and the Book of Revelation culminates with the Second Coming and the marriage supper of the Lamb.  How harmless that slain Lamb is may be learned from Revelation 19:11f:  “I saw heaven opened and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called faithful and true and in righteousness He judges and wages war.  From His mouth comes a sharp sword so that with it He may strike down the nations and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty.” 
            There is nothing for it—we must face up to the fact that the biblical picture of God in the Old Testament and of Christ in the New is one of both tenderness and wrath, of both kindness and severity, and that an “unwrathed” deity can only be produced by selecting one aspect of the total picture and remaking this one detail into a new whole.  It is not so much interpreting some verses in the light of others as it is ignoring many unwelcome verses in favour of a few more welcome ones.  This has been the preferred method of heretical exegesis throughout the centuries.
            The real question therefore is not  “Is the biblical God a God of wrath?”, but rather “Why is the wrath of God celebrated so widely and so emphatically in the Bible?”  For throughout the history of Christian exegesis, God’s judgment is not treated like a dirty little divine secret or a lamentable flaw in God’s otherwise sterling character, but praised and emphasized as part of our salvation.  We are taught to rejoice at His coming judgment:  “Let the sea roar and all it contains, the world and those who dwell in it!  Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy before the Lord, for He is coming to judge the earth!” (Psalm 98:7-9).  Or more succinctly, the Church cries out, “Marantha!”  “Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be!”  Why this exultation at the judgment of God?  Or, put differently, why should we welcome the coming of the God of wrath?
            It is important to understand the divine wrath and to see that it is not the manifestation of any irascibility (as the pagan gods could sometimes prove irascible), but of moral fervour.  That is, divine wrath is what happens when divine goodness encounters evil.  We see this even when our own little human fragments of morality and goodness encounter true evil—when we are brought face to face with such evils as the Nazi’s Final Solution of the Jewish Question (i.e. the Holocaust), or the killing fields of Pol Pot or the beheadings of ISIS.  We are repelled and feel moral indignation at such atrocities.  Love for the individuals committing the atrocities does nothing to diminish our moral outrage at the acts themselves. And if we who are fallen feel such wrath at evil, how much more would a righteous God rise up in anger against it?  God’s zeal to avenge, His wrath when confronted with evil is nothing other than His manifested moral goodness—the same goodness which delights to bless the righteous, to forgive the penitent, and to protect the orphan and the widow.  To say that God is love—i.e. that God is good—implies both His zeal to protect the helpless and His zeal to avenge the helpless when they are struck down and violated.  To “unwrath” God would be to strip Him of His zeal to avenge, to shield and vindicate the helpless. It would be to disarm Him of His moral compass.  An unwrathed God would not be more loving than a wrathful one, just more ineffectual.
            And we want God to be effectual, especially when it comes to dealing with our own sins.  God’s wrath at sin is the expression of His moral determination to banish sin from the cosmos He made.  While that may be bad news for the impenitent wicked of the earth, it is good news for the fallen but penitent—that is, for us.  For we want and need a God who can banish sin from our hearts, a God who will not stop or be satisfied with us until every ounce and atom of sin, disease, and darkness have been rooted out of our hearts.  Only by such a relentless war against our sin can we be fully and finally healed and whole.  Only by such determined wrath against all that afflicts and torments us can we stand tall and joyful and live in the eternal bliss for which we were made.
            God hates sin and takes action against it wherever He finds it, just as a good physician might hate cancer in his patients and take action to cure it.  Everyone in the whole wide world stands in need of such curing.  “May our God come and not keep silence!  Fire devours before Him and it is very tempestuous around Him “ (Psalm 50:3).  May that fire of wrath and love devour the sin lurking in us.  May it burn up the thorns of our transgressions and enlighten us to proclaim the true God.