Quotes on God's Character: Mercy and Wrath
The United Methodist blogger I have been reading with the most appreciation lately is Morgan Guyton, associate pastor of Burke United Methodist Church in Virginia, who blogs at: Mercy Not Sacrifice. He has been doing a lot of excellent thinking and writing. In fact, it is hard to keep up with him, since his writing is always thoughtful and worthy of time & consideration.
Just lately he has been doing some thinking about the subject of the wrath (and judgement) of God. My recent studies in the prophecies of Amos (hey, and I need to get back to that sometime) have reminded me again that the idea of God’s judgement simply cannot be ignored by those who wish to take the Bible’s message seriously.
Morgan’s post from today continues his series of reflections on the wrath and mercy of God: Why should the wicked fear God’s mercy? It begins with some reflections on the wording of Psalm 52:3, and moves on from there. I particularly liked the following section about two theological errors that are commonly made with regard to God’s mercy & justice:
I think there are two errors that need be corrected with regard to God’s mercy: a liberal error and a conservative one. Both errors do not recognize the integral connection between God’s mercy and His wrath. The liberal error is to think of God’s mercy as a sort of unconditional universal forgiveness that makes the possibility of divine wrath unimaginable. God will simply ooze out enough love that even the hardest hearts will eventually stop being party-poopers. The reason I can’t go along with this perspective is because heaven should not be held hostage by people who are determined to “trust in their great wealth and grow strong by destroying others.” This was essentially C.S. Lewis’s argument in the Great Divorce. Mercy is not merely a blanket amnesty; it involves a sovereignty established by its provider over its recipient. It is our submission to God’s mercy that makes a safe and authentic community between us possible. If God’s mercy is just a unilateral omnidirectional glow of Rogerian unconditional positive regard without any submission on the part of the recipient, then hard-hearted recipients of that mercy can ignore it or exploit it and continue to trample on the victims of their sin. For God to truly show mercy to those who put their trust in Him, He must also protect them from their oppressors through the solidarity of His wrath.
On the other side, the conservative error is to see God’s wrath in complete abstraction from God’s love for His creation. I think this is probably motivated by a reaction against those who try to make God into their own personal Santa Claus. If God’s wrath against some people is an expression of His mercy towards those whom they have hurt, does that bind God’s sovereignty in an impious way? This line of thinking about God’s sovereignty (in which the opaqueness of His wrath is the expression of His freedom) leads to a God whose love is merely an exception to the rule of His wrath, which then becomes His predominant nature (as has become the case in much of grassroots evangelical theology).
But, by all means, read the whole thing. Once again, it is here: Why should the wicked fear God’s mercy? And, I also recommend reading his earlier post: The good work of God’s wrath (a response to Greg Boyd).
And, on a (in my mind) related theme: Roger E. Olson recently posted as excellent piece on the effects of Nominalism and Volunteerism in Christian theology: The Almost Completely Unknown Difference that Makes All the Difference…. Take a look at the following quotes and you’ll see what I mean that this is a “related theme”:
Nominalism, of course, is the belief that truth, beauty and goodness are nothing more than concepts, conventional ideas, constructs. They have no ontological reality. They are not eternal essences or universals; such do not exist. Taken to theology, then, one gets voluntarism in the doctrine of God. God does not have an eternal nature of character; he is pure power and will. God is whatever God decides to be. The result is that the “good” is whatever God commands and God does not command anything because it is good. It is good only because God commands it.
Voluntarism, in the form of the “deus absconditus” (hidden God), was a metaphysical compliment Luther paid to God. He thought this protected God’s deity. This idea was taken up by certain Reformed theologians and appears throughout post-Reformation history when some Calvinists (and others) claim that “Whatever God does is automatically good and right just because God does it.”
This makes God truly monstrous because God, then, has no virtuous character. “Good” becomes whatever God decides and does and, ultimately, becomes meaningless because it has no essential connection with anything we know as “the good.”
God’s wrath only makes sense if it is rooted in God’s mercy — in fact, an expression of God’s mercy. And nominalism and volunteerism in theology rob all meaning from the notion that “God is good.”
(But, again, Dr. Olson says so much more — be sure to read the whole thing.)
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