This Wednesday night we’ll be wrapping up our Theology on Tap discussion series on Hell and divine punishment. To catch up, be sure to read Thoughts on Divine Judgment and The Tendency to Say To Hell With Hell. This week we will spend time addressing the necessity of divine judgment.
Here’s a quote from a Croatian theologian and Christian thinker, Miroslav Volf, from Yale University Divinity School, about the necessity of divine judgment. From the war-stricken region of Bosnia (remember the movie Behind Enemy Lines with Owen Wilson? …that’s the place!), much of Volf’s spiritual formation stems from the context of his personal suffering from the Croatian-Serbian Bosnian War. He is widely known for his works on systematic theology, ethics, conflict resolution, and peace-making. (Be sure to check this dude out - he’s the real deal!)
One could object that it is not worthy of God to wield the sword. Is God not love, long-suffering and all-powerful love? A counter-question could go something like this: Is it not a bit too arrogant to presume that our contemporary sensibilities about what is compatible with God’s love are so much healthier than those of the people of God throughout the whole history of Judaism and Christianity? Recalling my arguments about the self-immunization of the evildoers, one could further argue that in a world of violence it would not be worthy of God not to wield the sword; if God were not angry at injustice and deception and did not make the final end to violence God would not be worthy of our worship. Here, however, I am less interested in arguing that God’s violence is not unworthy of God than in showing that it is beneficial to us. Atlan has rightly drawn our attention to the fact that in a world of violence we are faced with an inescapable alternative: either God’s violence or human violence. Most people who insist on God’s “nonviolence” cannot resist using violence themselves (or tacitly sanctioning its use by others). They deem the talk of God’s judgment irreverent, but think nothing of entrusting judgment into human hands, persuaded presumably that this is less dangerous and more humane than to believe in a God who judges! That we should bring “down the powerful from their thrones” (Luke 1:51-52) seems responsible; that God should do the same, as the song of that revolutionary Virgin explicitly states, seems crude. And so violence thrives, secretly nourished by belief in a God who refuses to wield the sword.
My thesis that the practice of nonviolence requires a belief in divine vengeance will be unpopular with many Christians, especially theologians in the West. To the person who is inclined to dismiss it, I suggest imagining that you are delivering a lecture in a war zone (which is where a paper that underlies this chapter was originally delivered). Among your listeners are people whose cities and villages have been first plundered, then burned and leveled to the ground, whose daughters and sisters have been raped, whose fathers and brothers have had their throats slit. The topic of the lecture: a Christian attitude toward violence. The thesis: we should not retaliate since God is perfect noncoercive love. Soon you would discover that it takes the quiet of a suburban home for the birth of the thesis that human nonviolence corresponds to God’s refusal to judge. In a scorched land, soaked in the blood of the innocent, it will invariably die. And as one watches it die, one will do well to reflect about many other pleasant captivities of the liberal mind.
~Exclusion and Embrace, by Miroslav Volf (pgs. 303-304)
Though the topic of divine judgment is an often a difficult doctrine to understand and uncomfortable, without this doctrine, how could God possibly be a good God if he allowed the wrong doings, hostile actions, and injustices in the world to go undealt with? What are some other reasons why ultimate justice and divine punishment are important?
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Here’s our discussion question for tonight:
#1 Reflect on the following passage and ask the question, “Do my decisions and actions in this life matter? Will we be judged by them?”
5 But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. 6 God “will give to each person according to what he has done. ~ Romans 2:5-6
Also see Zephaniah 1:14-18
#2 Do agree with the following statement – “God’s wrath is an expression of His holy love. If God is not a God of wrath, His love is no more than frail, worthless sentimentality; the concept of grace is meaningless; and the Cross was a cruel and unnecessary experience for His Son.” Why or why not?
#3 What did you think of Volf’s thoughts (above quote) about divine punishment/wrath and the vindication of injustices? In this way, could the idea of divine punishment be encouraging?
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