Wrath and joy
There are many Biblical verses that describe the wrath of God. In the Book of Exodus it is recorded that should an Israelite fail to respect the rights and property even of a non-Israeli, the wrath of God will flare up and His sword will kill the wrongdoer.
As flawed people, experience shows that God certainly does not strike us down with a sword each time we sin. In the Scriptures, wrath does not describe an emotion expressed by God so much as it indicates the ultimate consequence of individual or corporate wrongdoing.
Each time the Israelites adopted the pagan practices of those who had conquered them, it meant they turned their back on the God. This delayed their reception of what God promised them not because He was extracting wrath upon them, but because their false gods blinded them to what the true God wanted to give them.
When Jesus grew angered at the commerce taking place in the temple, He was reacting more to the result than He was to punish the merchants. People were coming to the temple to satisfy their temporal needs and desires. Jesus’ wrath expresses the consequence of sin brought on by the people’s own free choice. God had become the elephant in the room that somehow managed to be ignored despite the real purpose of the temple.
Cleansing of the Temple: Carl Heinrich Bloch, 1874
Wrath comes from God only insofar as He gives us the freedom to sow it when we turn our backs on Him. Wrath results from despair, but faith seeks to eradicate sadness with the gift of divine joy. Joy is an attitude given by the Holy Spirit that results in the pervasive conviction that any form of human suffering or discomfort is temporary as we journey into the future.
Without the knowledge of life eternal as taught by Jesus, we might be tempted in emotional despair to lash out in wrath at any unpleasant bump in the road.
Recently a young man in Washington State took a weapon into his high school and began shooting others before taking his own life. His purported motive was the despair he experienced as a result of being suspended from his football team and the rejection of a young woman in whom he had a romantic interest. From his despair came violent wrath expressed in the loss of young, promising lives.
God’s only role in all of this is His desire to shower us with joy. If the young man had believed his despair was only temporary he could have prevented the wrath he wrought that will not end for the survivors.
In a way, the Eucharist is the sacrament of divine joy. In giving us His body and blood as a sacrificial memorial, Christ knew of His impending walk to the cross, but His conviction that such agony was a temporary moment in eternity enabled Him to march forward. God’s joy will do the same for all believers who accept it as an antidote to wrath.
FATHER BRYAN BABICK is the vicar for Divine Worship and the Sacraments for the Diocese of Charleston. Email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.