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His Wrath is Not Turned Back, His Hand is Still Outstretched! Pondering the Wrath of God as a Work of Revelation

August 24, 2015

blog.8.24When reading Scripture that mentions the wrath of God, most think of His wrath in human terms. But we must be clear that God does not get angry the way we do. Further, our God is not moody: pleasant and patient one moment and then angry and punishing the next. No, God does not suffer from mood swings or throw tantrums. God is love; stably, serenely, and consistently so.

So then what is God’s wrath? I have written on this topic in greater depth here: What is the Wrath of God? However for this post, allow me to summarize by saying that God’s wrath is His “passion” to set things right. His wrath is His work to root out sin and injustice and bring forth holiness and righteousness.

Another thing to note about God’s wrath is that the anger is really more in us than in God. The wrath of God is our experience of the total incompatibility of our unrepentant sin before the holiness of God. It is like fire and water: they do not mix. And one can hear the wrathful conflict when fire and water come together. So the sinner in the presence of the all holy God is going to experience a conflict. It is not so much that God is angry as that the sinner is incapable of enduring His glory, so bright and awesome. It is like wax before the fire.

In this post I would like explore how God’s wrath is also a work of revelation. St. Paul says, For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth (Romans 1:18). And so St. Paul speaks of God’s wrath as being revealed, as being a work of revelation. As such, it exposes our injustice, error, and sin.

A recent text we read in the Liturgy of the Hours (from Isaiah Ch. 9) also develops God’s wrath as a kind of light of revelation, as a hand pointing out our iniquity. Within the longer passage below there is this refrain: For all this, his wrath is not turned back, and his hand is still outstretched! For indeed, God’s wrath casts a light on our wrongs and his outstretched hand points to them, revealing them and executing their results. Let’s consider Isaiah’s treatment of the revelatory wrath of God.

The Lord has sent word against Jacob,
it falls upon Israel;
And all the people know it,
Ephraim and those who dwell in Samaria,
those who say in arrogance and pride of heart,
“Bricks have fallen,
but we will build with cut stone;
Sycamores are felled,
but we will replace them with cedars.”
But the Lord raises up their foes against them
and stirs up their enemies to action:
Aram on the east and the Philistines on the west
devour Israel with open mouth.
For all this, his wrath is not turned back,
and his hand is still outstretched!
(Is 9:8-12)

And thus we see that the wrath of God reveals in Israel a bold, prideful resistance to His warnings. “Bricks have fallen … [and] sycamores have been felled.” These were warnings from God that neither natural nor man-made structures can stand; they crumble under the weight of sin and injustice. Yet instead of heeding the warning, the people doubled-down on their sins, arrogantly thinking that they could replace what God had established with designs of their own.

For us today a similar pattern is evident, as our families crumble and we twist nature. But even seeing the darkness and deep confusion we have ushered in, we still do not seek God’s light again. Rather, our culture “doubles down” and arrogantly asserts that we can redefine marriage, family, sexuality, and even the nature of things themselves. We sweep aside the “bricks and sycamores” that God has established, thinking that we can do better with the stone and cedars of our imagining.

Having instructed Israel through His law and warned her to no avail, God handed Israel over to her enemies, just as today we are being handed over to the enemies of our rebellion: STDs, depopulation, divorce, cohabitation, sexual confusion of a colossal nature, the tragic loss of our children through abortion, the decline of our children (lack of discipline, lack of proper psychological formation) due to broken families—the list could go on and on.

When the text says that God “handed them over,” it means that He let them have their own way and allowed them to suffer the consequences. As would any loving father, God seeks first to teach and warn His children. Next, He resorts to punishments that seek to draw us back from the full impact of our sin. But if all these fail, He finally hands us over to our own designs.

When we experience wrath, we experience the total incompatibility of our sinful stance with the glory for which we were made. There comes on us, collectively and individually, a burning indignation toward God and any who represent Him or remind us of the truth for which we were made. We project our anger on God. But God is not angry. Rather, He has a passion, a will to set things right. His justice and love are one reality.

How is the wrath of God a work of revelation? It shows us the full consequences of our sinful rejection of God and His plan for us. The fact is, we grow weak and become easy prey for our enemies, both literal and figurative. For Ancient Israel this meant Aram and the Philistines. For us in the decaying, once-Christian West it means we become too weak to resist enemies like lust and greed. We can no longer make commitments and keep them; we have little self-control. These enemies devour our strength, cloud our minds, and erode our progress.

This wrathful condition is a revelation from God, showing us what we are when we reject His favor, His mercy, and His call to truth. As a work of revelation, there is always the hoped-for response: repentance. But, sadly, the text continues in this way:

The people do not turn to him who struck them,
nor seek the Lord of hosts
.

And so the wrath continues, revealing to us in ever-deeper and darker tones the full depths of our condition, of our sad state. Sin grows; the young especially suffer from the sins of parents and elders. If we do not want grace, we will not have it; if we do not seek His mercy and grace, we will be increasingly without them. We cannot endure God’s holiness and justice apart from grace and mercy, and so we experience His holiness as wrath. This reveals to us our grave condition.

Time does not permit further commentary on the text below (from Isaiah). But as you read it, is there not a sobering sense that what is described is all too familiar? Is not this wrathful recitation a revelation?

The leaders of this people mislead them
and those to be led are engulfed.
For this reason, the Lord does not spare their young men,
and their orphans and widows he does not pity;
They are wholly profaned and sinful,
and every mouth gives vent to folly.
For all this, his wrath is not turned back,
his hand is still outstretched!

For wickedness burns like fire,
devouring brier and thorn;
It kindles the forest thickets,
which go up in columns of smoke.
At the wrath of the Lord of hosts the land quakes,
and the people are like fuel for fire;
No man spares his brother,
each devours the flesh of his neighbor.
Though they hack on the right, they are hungry;
though they eat on the left, they are not filled.
Manasseh devours Ephraim, and Ephraim Manasseh;
together they turn on Judah.
For all this, his wrath is not turned back,
his hand is still outstretched!

Woe to those who enact unjust statutes
and who write oppressive decrees,
Depriving the needy of judgment
and robbing my people’s poor of their rights,
Making widows their plunder,
and orphans their prey!
What will you do on the day of punishment,
when ruin comes from afar?
To whom will you flee for help?
Where will you leave your wealth,
Lest it sink beneath the captive
or fall beneath the slain?
For all this, his wrath is not turned back,
his hand is still outstretched
!

Yes, as the text asks, what will we do on the day of full judgment? Even when we are in our worst state, God allows His wrath (our experience of His holy justice) to be a revelation to us, in the hope that before our final judgment we will finally call on Him. For on that day, the door of possible change will close and our condition will be final and forever fixed.

Woe to us that God’s wrath must be our revelation, his wrath is not turned back, his hand is still outstretched. Better for us to repent and allow His beautiful truth and mercy to be our light, our revelation. Have mercy on us, Lord. Give us added graces to repent!

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Comments (14)

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  1. Joe says:

    Thank you Msgr. Pope, I needed to read this message. God Bless.

  2. Pat says:

    Thank you Msgr. Our society needs to hear this. Our Church needs to remember this. I need to hear this.

  3. dghart says:

    Was the passion and cross of Christ just the Romans’ bad hair day?

  4. edraCRUZ says:

    We have offended HIM too much. Let us console HIM Who had given all of HIMSELF for our salvation. LORD, YOU are our All in all, likewise I am all in YOU. Have Mercy on us, Oh GOD.

  5. edraCRUZ says:

    We await the Wrath of GOD with the callousness and insensitivity of men. Why are there only few who decry the evil of what planned parenthood, the abortion mill is doing to our children and women? Because of the evil of these movies and television shows and media, we have desensitized our hearts and minds with the evil perpetrated of the innocents. LORD, we pray for YOUR Mercy. Withhold YOUR Wrath and we stand in the gap between YOU and those who need YOUR Mercy. We offer our pains and sufferings that conversions will come upon those who do not believe. Convert the hearts of these who grieve YOUR SACRED HEART. CHRISTIE ELEISON!!!

  6. Laura R. says:

    Thank you, Monsignor, this is most helpful. It is very worrisome to watch the changes in our society that would have seemed impossible not that long ago. The book of Ezekiel also comes to mind, in considering the unfaithfulness of the western world.

  7. R Miller says:

    God is sovereign, He is love. He does not exist to show wrath but mercy and truth. But make no mistake, this to Him is personal and serious. He will not be mocked. No King can be effective governing with just mercy and forgiveness, he also must have his own red line, this far and no further. His wrath may fall here, but it also is a demonstration to all creation. Our God is no wimp, He will fight for you and for me. It is a hard thing to stir up God’s wrath, but better to see it now in a controlled setting than to be always wondering just how far can I go before He says enough. Remember, He sent His son first, before any day of wrath. You too can escape that great and terrible day by just accepting what He has already done. If nothing else, God demonstrating His power is just more proof that He is not done, not by a long shot, the mind has not even imagined the things that God has for those that love him as He loves us.

    • Msgr. Charles Pope says:

      Yes, and I think his wrath cannot be disconnected from his holiness. Holiness is not just some abstract concept, it is a fiery reality that will purify what is lack and burn away all that is unholy. God cannot become unholy, he cannot deny himself or his own essence. Therefore we must be rendered fit to come before him. If we refuse we cannot endure his presence.

  8. TeaPot562 says:

    Our people seek their own ways – those of child-bearing ages refuse to make the commitments to marry and have children. The selfishness of the “current generation” (that sounds like something from one of the Prophets!) leads to too few people of working age, asked to pay taxes to support those who expect to retire in a few years. We will have riots of pensioners, like those currently seen in Greece.
    Viewed from a material position, the current emphasis on “doing one’s own thing” will inevitably lead to impoverishment of most of the aged and civil unrest. We are sowing the wind, and will reap the whirlwind.
    God lets our people seek selfishness, and we will reap what we have sown.
    Lord, Have mercy on us.
    TeaPot562

  9. Jay says:

    O Lord, I have heard the report of you,
    and your work, O Lord, do I fear.
    In the midst of the years revive it;
    in the midst of the years make it known;
    in wrath remember mercy. (Habakkuk 3:2 ESV)