Audio length: 42:27 minutes
Transcript published: April 21, 2010
Fr. Thomas continues to get listener feedback on his teaching on God's wrath. In this follow-up lesson, he explores further how the Scriptures and the Fathers express this difficult concept as compared to the hellenistic and platonic views sometimes expressed through history.
We reflected upon the wrath of God, and we said that the wrath of God is a reality, that the scripture is very clear that God gets angry with us, His wrath is upon us, He is not pleased with us, and He expresses that wrath upon us for the sake of our salvation, for the sake of our good. We said that the wrath of God proceeds from His very love, that God is love, that God loves us, and when you love someone and they do stupid things and foolish things and act wickedly, then it is very appropriate to be angry.
So we have in Scripture, again and again—anyone who would read the Bible cannot fail to see—the wrath of God. In fact, there are two words for it that are used in Scripture. In the Greek translation of the Hebrew text, you have two Greek words, one is orgi and the other is thymos.
Orgi simply means anger, or wrath. Thymos is a word that translates as wrath or anger, but actually, in Platonic literature, that was a quality of human beings called the irascible, the zealous, the fiery, that there is a kind of fiery element, a thymos that is within human beings, and in the Scripture this is applied to God himself, that God has this kind of fiery, we might even say, impassioned, relationship to us that is expressed in wrath, or in anger, or in delight, or in pleasure. These things are spoken about in the bible and they are spoken about very realistically.
Some of the folks who have emailed me about what I had to say about the wrath of God on the radio found some objections to it, particularly in some of the Church Fathers, where you have the teaching that anger and wrath do not really belong to Divinity, as such, that God is perfect, that God is unmoved, that God is impassable, that God cannot be acted upon, and that certainly within the Divinity itself, these kind of qualities have no meaning whatsoever. In fact, they simply do not exist. There is a sense in which that is definitely true, and I think that if we took the Bible and how the Church Fathers interpret the Bible, we would see that within Divinity itself, within the Godhead, within the persons of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, there is no anger, there is no wrath, there is no passion, there are no emotions in a human sense.
But we have to be very careful here, because there is one sense, where folks would say that none of these things exist in God and they are not real for God at all, and they are not even real when God seems to show them to us. They base their idea on a Platonistic or Hellenistic view that a static, impassable, unchangeable, uncaused, pure being is perfection, and is perfection even for God, so that God then, is supreme being, that God is perfectly One, that God is unmoved, that God is impassable, and that comes from the Hellenistic tradition, reflecting philosophically on things, and coming to the conclusion that the perfect being would be immutable, impassable, unchanging, perfectly one, and this led to some very bad results for Christianity.
Namely, it led some people to claim that in the Trinity itself, in the Godhead itself, there is only the one God, and even Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are somehow ways of speaking about the one God who is perfectly one in Himself, that there is only relationship in God, but that the unity of God is so perfectly one that, even St. Augustine said in his book, De Trinitate that we only speak of three persons in the Godhead conventionally. We only speak about that because of the ways revelation speaks to us, but that God, in Himself, is not Trinity at all, He is perfectly one, and that the Father, Son, and Spirit are three modal expressions of the one God who is perfectly, arithmetically one, and so on.
Another bad result of this Hellenistic tradition was to just take all the elements of creation and to take being as opposed to becoming, unity as opposed to multiplicity, unchanging as opposed to change, immutable as opposed to mutable, and then saying God is the being, the one, the unchangeable, the immutable, the impassable, and that is divine perfection.
According to Christianity, following the Bible, that is just plain not true. The Christian view, and it had to be worked out over centuries, and perhaps it was only completely worked out in the 13th century, 1300 years after Jesus, in the great controversy of St. Gregory Palamas with the West about the reality of the divine energies and the divine actions, which St. Gregory and his confreres, and the Councils that are accepted by the Orthodox Church as true and universally received and accepted, is that the actions and the operations of God toward us are as divine and are as real as anything we can possibly say.
When the Bible speaks about God being angry or being wrathful, or being delighted in us, or grieving over us, or taking pleasure in us, those are realities, when it says that God shows and reveals His glory, His power, His wisdom, His truth, His might, His goodness, His beauty. Those are realities, those are true things. They are not just analogies, they are not just metaphors. They are saying something really true, and the saints have experienced these things. The saints have experienced the love of God, the power of God, the beauty of God. Saints have even experienced the wrath of God. They have experienced God’s chastening upon them. So the claim is that these are real, and that they are as divine as whatever God is in His own divine realm, in His own divine existence and being.
And the tradition of the Church, following the Bible, that speaks about the holiness of God, the incomparability of God, the God who is totally different from anything in heaven and on earth, they would say, and certainly St. Gregory Palamas would say this, I’ve said this on the radio before, that if you say God is, or God is being, even that is somehow not true in relationship to God in God’s self. God reveals Himself to us as existing, but existence is a category that does not, strictly speaking, apply to divinity as such. God is beyond being, He is beyond existence, He is beyond being and becoming, He is beyond change and non-change, He is beyond mutable and immutable. You cannot say he is immutable and not mutable. You cannot say he is being and not becoming. God is none of those things. He is completely beyond them all.
You could ask the question, “How can you say this, how do you know this?” The answer would be, “We know this because God has revealed himself to us. God has shown Himself to us. He has acted in our world, and we know His divine actions, and we know these actions are really divine.”
But when we experience these actions, for example, when we experience God’s wrath, or when we know God’s beauty, or when we come to commune in God’s wisdom, and God’s knowledge, and even God’s power, we know that our very experience makes us confess that we know that these are the ways that God reveals himself to us which are truly divine, they are accommodated to us, they are made adequate to us, but they lead us into the conclusion that God Himself, in Himself, is beyond all of these things, that He is none of those things.
Probably, in the tradition of Christianity, one of the most memorable sentences that I can think of in my readings over the last 50 years or so, is a statement of St. Maximus the Confessor. I am sure that St. Maximus would have agreed totally with St. John Chrysostom’s liturgy that we serve in church, that God is ineffable, inconceivable, invisible, incomprehensible, but God is also ever-existing and always the same, in the sense that He is not changing, and one day becoming one way, and one day becoming another, and being fickle, but that when you notice incomprehensible, unknowable, inconceivable God, what you know is that God is beyond everything. St. Maximus said, “When it comes to divinity, the best that we can do, the ultimate that we can do is to say that God is supra-non-knowable.” He is even beyond non-knowing. He is not only beyond knowing, He is beyond non-knowing. He is supra-non-knowable, and he can only be supra-non-known. You cannot know God, but you can supra-non-know God.
In other words, you could have this contact with God, this astonishment and awe and wonder, where you say God is even beyond unknowing. He is beyond knowing and unknowing both. God is the supra-non-knowable who can be supra-non-known through an act, as Maximus said, of supra-non-knowing, supra-non-knowledge. That is a quality human beings are capable of, that is, experiencing God. This was beautifully formulated by Dr. Gregory Palamas in the 14th century. All of the fathers would say, we know these things because we experience God, and it is really God that we are experiencing. When we claim to know God by experience, by vision, by reality, for example, in Palamism, the uncreated light of God, we would say that uncreated light is really divine. It is not like human light at all, it is not like created light at all. We call it light, but it is beyond light, because we do not have the words to speak of it, but we would still insist that it is real. The Western tradition, that really was Platonistic, Hellenistic, like Anselm of Canterbury, even like Thomas Aquinas, like the Council of Trent, they said no, these things are not real, that God is uncaused, He is supreme being, He is beyond everything, He is beyond passibility, He is incomprehensible in Himself, but what we have to say about Him is that He is the unmoved mover. He is the uncaused cause. He is the pure unity. There is no plurality, there is no dynamism, there is no action at all in God that is real—you just cannot say that.
As Anselm interpreted, he said every time the bible speaks about wrath, or about anger, or about delight, or about beauty, or about glory, or about wisdom, this is only metaphor. These are just metaphors, these are just analogies, they do not really exist in reality. So, the Barlamites attack the Palamites in the 14th century by saying, you guys are nuts. You cannot really experience God. You cannot claim that you really know the light, and the beauty, and the glory of God. That is impossible. God cannot do this because God cannot change. God cannot act in that way. He is pure act. He is actos puros, he is pure act. And all this multiplicity is just analogy, or you could possibly say, that is just different ways of speaking about what in reality is one and the same thing.
So, the immutable, impassable God is sometimes experienced by us as love, sometimes as anger, sometimes as beauty, sometimes as power. But these are only our different ways of speaking about something which in and of itself is one and exactly the same thing. They are not really different. The point would be, there is no differentiation in the Godhead at all. There is no action or movement in the Godhead at all, and when we say that there is, we are only speaking in a metaphorical or analogical way.
The Palamites, and Orthodoxy now, as the universal Church, says that is not true. We endorse Palamism and say that St. Gregory Palamas is a saint, and we endorse his interpretation of earlier church fathers, like Maximus, like Gregory the Theologian, and like Gregory of Nyssa, particularly, who was very Hellenistic. Gregory of Nyssa, whom someone who emailed quoted, speaks about God having no anger and no wrath, because He is impassable and Immutable, and anybody who knows theology, at least a little bit, would say, well sure, that is true. God in Himself is beyond all of these things.
You still have to affirm though, that when God acts toward creation and acts in creation, the creation that He made and wants to be in real communion with, He acts toward us in these ways and these ways are real, and they are really divine, and they really come from God, and they do not destroy the unity and the simplicity and the impassability of God. They do not. They are expressions of it, but real expressions of the living God, who is not a Platonistic idea, but is really an I am, is a living God, who acts and breathes and speaks, and the claim is, following the bible, the church fathers would say, ultimately, that these things are real.
A word about the Church Fathers. Not every Church Father says everything absolutely correctly. And a lot of the earlier Church Fathers had to be corrected by later church fathers. For example, when you read about the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the earliest patristic literature, it sounds like they do not really believe in the Holy Trinity as being absolutely divine in exactly the same way. They speak of the Son as a lesser God, or a second God. All of that had to be corrected, and it took 400 years to correct it, and even then it was not totally corrected, because there was an argument again about how the Holy Spirit relates to the Father and the Son, and this goes on forever in some sense.
The story is never over, but at the same time, we have to know that that happens. St. Maximus the Confessor, whom we just mentioned, wrote a whole treatise called De Ambigua, On the Ambiguities. He was straightening out the ambiguities in St. Gregory the Theologian. And we know that Gregory the Theologian, himself, was straightening out the ambiguities in the teaching of Basil the Great.
So you have this mutual correction and growth and development in theology through the centuries, and there is a sense in which you could say, this issue of how God can be, on one hand, and in one aspect, in Himself, supra-non-knowable, completely beyond, absolutely transcendent, not like anything in heaven and on earth, that you can only be totally silent in front of, and only be in astonishment and wonder and you cannot speak, and if you would speak about it, as Gregory of Nyssa said, quoting Psalm 116, every man is a liar. What you are saying is just plain not true.
On the other hand, you have God in action, you have God revealing Himself, God showing Himself, God manifesting Himself, God relating to His creation, and He does so in many different forms and in many different ways, and in fact, even Gregory of Nyssa said, every day God appears different to us and in some sense, He really is. There is real multiplicity, real differentiation, and the Pseudo-Areopagite, St. Dionysius, in his Mystical Theology, would even say that there is real differentiation in the Godhead itself. On the one hand, God is beyond all change and is perfectly one, but the one is perfectly plural and the plurality is perfectly one. The many is real and the one is real, and in God those contradictions in created order are overcome, because God is not a creature and He is completely different.
We have to affirm both things. On one hand, Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, one of the great theologians of our time, quoting Cardinal Newman, a Roman Catholic, said, “Theology is a saying and an unsaying in a positive effect.” You say one thing, and then you negate it by saying something else, and both are true in different contexts.
It is almost like in modern science, when people ask, “Is electricity a wave, or is it a particle?” Well, it is both. Sometimes it is better to speak about it as a wave, and that is truer to what you are trying to talk about, and other times it is better to speak about it as a particle, because it is true to what you are trying to talk about. If you are trying to talk about God in God’s self, then you use all the super-duper-duper apophatic language. God is beyond everything transcendent, unknowable, inconceivable, ineffable, supra-non-knowable, and that is true. But when God acts, God speaks, God creates, God relates to creation, then you have to say that He really acts in such a away that His actions are real. God really does get angry. God really does forgive. God really does show mercy.
On the one hand, the Bible will say, God has spoken, He will not change His mind, and on the other hand, you see God interacting with people like Hezekiah, where He told him he was going to die, and then He repents of it, and he does not die. Or Jonah, when He tells him to prophecy against the Ninevites, and then He forgives them. That is how a living God acts. We would say, in and of Himself, in Himself, none of this is contradictory.
Of course, what we would really say when we know God through Jesus Christ and in God’s revelation, is that the wrath of God and the anger of God is an anger and wrath that is appropriate to God. It is an anger and wrath that comes out of love, that comes out of truth, that comes out of care for us, and concern that we would be chastened, that we would learn, that we would grow, that we would not be fools. So we would say, yes, there is a real wrath of God and you have to say that it is really and truly real, but you can never say that it is in any way sinful. God even says in the Psalm to human beings, “Be angry, but do not sin” (Psalm 4:4).
Well, that would be a good definition of God. He is angry, but He does not sin. He does not do evil. The anger of God is never evil. God is never evil. It is real. It is chastening. It is for our salvation. It is an expression of love. It is ultimately even overcome in the crucified Christ, whose righteousness removes the wrath of God upon creation, upon humanity. Christ brings a new humanity, a purified, righteous humanity to the world, that we can believe in, and by grace we can participate in. And even if we sin against it and repent, God will forgive us every single time for the sake of Jesus. But at the same time, this wrath of God is the wrath of love, and it is never, ever evil. It is never punitive. It is never cruel. It is never vindictive. It is certainly not sadistic.
I had a friend once who said to me, “You know, Father Tom, in my opinion there are only three possibilities: One is that there is no God and all this is just total nonsense, and everybody is killing each other all over the place, and we all end up cursed and dead and rotten in the tomb, and I can’t accept that. The world is too beautiful, I have a sense of meaning, I can imagine a perfect world, and I can’t believe that all this is just for nothing.” But then he said, “But another possibility is that this world is a play-thing of God, that God is, in fact, a sadist, He is cruel. He lets Tsunamis come and smash all kinds of people. He delights in brimstoning Sodom and Gomorrah. He plays around with people. He lets their kids die.”
I just saw two very moving films. One was about an Ethiopian Christian boy who was going to be killed, but the Ethiopian Jews were being saved by the Jews and taken to Israel, so the Christian mother makes her little boy go with the Jews and he has to pretend that he is a Jew so that he does not lose his life, and it is so sad, I mean when this boy leaves his mother, and he is weeping.
And then there is another movie about a little boy in Poland who, while hiding under the bed or somewhere, sees Nazi soldiers come in and shoot dead his father and his mother and drag off his 15-year-old sister to rape her, and he has to live with that his whole life. Some people would look at that and say, like Ivan Karamazov, said, “To hell with this world. God is God, but this world is impossible, and if God really made it this way, He is just a sadist, He is cruel, and if He is organizing everything, if He is directing everything, how can you possibly believe in that kind of a God? It looks like nothing means anything, everything is stupid and we are all just suffering for no good reason, and God is making it all happen, if there is a God.”
But then my friend said, there is a third possibility, and that is that God had no choice. If he was going to have a human world, he had to have the suffering and therefore His anger had to come into it; he had to show his wrath toward sinners, and ultimately, he had to act to save the world through Jesus Christ, who takes upon Himself the sin of the world, and assuages the wrath of God by His total righteousness, even in the most horrible situation, when He is forsaken by God and man and hanging dead on the cross.
So either there is no God, or there is a monster God, or there is Christianity. That seems to be the three choices, and unless you are just some spiritualist and say, “Well, the material world and my body means nothing anyway, I have an immortal soul, and it is going to go off into…” and that is Hellenism, that is even Hinduism. It is even, in a sense, Buddhism.
But anybody who would affirm history, and would affirm the material world and would look out the window, like I am looking out now at the beautiful fall colors of the leaves of the trees, and could weep over this Jewish boy who saw his family killed and his sister dragged off, you have to say when you are looking at that, you cannot just believe that all this can happen and, and this little boy has an immortal soul and he will be happy in his soul, and what happened physically and materially to his poor sister and his family didn’t mean anything. That would be absolutely ridiculous.
So the answer is Christ crucified, still. But if you believe in Christ crucified, and therefore you get involved with the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, the God of Sodom and Gomorrah, the God of the Babylonian captivity, the God of the Bible, then you have to say that this God is the real God., and He is interacting with the real world.
And then his wrath, his anger, his mercy, all these are realities—his joy, his beauty—and we would even say as the Palamites say, that there is a multiplicity of divine actions and energies, all adequately shaped and formed to each individual person on earth, and to each moment in history, each second of time—are real. The experience of God in those conditions is real, and therefore the wrath of God, the anger of God, always an expression of God’s goodness and love and beauty and truth, is never cruel, vindictive, sinful or wicked in any way.
Still, that wrath is absolutely real. So what you have to do is affirm both things. You have to affirm the supra-transcendent God, who is not simply impassable, or undifferentiated, or perfectly one and perfectly unchanging, that would be Hellenism. But you have to affirm the God who is beyond all of those things, who is really supra-non-knowable, beyond them all, and then you have to say, when that God creates a world and reveals Himself to human creatures who have a mind, and who have freedom, and who can understand, and who can see truth, and who are made in the image and likeness of God, then you have to say that when we speak about God toward us, yes, we would say, God cannot be acted upon against His own will, that you cannot harm God, you cannot make God suffer.
But on the other hand, you have to say, in His love for us, God is pained, God is angry, God is sad, and these things are really real, and they have to be accepted as real. The saints who have experienced them, they confess that this is real. When we know God, we know that these things, in fact, are real, and they are true.
We could add one more point here, thinking again about the wrath of God, and insisting, again, that it is an expression of God as good, God as loving, God as ultimately merciful. We can see the wrath as appropriate to God’s love and even as an expression of His love because He cares about us, and even as a tool in His hands to purify us, but we have to see, ultimately, that it all has to be completely and totally solved, we have to be saved from that wrath, and we are, in the crucified Christ.
We can look again at Jesus, and it is very, very important that we do so. When we look at Jesus, we remember that according to the Christian faith, Jesus is revealing God to us in human form. He really is revealing God to us in human form. And here we want to insist again, and I would like to insist on, just because of some of the emails that I have just received, that we really have to take seriously the incarnation, and I am afraid that some of us do not. We are so insistent that Jesus Christ is a divine Logos and He is absolutely divine and that He is God, that we do not believe, really at the same time, that He is really human. And here, again, following the fathers, and especially Cyril of Alexandria and all of them after, we have to say that Jesus’ humanity is as real as His divinity and we have to affirm both. And Jesus really is human.
As some person wrote to me and said, “Well, I can quote some Church Fathers who said Jesus as God was omniscient and He knew everything, so when He didn’t know, it was only kat economia, according to the economy, or for pedagogical purposes, and so on. Well, I would say, be more careful in the reading of the Church Fathers, and read all of the Church Fathers, not just some, and read those who directly, consciously address this particular issue.
For example, Cyril of Alexandria, who himself had to be corrected, was very clear. He would say that, in as much as He is God, Jesus is supra-non-knowable, beyond everything, and His divinity is exactly that of the Father and Spirit, as Nicea and the early Fathers said, those before Cyril.
But Cyril insists on the reality of the incarnation, so that when the Logos becomes flesh and really becomes a human being, then He suffers, He dies even, the famous Theopaschite formula. He hungers, He thirsts, He weeps, He grieves, and He gets angry. He has all the human qualities, and humanity is limited. So He is a Jew and not a gentile, He is a man and not a woman. He lived in the first century, not the 21st. He knew certain things and did not know other things. He did not know Russian, for example.
You could say, well, as God he knew, as man He didn’t. Well, if you want to say that, fine, and that is the way some of the earlier Fathers spoke, but that had to be explained a lot better, and it is not even explained well enough, in my opinion, to this present day, though people have tried to do that through the centuries.
But there is a truth there. The simplistic truth is, yes, if you are God you know everything, and if you are man, you don’t. And Jesus is both. So in some sense He is omniscient, and in another sense, He is not. And the Fathers would say, in the economia, he is not.
But he really is not. He really is limited. He really is circumscribable. He really is contained. He really is in the body. He really has a human soul. Gregory the theologian fought for that against the Apollinarians. He really has a human will and human freedom. Maximus the Confessor was mutilated for holding that teaching.
So the same way that when we speak about God, when we say certain things about how God is in God’s own self, in God’s own divine realm, and how God is in acts toward us, and both are real, we have to say the same thing about Jesus, that in as much as He is divine, we affirm certain things, and in as much as He is human, we affirm certain things, and we hold together the mystery, and it is a great mystery, but nevertheless it is a truth. And the truth of the matter is, if you really believe in the incarnation, and really believe that Jesus is a real man, and the Council of Chalcedon insists on this.
By the way, speaking about the Council of Chalcedon, following St. Cyril in the Council of Ephesus, the Nestorians’ whole problem was that, they being Hellenistic, said that God is unchanging, and therefore God cannot become a man, even. They denied the reality of the incarnation on the basis of the immutability and impassability of God. So they said, the immutable, impassable, unchanging God can unite Himself to a human person, namely Jesus of Nazareth, but He cannot really become the human person, Jesus of Nazareth. That was rejected as heresy, and it really was heresy because they tried to make a Church on that basis, it wasn’t just a mistake.
And here, by the way, having been accused lately of heresy myself, I would like to say something. You have to be careful if you call someone a heretic. A heretic is a pretty great person who divides the Church and makes up a false church and opposes the true church. That is a heretic. And I would say, I’m not a heretic, that is for sure. I may be dumb. I may be stupid, I may be wrong, I may be mistaken, I may be incorrect, I may not understand things properly, but I’m certainly not a heretic. But I have to try to articulate the mystery, too. And I may not do it right in every case. And neither did any of the Church Fathers, by the way. I don’t want to put myself in their category.
Nevertheless, the fact of the matter is that in some of their articulations, they were incorrect, or as my professor Verhovskoy used to say, the holy fathers are not holy spirits, they could be incorrect at times. And the professor used to say, also, that sometimes they are correct, but they are one-sided. He liked that expression, you can be one-sided. What you say may be correct, but if you just affirm it, while not affirming other things, then you deform it.
And that is what people did about God. If they just affirmed that He is one, and uncaused, and unchanging, and immutable, and impassable, and do not also affirm that He can really reveal Himself, and really show Himself, in many diverse forms, like angry, grieving, sad, merciful, then you are affirming one thing, but you are destroying the truth of it, because you are not affirming the other thing that also has to be affirmed.
When we look at Jesus and we affirm that He is both God and man, and that He is revealing divinity through His humanity, when it comes to the issue of wrath, we see that Jesus got angry. There are several places in Holy Scripture where Jesus clearly got angry.
In St. Mark’s Gospel in the third chapter, Jesus is getting angry. This is what it says in St. Mark’s gospel. It said, “He,” Jesus, “entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand, and they watched Him to see whether He, Jesus, would heal him on the Sabbath day, so that they might accuse him” (Mark 3:1-2). You see, they wanted to accuse Jesus. That is very important. They didn’t really want to understand, they just wanted to accuse.
And I am afraid we have a lot of that today in the Church. We don’t really want to understand each other, we just want to accuse each other. I don’t know, we may listen to Ancient Faith Radio to find out what mistakes are being said by the speakers, because we have a tendency and a desire to accuse, rather than to understand—“Oh, that’s not of God, that’s just of the devil.”
But it said they wanted to accuse him. “And he said to the man who had the withered hand, ‘Come here.’ And he said to them, ‘Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good, or to do harm, to save life or to kill?’ But they were silent.” They couldn’t answer Jesus—they just remained silent.
“And He looked around at them,” and it says, “with anger.” And then it says that he, “grieved at their hardness of heart.” (it says in Greek—grieving). So Jesus is angered, and he is grieving, at their hardness of heart. And then He says to the man, “stretch out your hand, and He heals him, and the Pharisees go out immediately, hold counsel with the Herodians against Jesus, how to destroy Him, how to put Him to death.” (Mark 3:3-6)
What we want to see here is that, it says He spoke with anger, met orgis, that He spoke, grieving. And we know that Jesus grieved, He wept. He wept over Jerusalem, He wept over Lazarus, He wept in the Gethsemane garden.
We will talk about that again on the radio, Jesus’ weeping. In fact, some mystical writer said once, “God became man in order to weep”—that God, in himself, is beyond weeping, but he himself, in creating a world that He loves, not only gets angry, but he weeps. And Jesus shows the weeping of God in his humanity. He shows the anger of God in His humanity.
And of course, we know how Jesus spoke against the Scribes and the Pharisees and the lawyers and the hypocrites in St. Matthew’s gospel. He says in St. Matthew, ten to twelve times, “Woe to you, woe to you, woe to you.” He calls them all kinds of names. He calls them whitewashed sepulchres and hypocrites and all kinds of terrible things and that could really mean that He was kind of hot. He had a thymos. A thymos was a zeal, an irascible quality. The claim is that God, Himself, has that quality, vis-à-vis creation, there is nothing for God to be irascible or angry about within the three persons of the Divine Trinity, but there is plenty for Him to be angry and irascible and wrathful about relative to creation, especially because He loves us.
Then you have the quintessential example of Jesus’ anger when He takes a whip, goes into the temple, knocks over all the tables of the money-changers, and with His whip, chases them out and says, “This temple is supposed to be holy, a place of worshipping God, and you make it a place of business and commerce” (e.g. Matthew 21:12). So He got really angry.
We know that in Jesus’ anger He never sinned. He didn’t sin. He didn’t do anything wrong. And he wasn’t just beating up on people for fun. And he wasn’t doing it because he enjoyed sadistically causing them pain. And he certainly didn’t do it just to be punitive and to punish them. Why did he do it? He did it to teach. He did it to show. He did it to reveal God’s will. He did it so that we would be purified, so that we would learn, that we would change.
The wrath of God is an instrument in his hands for our salvation, for our good. That is how Christians would understand the wrath of God. And it is absolutely appropriate, it is absolutely necessary. If God did not get angry against wickedness, what kind of God would He be? We would even accuse a human being, if they saw horrible wickedness, if they saw soldiers killing a little boy’s parents and dragging off his sister to rape her, if you weren’t angry and if you weren’t sad, there would really be something wrong with you, it would just be impossible. And we feel that way in human reality, and so we understand the same thing relative to God.
But our issue for today is, is the wrath real? Is the anger real? And are the other actions of God described in holy scripture and experienced by saints, for example when Moses says that God’s anger was kindled against him—was that really real? Or was just something happening that Moses was imagining but wasn’t really coming from God? We would say, no. So what we want to affirm today is that all the actions of God, all the qualities of God that we know in His action toward us, that we know through Jesus, even through the humanity of Jesus, are applicable to God. So orgi and thymos, anger and wrath, really belong to God. They are a part of divinity.
Within the divinity they are never expressed, because there is no need for them to be expressed. What kind of anger or wrath would exist between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit? But once God creates a world knowing that it would be evil and wicked, and knowing that you have all the horrible things that we have among humanity, then you can say that it is totally fitting, proper, and befitting the very nature of God, as far as we know God, that He would act this way.
So we could even say that the wrath of God is a reality and, of course, the final point always has to be, that Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, who is really God, Himself, became a real, actual human being. And in his humanity, he revealed God and he expressed anger and wrath, and sadness, and all those things.
But we also want to say that Jesus of Nazareth, because of his righteousness, because he does not get God angry at him at all, because there is no reason whatsoever, for God, His father, to show any kind of wrath or anger toward Jesus in any way—just the opposite: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,” it says in Scripture (Matthew 17:5). And God is well pleased in His Son, Jesus, because the Son takes upon Himself the sin of the world, and assuages divine wrath and redeems humanity and saves creation, so that in the end, in the age to come, we would definitely say the following:
The wrath of God is removed from all of humanity for the sake of Jesus, and for those who believe in that, and who love it, and who pray to God to have it be for them, they are saved and redeemed and God’s wrath is off them. And those who do not accept it, do not want it, in some sense, the wrath of God remains upon them. But even those people are forgiven and mercy is shown on them because of Jesus. And therefore, their torment, their suffering, is not from the wrath of God, as much as it is from the mercy of God, for it is from the wrath of God that God, Himself, wanted to overcome by His own mercy, you might say.
This is not contradiction within God, this is just the way reality is and the way the truth is, and God is truth. Christ is the truth. This is the truth. So what we want to affirm more than anything today, and there are plenty of things to affirm, but today we really want to affirm both things, that in Himself, in what God is we cannot even imagine, but when God reveals Himself to us, we know that what He is in Himself is beyond anything in the created order, but what we want to affirm, as well, is that when He relates to the created order, his actions toward us are real. And among those many, countless actions and operations and revelations of God toward creatures as a whole, and toward each individual human being, and even each bird, each rock, each everything in creation, each moment of time, that those actions of God are real, and among those actions, at certain times, is the expression of divine anger, and divine wrath.