Sunday, April 14, 2013

Wrath, Vengeance, and Smiting - Oh, My!

During my Easter hike this year, I wandered into the Old Testament prophets and was struck by the amount of anger, vengeance and violent feeling that was present in the Bible, especially in those sections.  It got me thinking about my recent post correlating different sections of the Bible to different phases of human existence.  So where do the "Lord, smite my enemies" sections fit?  Where do the "God is pissed at you for all your evildoing and he will wipe you from the earth" fit?  Where does this angry, vengeful God fit?  We like to pretend that sort of stuff isn't there in the Bible, that the folks whose spirituality finds its expression in wrath are fundamentally de facto wrong and misguided.  But it is there.  So, why?

God's anger is supposed to be righteous anger.  So, if something happens that seems to represent God's anger, some natural cataclysm or a defeat in battle, we then believe we can deem that event righteous.  We attack those we see as our enemies and if we are victorious, we claim that our cause was righteous, thereby justifying our own violence and anger.  Then we point to these many, many Biblical passages to further support our claims.

Perhaps all that bile is not there as a justification for anger and hatred and vengefulness.  The Bible is still brought to us through human instruments.  Perhaps those angry, vengeful passages are there simply to acknowledge the presence of such feelings in the fabric of human life.  To hold a mirror up.  When we see God that way, maybe we're trying to see him too much in our image.

Of course, that explanation flies in the face of those who claim the Bible is the inspired word of God, that the human instruments who recorded it didn't impact, filter or obstruct the divine messages it contained.  I don't take that view.

Like it or not, the Bible was written, compiled and translated by humans.  That's a lot of layers of flawed humanity between us and the divine.

Most of those passages are humans speaking on behalf of God, too.  The prophets are human beings telling others what God said.  The Psalms are human beings writing songs and poems to call upon God or thank God or comment on what they see as God's actions.  All of these passages read more like angry, vengeful, bitter humans pouring their pain into their own visions of God.

I can understand righteous anger, the anger I feel when I see what I believe is wrongdoing.  The problem is when humanity takes righteous anger as our due, it doesn't work.  Anti-abortion advocates believe their anger is righteous.  The religious zealots behind the World Trade Center attacks believed their violence was righteous.  Nearly every army who has ever fought a war and won has claimed God was on their side.  We humans just can't get it right.

Does this mean I've made God into some sort of wishy-washy warm-fuzzy universal energy?  Do I discount the true notion that God might get angry or vengeful?  No.  But I think we human beings have to be awfully careful not to assume we know what makes God angry, not to try to wreak vengeance on God's behalf, and not to believe that we ourselves have the right to engage in the kind of vengeful, righteous anger that would make us equal to God.  We are not God.  We can't see into another person's heart.


  1. People say that if we do any harm to other people God will punish us. But I think God can never get angry or vengeful. It is the evil which we invite by harming other people which in turn harm us. Nice article Cynthia. I enjoyed reading your blog post.

    Henry Jordan

    1. Glad you enjoyed it, and thanks for joining the conversation. I still believe there must be times when the evil that human beings commit against one another must infuriate God. But I question our ability to accurately identify the expressions of God's anger. And perhaps the things I think would infuriate God really just break God's heart. How can I pretend to know?