Once there was,
and once there was not,
He was good — very good. He painted beautiful scenes and portraits.
He had some wit and whimsy about him: Always, whether at the center or somewhere hidden, his paintings included the faces of those he loved. His wife and children. Or his dog. His neighbors. Or his house. Even himself. The people and things that gave him delight found their way onto the walls of those who bought his paintings.
He poured himself into his work. I don’t mean that he worked hard to make a living, though he did. I mean that his art expressed the very best of his own heart — all he saw as good, and true, and beautiful; his hopes and his aspirations; his joys and his sorrows and longings.
It was almost as hard to give the paintings into the hands of their buyers as it was to paint them in the first place.
But sell the paintings he did. He sent his work out into the world, and it supported his growing family.
Then one day an invitation came: a commission from someone very very wealthy.
This was the opportunity to create a masterwork.
This was the opportunity to take care of his family.
The house would be paid off. The children’s education would be provided for. There would be no worries for a long time to come.
Days, and weeks, and months of loving labor. The great painting was complete. Those with eyes to see could find everyone and everything the artist loved on that canvas. Those who saw it could never quite say why or how, but they swore the whole thing looked like him.
But the night before the painting was to be delivered, while he and his family slept, someone broke into his studio.
Who knows what the vandal was thinking? What could motivate such actions?
Each hidden face of a loved one was destroyed — some painted over, some scraped off. A jar of turpentine was poured onto the surface, and scrubbed hard to increase the damage. And the large central figure, the subject of the commission, was cut out with a knife and burned on the studio floor.
How did the artist feel when he came in that morning?
If there is any topic in classic Christian vocabulary that gets ordinary people’s knickers in a knot it is God’s “wrath.” Many rule out the idea that God could have wrath, as if such a feeling would be unworthy of a loving God.
But consider God the Artist.
Consider God who created the unutterable beauty of this world and called it good — only to find human beings destroying whole species of birds and animals, pouring poisons into waterways, creating weapons of mass destruction.
Consider God who created humanity as his own self-portrait, bearing his own image and likeness — only to find we would rather live apart from him than in loving intimacy with him; that we disregard the plans he had for us to thrive and flourish; that instead of loving our fellow creatures we harm each other and ourselves.
We tend to assume that if God is wrathful it is about our breaches of particular rules: do this, don’t do that.
The real issue is that God’s good work and God’s intentions for life have been thwarted and turned to rubbish — and quite naturally his heart cries out with anguish, and even rage.
If you prefer to think of God as removed from such human emotions, consider this as the true expression of both love and justice.
You get angry too, in the midst of grief and loss.
Some time ago in the comments to this blog I was asked about God’s wrath. It was on one of my posts on the Heidelberg Catechism, the much-loved and widely used Reformed summary of biblical Christianity.
Here, for the record, is what I think of as the key section of the Catechism on the topic. The previous questions have been on human sin, our damaged nature that leads us into misery by bad choices. Then comes Question 10. (By the way, after this the Catechism has much more to say about God’s gracious solution to the problem.)
10 Q. Does God permit such disobedience and rebellion to go unpunished?
A. Certainly not.
God is terribly angry with the sin we are born with
as well as the sins we personally commit.
As a just judge, God will punish them both now and in eternity, having declared:
“Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the things written in the book of the law.”
The post is getting rather long, so let me just note that God is not said to be angry at us, but at sin. It is the destruction of his beautiful creation, and choices that lead to further destruction, that grieves God.
Of course God is angry at such a twisting, such a misuse of what was intended to show God’s beauty and wisdom.
Of course God, who is not just an artist, but the ruler and judge, would take action against the sin that wreaks such havoc.
Of course you wouldn’t want to live in a universe where God did not plan to take action to set things right.
I would love to hear from you in the comments: What helps you make sense of God’s “wrath”? Or what makes God’s “wrath” so hard to fathom?