Wrath, what is it?
Wrath is a scary word, and when used in relation to God it can be terrifying. In the Old Testament, it is used quite a bit, along with severe punishments towards the people of Israel. I have to be honest and say that apart from the psalms, I do not spend much time in the Old Testament; so much that I don’t understand, it being written from a cultural perspective that I have a hard time understanding. God language can only come through the person or culture where they are in their development, so what comes out as inspired writing has to be looked at in its historical situation.
Jesus used the ‘Father’ metaphor to tell us something deeply real about how God relates to us. This relationship can seem to be far from how God and relationship were experienced and wrote about in the Old Testament. So in the story of the ‘Prodigal Son’, where is the wrath of God? How Jesus explains God’s relationship with us is said in images that seem to transcend culture, since Father’s, the good fathers is something understood and longed for, even if never experienced.
Let’s back up a bit and think about a mother and a father who truly love their child; not abusive and who do not wish to control their child. They love their child as much as is possible for a human to love, possibly the closest thing to ‘unconditional love’ we can come to in this sphere. So the daughter or son comes in and admits to the parents that he has fallen into a serious addiction, she is addicted to heroin. How will the parents react? Well with ‘wrath’, deep all-encompassing wrath. What are they reacting to? Is it a rejection of their daughter or son? Well of course not. The wrath is directed towards the addiction, something in their child that is a threat, something that could consume their beautiful lovable child. In fact, an entity that could turn their child into something else. As time goes on, if the child refuses to change, or to even seek help to try to change, after a while the parents with great sorrow will have to let their child go. If the addiction continues the child could become its actual addiction, what was truly human is now swallowed in a form of death. Sadness is there, but the wrath towards the addiction will never go away.
People often think of wrath, and sad to say rightly so, as something that is out of control, rage-filled and destructive. Abusive people can be wrathful, hateful towards the person because the man or woman won’t be what they want them to be…..it is a will-to-power issue. God is not into power, He is into love. Did not Jesus wash the feet of the disciples? That event says a lot, we need to ponder that more. For he is a revelation of the Father love, towards all of us without exception; though we try mightily to exclude people, even other Christians who do not agree with us. Often we fall prey to making God in our image and likeness.
So in the parable of the ‘Prodigal Son’, where is God’s wrath? Well, it is in the love of the Father’s response, the son has to choose how to react to that. If he rejects it and wants only to live there as a servant, he will feel the Father’ embrace as something other than love, it could be smothering to the young man if he rejected the embrace…even painful.
We have great dignity and only the good Lord knows the depths of our hearts and what our final free choice will be. It is on us, God’s love is free. Like any true love, it is not forced. If our free will were taken from us, we would cease to exist because all of our memories of choice would be erased. The fear of the Lord is to fear to loose what is most dear, what we are made for, and that is love, union and the dance for eternity in the internal life of the Trinity. Hell is an eternal dance with ourselves and the love of God experienced as wrath because what was once human is now no more.