A Nuanced Look at How Our Lives Are Made New
And how maybe “the wrath of God” isn’t like what we think it is
The first chapter of Romans provides an interesting study of God’s wrath. Yes, it’s one of many depictions of God’s wrath in the Bible, but it’s a good one.
Here’s Romans 1:18…
God’s wrath is being revealed from heaven against all the ungodly behavior and the injustice of human beings who silence the truth with injustice.
When I think of God’s wrath, I automatically think about a lightning bolt. A cosmic zap that strikes the transgressive human right between the eyes. ZAP!
But in this text, Paul goes on to describe God’s wrath as God handing humans over to themselves. So, instead of God saying, “I’m gonna send you to hell,” God is effectively saying, “Fine, you go ahead and control yourselves. Do what you want. Idiots.”
Let’s look at Romans 1:21–25…
Although they knew God, they didn’t honor God as God or thank God. Instead, their reasoning became pointless, and their foolish hearts were darkened. While they were claiming to be wise, they made fools of themselves. They exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images that look like mortal humans: birds, animals, and reptiles. So God abandoned them to their hearts’ desires, which led to the moral corruption of degrading their own bodies with each other. They traded God’s truth for a lie, and they worshipped and served the creation instead of the creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.
I know, this seems like such a dick move. I mean, seriously, God. Couldn’t you just create us as perfect automatons who always do the right thing and live in perfect union according to your good word?
This was my objection to this kind of theology for such a long time. How could God create imperfect beings? Isn’t God perfect? Then shouldn’t we be perfect?
Well, this just doesn’t — and hasn’t ever — been the product description of a human. The human experience isn’t one of a machine. A God-robot. A thoughtless automaton.
This is our curse as well as our blessing.
Being a human has a lot more to do with wandering and being found — dying and being risen — over and over again — than it does with just always doing the right thing and living our #bestlives in perpetuity.
The God of scripture hates seeing us wander, but God also knows that it’s the only way that God can do anything with us. When God lets us try it ourselves, the result is very predictable… We always end up bringing the whole thing to a grinding halt. When we roll up our sleeves and try our best to be our own gods, it always leads to the same thing — the end of ourselves.
But here’s the thing… God isn’t a master craftsperson who stitches us back together. God creates ex nihilo — out of nothing.
The reality of the human experience is this…
We must become nothing in order for God to make something out of us.
This is the cycle. God blesses us with human life and we immediately go it our own. When we get into trouble, we do everything we can to save ourselves through various routines and programs. From religion to Orange Theory, all of it is tainted by our individual egoic wills.
When none of our self-salvation projects work, we fall to our knees. We twist around and lie on our backs in the gravel, arms outstretched, looking at the open sky above us. We’ve come to the end of ourselves. We’ve become nothing.
And that’s when it happens, in God’s time…
That’s when the hound of heaven tracks us down, loves us back to life, and creates a new thing out of us. And it hurts like hell. We want our old self back! We want our old friends back! We actually liked it in Egypt!
But against our own volition, we are made into something else. Something created. Something our old friends don’t recognize. And new life grows out of this.
This is SO not our choice. It happens from outside of us entirely. It’s the most torturous, albeit beautiful, process. Soon, we see God’s glory in our new lives. We look back and can’t even imagine.
All is well until we start to get big heads and the cycle starts over again.
But here’s the good news…
God loved us before we were born into human form and God continues to love us as we go through this cycle, time and time again. God’s promise of unconditional love is a gift that need not be repaid and cannot be earned.