I love to fish. I especially like fly fishing. Fly fishing is really getting immersed (literally) in the experience. To get that fly presented in just the right spot in just the right way means you have to get wet. You have to get in the river and wade out to “the spot.” You read the water and look for the holes where the fish might be hanging out. The rocks can be slippery and the current can be surprisingly strong. Sometimes you slip and go for a little ride. If the river is really big, you can get a pretty scared with all that water moving over the rocks and down to the next rapids. You discover the current can be your friend or your enemy. If you just plow ahead and fight the current you often find yourself slipping and falling or at least getting really frustrated. “This is supposed to be fun %$#%%!” Then you calm down, take a deep breath and work with the current. You can easily move from spot to spot if you are patient and let the water do the hard work instead of fighting it. Sometimes you have this sense of “oneness with the river” kind of thing. I do love fly fishing.
I think fly fishing in the swift water of a big river can help us understand the “wrath of God.” Curious?
God is love. We know that not only in words but internally. We know that we have a loving Father. We cry out from deep within us “Abba, Father.” Don’t believe me? Take the worst “unbeliever” and see what happens when they are hanging onto a root just over the edge of a 1000ft cliff, or their car is on fire and the seatbelt is stuck or their daughter is very sick… I think you get the point. When we are in a fire we cry, HELP! We know that we know that God is good and answers those prayers of desperation. The reason we know is what Jesus came to reveal. God is in us and in union with us. Jesus said that He is in the Father and we are in Him and He is in us. In God we move and have our being. He is the Father of all mankind and each individual human. We are His kids and we just know it.
In our broken religious traditions we can be taught something very different. We can be told that God is a God of wrath and vengeance and punishment. That isn’t God our Father, the Father of Jesus and our creator. That is a g.o.d. of mythology and religion. He isn’t real. He is a figment of our imagination that we run from in superstitious fear. God is Love. His love holds everything together. He is light and His light shines in the darkness even when the darkness doesn’t know it or perceive it or acknowledge it. God’s love is like a mighty rushing river that is moving towards a great sea.
Ezekiel described that very thing. He saw a new Temple that had water coming out from it. As you got further from the Temple (further from religion? just saying) the water got deeper to the point that is was a great river flowing to the sea. The sea was the Red Sea or the Dead Sea or the Lake of Fire. In Ezekiel’s vision, he sees this river flowing into this “dead sea” and giving it life. This river of love is cleaning out the Kidron and Gehenna valleys. It is washing away the death and garbage and ashes from the fires. Remember Gehenna was an awful place where humans sacrificed children to a mythological g.o.d. that required child sacrifice. It didn’t go well. Even the Babylonians, who were considered quite ruthless, didn’t approve of such a practice. Interesting that “God’s people” needed a child sacrifice to make g.o.d. happy. Hmmmm. Makes you think.
What if God’s love is this mighty rushing river. What if “God holding all things together” or “Christ is all in all,” and that kind of imagery, is this Love of God river that is moving in and through all things. What if God’s intense desire and passion is this river of His love. The word that is translated as wrath is orgḗ which can also mean intense desire or passion or swollen ripe fruit (like a swollen river?). As an example our bodies are self-healing. If you get a cut, new skin grows back. If you get a cold, your body fights that sucker until it is gone. If you get an infection, the antibodies rage and destroy those invaders with the “wrath of God.” Oh yeah, I mean it that way. Why do you think our bodies heal themselves? God said so. He is in us and through us and working with our bodies to bring healing all the time. We can see it with science and help it with medicine but it is still the river of God flowing in His creation.
This river has a natural flow to it. When we love each other we are flowing in the river. When we are hurting each other we are against the current. It doesn’t go well when we are fighting the current. This, I suggest, is the “wrath of God poured out on unbelievers” in this passage:
Eph 5:3 But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. 4 Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. 5 For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience (the word translated here as disobedience is a poor translation and should be unbelief LLT). (ESV)
If we weren’t brainwashed by religion that teaches us an irrational fear of God and eternal torment…this passage makes perfect sense. When we hurt each other or want each other’s stuff or are rude and mean and all the rest, we are going against the flow. We are fighting the current. We are missing out on the Kingdom of Heaven.
That’s right. Floating on this river of God’s love, that is going down through the valleys of garbage and healing all the banks and giving life to a dead sea…yeah that river…the one that is flowing all the time…is us participating in our “inheritance” in the Kingdom of Heaven. Floating and not fighting is living in the Kingdom of Heaven. Bucking the current is experiencing God’s wrath. Still don’t believe me?
You are headed to the store to get some last-minute item. You are frustrated and angry because your spouse was supposed to pick up this item and forgot. Now you have people coming and you aren’t ready and the house is messy and the dog just puked on the living room rug. When you get to the store there is a really rude guy in line ahead of you. He starts arguing with the cashier and in a flurry of excited hand waving he bumps you. Now you are not going to put up with this guy, so you let him have it…@%$##@! Now you experience the wrath of God. Did you see it coming? It looks like a bloody mouth and missing teeth. Ouch!
What if instead you started this trip to the store by floating in the river. You just accepted the circumstance, you might be late, the dog puke can be cleaned up and God says don’t worry about what you will eat or wear (you haven’t figured out what shirt to wear) and you take a refreshing plunge in the river of Love. Am I being too optimistic? Are you saying “that ain’t real bro, it don’t work that way?” Well, it does work that way. That is what Jesus was trying to tell us. When He says don’t judge, forgive, pray for your enemy, love your neighbor and more, He is showing us how to flow with and float in the river. When He says don’t murder or hate or curse or accuse or finger point, He is giving you the raft to ride through the rapids. Yes it is that simple and yes He is that good.
So don’t let religion put garbage in your head about some angry mythological g.o.d. that is out to punish everyone. That isn’t real. Your God, your Father, your Abba is Love and His Love is a river that fixes everything…if we let it. Don’t fight the current and experience “the wrath of God.” If you do, eventually you will slip and fall and float for a bit. You will return from the prodigal pig pen. You will come home from Babylon. You will escape from Egypt. You will reap from the great harvest. You will enjoy the milk and honey of the promised land. That is the river you are in. How you approach it is your call. I suggest you don’t fight the current.