The Wrath of God (3)

Another sense in which wrath can be described is in human terms. In the ritual from the Day of Atonement there was a role for a scapegoat – upon which all the sins of the nation were laid. A human society – if it isn’t rooted in God, in right worship, in right relationships with self and neighbour – will fixate on to something else around which to form an identity. This will become an idol, and then this idol will require sacrifices in the pagan sense in order to keep the society together. The perfect example is 1930’s Germany and the scapegoating of the Jews. A society which was under tremendous stress sought to preserve a sense of identity by worshipping the idol of racial purity; this meant picking upon a scapegoat, and there was then a unity amongst the majority through denying and expelling the minority. This is a fact of human nature. If we are not centred on God then we will be centred on something else and that something else becomes an idol. If the governing idol is Mammon, then the scapegoated minority will be the poor, who will be described as deserving their poverty due to some moral failing, such as laziness. If the governing idol is sexuality then the scapegoated minority will be the fat and the ugly, who will be described as deserving their unhappiness due to some moral failing, such as a lack of self-control. This scapegoating process, always present, becomes dominant during times of crisis. In our time it is no longer the Jews who are most vulnerable to being rejected, now it is the Muslim community. We are still unredeemed, and we are therefore prone to violence and anger and slaughter and sacrifice. This is a path that can only end in war. In such circumstances there is still a sense of pagan sacrifice, there is still a dynamic whereby there is an angry deity present – but the angry deity is not God. We are the angry deity. What the ritual of the Day of Atonement shows us is God acting to try and overcome our wrath. To reveal it to us and to set us free from it. We are the ones being revealed as the pagans who require sacrifice in order to maintain our sense of identity and social processes, we are the angry ones.

This, then is the second way in which the language of wrath can be used. Wrath is first and foremost about when we go against the natural order and suffer as a consequence, but it is also about the nature of who we are as a human society when we are fallen. If we do not focus our human society on the Living God then we will end up having this process of scapegoating and sacrifice repeating itself for ever.