We Are/Were The Grapes of Wrath

In this month’s Christianity Today, Carolyn Arends has an article whose name immediately caught my attention: “The Grace of Wrath“. It was one of the first things I read in this edition. What a disappointment. How badly she missed the point. So this blog post is going to be me rehearsing a potential letter to the editor. If I write it, it will be shorter and more pointed than this entry. This is just going to be me venting.

Right off the bat you know there is going to be trouble. When a Christian, especially an evangelical, takes theological cues from pop culture you have to wonder what they’re thinking. We evangelicals are supposed to be the ones who hold to Biblical inerrancy and sola scriptura. General revelation, including pop culture, is below that in authority.1Pop culture is way below that. So when she starts out by citing Evan Almightly, of all things, I am really concerned. Here’s how she starts:

In the film, God (played by Morgan Freeman) claims that people miss the point of the story of Noah’s Ark because they think it’s about God’s anger, when really it’s a “love story.” Some Christians saw that statement as an offensive distortion of the Genesis account of God’s wrath. Their protest left me pondering what I suspect is a fundamentally important question: Is there any story about God that isn’t a love story?

Well, yes and no. It depends on what love you’re talking about. Was the flood account a love story? With mankind? Not with the mankind God got so angry at that he wished he’d not made them after all. God didn’t love them. What about Israel’s wilderness experience? According to Psalm 95:10 God loathed that generation. Are these love stories?

Yes. They are. But not in the way Carolyn means them. You see, Arends admits that she grew up with two ideas of God. One from Bernhard Plockhorst’s Jesus Blessing the Children and the other she describes as “a peeved Father Time crossed with an accusing Uncle Sam.” What comes to mind here is something J. I. Packer said in Knowing God:

Imagining God in our heads can be just as real a breach of the second commandment as imagining Him by the work of our hands. How often do we hear this sort of thing: ‘I like to think of God as the great Architect.’ ‘I don’t like think of God as a Judge; I like to think of Him simply as Father.’ We know from experience how often remarks of this kind serve as the prelude to a denial of something that the Bible tells us about God. It needs to be said with the greatest possible emphasis that those who hold themselves free to think of God as they like are breaking the second commandment.

Notice that Packer says that “remarks of this kind serve as the prelude to a denial of something that the Bible tells us about God.” This is important as we consider how Arends deals with these two ‘conflicting’ views of God. The crucial question is whether she has denied some Biblical truth in her formulation. Keep that in mind.

She asks,

What if God grieves sin less because it offends his sensibilities, and more because he hates the way it distorts our perceptions and separates us from him?

Well, what do you think? Is she denying or missing some Biblical truth here? All of those episodes of God’s wrath, she says, were merely expressions of his desire to be with us. He gets angry at the things that keep us apart. We’re the most treasured thing in God’s sight and so, since he is love, anything that keeps him from the objects of his love is subject to his anger.

But that doesn’t work and Carolyn knows it.

There are some pretty hard bits in Scripture. It is difficult to frame, say, the saga of Sodom and Gomorrah as a love story. But if we truly believe that God not only loves, but is love, we must believe there is no action he can take that is not animated by love.

Oh, it is much worse that that! What about episodes of eternal punishment?

So the angel swung his sickle across the earth and gathered the grape [rebellious human] harvest of the earth and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress, as high as a horse’s bridle [probably about 5 feet], for 1,600 stadia [about 184 miles!]. – Rev14:19-20

This is a pretty graphic example of God being very, very angry at people, not events or circumstances. This is much more serious than God’s destruction of two cities. This is Jesus triumphing over his enemies. If God loves people so much that he gets angry at things that keep Him away from them, what do we do with hell? What are we to do when God says that, for example, we “once were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Eph 2:3)? That simply flies in the face of her attempted resolution of a perceived tension in scripture.

So how do we deal with this “problem” and remain true to Scripture? We must incorporate all of what the Bible says of God and not elevate the verse or two that describes Him the way we want to hear. God is love, yes. God is also wrathful. God is also jealous.2By the way, this was the very notion that drove Oprah away from the truth. She couldn’t reconcile a jealous God with a god who was no more than love. Probably the term that describes him most accurately is ‘holy’. God is holy. That encompasses all of his attributes. That God is love is true, but it is said only twice in the Bible and only in 1 John. That God is holy is said explicitly and implicitly all across the Bible!

But back to Arends’ original question. Let me rephrase it in what I believe might be a much more Biblical way; “What if God is angry at sin less because it offends his sensibilities, and more because it is an affront to his holiness?” In other words, God isn’t some crusty old dude (Father Time and Uncle Sam) who has picky moral standards. Rather, He is a Holy God who cannot look upon sin. Yet, he is love and so since he desires a relationship with his creation, he doesn’t simply wink at sin, he deals with it. He dealt with it in a most serious manner: he sent his Son to die to over come it!

You see, if we take Carolyn’s perspective, we cannot make sense of the cross. Did God love Jesus? Of course! And yet, it pleased him to crush him in order to bring many sons to glory.

Ah, this ramble is long enough for now.

1 Pop culture is way below that.
2 By the way, this was the very notion that drove Oprah away from the truth. She couldn’t reconcile a jealous God with a god who was no more than love.
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  • I know of Carolyn Arends as a singer and songwriter. I have three of her albums. I have not read the article yet, but plan to – especially now.

  • Oh, thanks for that Bill. I didn’t have a clue who she was. But her article kind of provoked me.

  • Since she is a songwriter, I can kind of see how she views God on a more emotional type of relationship, I guess God’s wrath isn’t a big song seller . She would have better off saying that in each story one can see the various attributes of God such as justice, mercy, and holiness and from these flow love and anger. In today’s post-modern society, we pick and choose our theology much like going to a grocery store to buy fruit, we take this because it looks good and put down that because it doesn’t feel right.
    Another observation I saw in the article is the impact pastors have the young of the church and the importance it plays in the role of developing a person’s theology. What an awesome responsibility our pastor’s have, they deserve our prayers.

  • Thanks for the input Bill, I think you’re exactly right!

    That thing about the new believer not reading their Bible for a year being seen as a good thing really troubled my heart as well. Shouldn’t a Christian’s, especially a NEW Christian’s, understanding of God be shaped by the Bible and not by absorbing it from the church culture?

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