The wrath of God that Paul references here is not the wrath that we would think of when we consider that word. See, when we think of wrath, we tend to imagine this sort of impulsive, emotional response to something that we don’t like. We consider it more as “losing our temper” and reacting in turn. And so, unfortunately for us, when we read these words, “the wrath of God,” we naturally imply this limited understanding to God, thereby remaking Him into our image. No, when Paul writes about this “wrath of God,” he is referring to God’s righteous and Holy Judgment. It is His truth, His love, and His power in confronting those who reject Him. And this wrath, Paul says, is revealed against all ungodliness and unrightouesnesss of men, those who reject God and those who suppress the truth of God.
This is an interesting thought. See, Paul says that God is made manifest in all of creation. Anywhere you look, everything you see, is witness to God. All of us have this ability to recognize His power and authority merely by looking around at the world, all of the wonders of creation. Thus, claiming ignorance of God is no longer a possibility, an excuse. Elsewhere we find Paul state that “these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent.” (Acts 17:30). Not only is it no longer acceptable, but honestly, it requires more work, more study, and more faith to reject God than to accept Him. The psalmist declares that “the heavens declare the glory of God; the firmament delcares the creation of His hands.” Any child who looks at the world believes in God, until they are actively taught not to; and that teaching not only creates more questions than answers, it requires more faith to believe those answers than to believe God. And it’s the object of that faith is the reason that it is so aggressively taught. Because it requires faith in science, faith in nature, and ultimately faith in man.
As an aside, there is a musician that I used to listen to when I was younger. He was a very devout anti-theist, and recently I read an interview with him. He stated that his entire life he had been taught all of these questions to ask about religion, to ask about creation, to ask about morality and mortality, to ask about God. And in so doing, he found himself growing to despise the Church and all that it represented. His carnal nature didn’t want to accept the strictness of the Church; his desire for personal autonomy taught him that no one could tell him what he could or couldn’t do. And he was right, even St Paul affirms that “if there is no resurrection then we are to be the most pitiable among men.” If our faith were errant, then we would have spent our entire lives laboring and being tortured and (in some instances) martyred, and denying ourselves. Paul even says that “if there is no resurrection then ‘let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.'” But then, he couldn’t help but keep wondering why so many people were willing to do this. So this man, this anti-theist, began to ask the same questions of science thatt he’d always been taught to apply to religion. He began to apply the same logic against the theories of man that he’d always used against the word of God. And, according to him, he found that Christianity held up much better to this scrutiny than the ever changing answers offered by science. He stopped recording and touring for a few years to read and study the Scriptures, to dedicate time to prayer, to attend every Church service that he could and ask questions for the purpose of learning, not arguing. And then, after his years “in the desert,” he has since recorded two albums and is using his platform to reach the youth as well as his previous fans with the message of the cross. His story is such an inspiration to me because, although never with the fame or notoriety that he had, his story could so easily be mine.
Paul goes on to state that “although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts and darkened in their hearts.” This is such a powerful statement because to this very moment, to this very day, time, and place, they remain fully relevant. To be fully human is to worship and give thanks to God, because humanity itself by nature worships. And when we reject God, our hearts become darkened and are left with a void to fill. By our very nature, we have to worship something, and if we reject God, we immediately begin to seek other idols, other objects of worship. We worship the creation rather than the creator. Whether this be an abstract idea, the enlightment brought this concept of worshipping reason; an ideology, something such as worshipping mother earth or the stars; a political party or political allegiance; a celebrity whom we consider to be worthy of following; a newstory even, whether it be the victim of a crime who is martyred for their beliefs; whatever the case may be, we so often seek to fill this void with whatever we can find, something that can logically fill this void with something we consider greater than us, rather than seeking the truth of God.
And when we do this, we find this “wrath of God” that Paul is talking about, this judgment. And many times, the worst judgment God can offer us is to to give us exactly what we think we want. The Scripture, our history books, and even our current headlines are filled with times that the Lord has given us exactly what we (collectively) thought that we wanted, and the inevitable consequences of those desires. I think back to when the nation of Israel asked Samuel to intercede for them with the Lord that He would give them a king to rule over them (1 Kingdoms 8, LXX). And the Lord responded to Samuel, “heed the voice of the people in whatever they might say to you, for they have not rejected you, but have rejected Me.” (1 Kingdoms 8:7 LXX). And from that point forward, we find so many examples all throughout history where man has sought something other than God, and He has given it to them, and how horribly that ended for them. See, so often man rejects God in the name of freedom, but that freedom leads to even deeper and deeper slavery. Think of the many many nations who sought salvation in Socialism, and yet, once they attained it, fought bloodied years of trying to get out from under it. See, historically, what we have always thought we wanted that would fill that void fails to, it’s never enough. And so we push and push for more and more, until we become enslaved by whatever ideology we sought to begin with. On a personal level, consider the man who thinks that earthly riches will fill that void. How many people keep chasing this “if only I had a little more” philosophy, and how far that finish line of “a little more” keeps getting pushed back. When we seek to fill that void with earthly possessions, it will never be enough, because the nature of earthly possessions could never suffice to fill the void of God when we turn away from Him. Which is why it’s such a powerful judgment when He steps away and allows us to have whatever it is we think we want.
I’ve so often said that the biggest problem with activism is that you can never be sated once you begin. It’s this same concept, once you embrace this ideology and begin fighting, at what point do you stop fighting? You never can, because it’s this finite goal seeking to fill this infinite void. But, once you are able to recognize this, and begin to seek after God, you will find that He will give you the desires of your heart; but that is the desire of a heart that sincerely seeks Him. If your goal is political success, or ideological fulfillment, or material wealth; none of that will ever be enough. You will never be truly content, because that line will constantly keep moving from you. And if this mindset conquers a nation, that nation will eventually lead itself into ruin. God will never cause it’s downfall, He won’t have to. He will simply allow the nation and each individual person to have what they think they want, and our nature itself will take over and lead to this destruction.
However, once a person, or a people, begin to seek after God sincerely, that is where He will give them the true desire of their heart. As we read in Chronicles, “if My people, who are called by My name, humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn away from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will be merciful to their sins and heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14).
While all of this is most obvious in the political sphere, this is solely a political topic. And that’s the important thing to remember here. While it is more comfortable to read all of this and say, “great, how can we apply this to whatever nation,” it is less comfortable, but more important, to see this on a personal level. No one will ever save the world unless they begin with saving themselves; and the process of so doing will not only envelope you until you can no longer try to save the world, but will influence people along the way. And, if enough people are influenced by your own personal battle to deny the flesh, to deny the carnal, then it will spread. St Seraphim of Sarov teaches us that if we “acquire a Spirit of peace, then thousands around us will be saved.” If we seek God, His grace, His mercy, His love; and abide in His commandments, truly loving one another as Jesus taught us; seeking our own salvation rather than condemning others; then others will question how we are at such peace in spite of what’s happening in the world. And thus, through seeking after our own salvation, we may in deed be the inspiration that so many others need to see. If we, on the other hand, seek to be the voice of reason and the salvation of the world, then we may be judged and given just that opportunity. And, speaking for myself, I would make a horrible savior. And I think most of you would agree on a personal level. There has only been one born of flesh worthy to bear that title, and it is definitely not me.
Christ is in our midst.