In Fleming Rutledge’s new book, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ, she acknowledges the difficulty that modern people have with the concept of God’s wrath. Nevertheless, she writes, “there can be no turning away from this prominent biblical theme.”
But forget the Bible for a moment: don’t we have wrath, too? Don’t we think our own wrath is justified at least sometimes?
A slogan of our times is “Where’s the outrage?” It has been applied to everything from Big Pharma’s market manipulation to CEOs’ astronomical wealth to police officers’ stonewalling. “Where the outrage?” inquire many commentators, wondering why congressmen, officials, and ordinary voters seem so indifferent. Why has the gap between rich and poor become so huge? Why are so many mentally ill people slipping through the cracks? Why does gun violence continue to be a hall mark of American culture? Why Why are there so many innocent people on death row? Wy are our prisons filled with such a preponderance of black and Hispanic men? Where’s the outrage? The public is outraged all over cyberspace about all kinds of things that annoy us personally—the NIMBY (not in my back yard) syndrome—but outrages in the heart of God go unnoticed and unaddressed.
The biblical message is that the outrage is first of all in the heart of God. If we are resistant to the idea of the wrath of God, we might pause to reflect the next time we are outraged about something—about our property values being threatened, or our children’s educational opportunities being limited, or our tax breaks being eliminated. All of us are capable of anger about something. God’s anger, however, is pure. It does not have the maintenance of privilege as its object, but goes out on behalf of those who have no privileges. The wrath of God is not an emotion that flares up from time to time, as though God had temper tantrums; it is a way of describing his absolute enmity against all wrong and his coming to set matters right.
1. Fleming Rutledge, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015), 129-30.