The Love of God, to the extent we can understand it, is not to be understood via words at all, but by living it, living in and by it.
Then, what we begin to understand, we can try to find words that best express (insofar as words can) that understanding.
We need to be apophatic when speaking of God, saying what is not rather than what is. “My ways are not your ways,” says the Lord. “My thoughts are not your thoughts.” We need, in all soberness and humility, to recognize this reality.
Some of the apophatic statements that need to be made concerning God’s Love are:
* that it is not finite
* that it therefore is without measure
* that God therefore never restricts His Love, nor measures out more love to one than to another, nor measures it at all
* that since God’s Love is infinite, nothing can border it (such as His Wrath or His Justice). Love has no boundaries.
* that God’s Love is no part of any dichotomy, polarity, contradiction or antinomy
* that it is unconditional; therefore we cannot speak of it being deserved or not, or merited or not; such categories do not apply to UNCONDITIONAL Love.
* that being unconditional, it is not conditioned by, or qualified or modified by, anything at all, including His Wrath or His Justice
* that Love is not something self-seeking
And here are some aphophatic statements we need to make about God’s Wrath, saying what it is not:
* that it is never arbitrary
* that it is never unjust
* that it is not the same as human wrath
*that, unlike almost all human wrath, God’s wrath does not contain any element of animosity toward people
* that God’s Wrath never implies any necessity or inclination to be vindictive or retaliatory
* that God’s Wrath never forms a boundary upon His infinite love, or a counterbalance to it
* that God’s Wrath and God’s love are not contradictory, nor opposite poles of something
* that God’s Wrath and God’s love are not a dichotomy or an opposition, as human wrath and love almost always are
* that there is nothing in God’s dealings with creation, including His Wrath, which is not a function of His Love
* that God’s Wrath can never mean He is seeking something for Himself at human expense, whether we call it payment or satisfaction or punishment or whatever, for "Love seeketh not her own." Nor does the all-sufficient God ever need anything from us. God is totally, serenely, fully free to love us without that.
*God’s Wrath can never mean returning evil for evil while redefining the evil as good when God does it.
Of course, apophaticism is not the same as being totally agnostic. If that were true, then nobody could say anything at all. We could say neither what God’s Love or His Wrath are nor what they are not! Yet we do make statements concerning both, statements both apophatic and cataphatic.
Cataphatic statements should still always be made in an apophatic spirit; i.e., recognizing that no words can ever be more than a very rough approximation of the Reality.
Here are some cataphatic statements about God’s Love:
* God is Love.
* Love is pure, sacrificial, self-giving.
* Love abolishes fear.
* Love wills the good and rejoices in the good.
* Love is an act of freedom.
Here are some cataphatic statements about God’s Wrath:
*It destroys evil, relentlessly.
*God’s Wrath against evil undoes each particular evil by supplying the missing good. He fights evil with GOOD (and not with something we’d ordinarily consider evil, but if God does it we are bound to call it good). God’s Wrath, when it rages against hatred, destroys it by supplying the love to replace it. God’s Wrath raging against death replaces it with life. God’s Wrath campaigning against the foolishness He hates, supplies wisdom. God’s Wrath brings peace to replace strife, forgiveness to heal guilt, reconciliation to heal estrangement, and so forth.
*God’s Wrath will never cease raging until His goodness is utterly triumphant throughout all His creation.
*Until then, we do not want God's Wrath to cease or be appeased.
* God’s Wrath, like everything about His dealings with us, works FOR us, never against us, even when it seems that way. Even if He decides to shorten our time on earth, He always ends our earthly lives at the time He knows is best for us. God's Wrath is our champion against our enemies and His.
* In the Last Day, God’s Wrath will disarm and disable the sinfulness of the impenitent, and the process will definitely burn them, who still cherish their sin and cling to it and identify with it. They will not appreciate that this process is for the good, like having a gangrenous leg removed; they will only hate God for the excruciating pain it causes them.
* God’s Wrath against falsehood will burn away from the impenitent every lie by which they had deceived and comforted themselves, and instead of rejoicing in Truth, as the saints will when God does the same for them, the damned will find Truth unbearable. God is Truth.
* God’s Wrath against our scattered, separate existence will cause us all to dwell forever in the presence of His Love, but unlike the saints, for whom this will be the culmination of all their hopes, the damned will hate dwelling with Him.
* God’s Wrath against death has done away with it; now all will be resurrected. But while the saints have sought eternal life and for them it is their crown, the unrepentant would far prefer to be annihilated than continue in this eternal kind of death.
* God’s Wrath against sin will take away from us all every opportunity to exercise wickedness. For saints, this will mean deliverance, but for sinners, it means taking away every pleasure they ever knew. They will never be able to harm anybody again, including themselves. (If it weren’t for the weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, I suppose they’d probably be bored stiff!)
In short, God’s Love and God’s Wrath are two facets of the same gem. Wrath is what we call it when His Love campaigns against sin and evil. (He does this for and from LOVE, not for Himself! He never seeks anything for Himself, Who already has everything.) As a matter of fact, His very Presence, even if He were to do nothing at all, would annihilate evil, because evil is precisely the opposite of God. As the presence of knowledge demolishes ignorance, so the Presence of God destroys all evil.
Personally, I think God’s Wrath, while it is something wonderful, is also frightening as hell; in fact, for the damned, His very Love IS hell. And certainly it is very, very real.
Friday, February 8, 2008