Dies Irae (Compassion and the Wrath of God)

I’ve always had a problem conceptualizing God’s anger. I always sort of saw it as in conflict with His love and compassion. The “Dies Irae” and “Kyrie Eleison” never seemed to match that well.

Similarly, I always had trouble with the Penal Substitution theory of atonement. It always seemed like an artificial differentiation between Jesus and God the Father, with Jesus saving us from God.

But this morning in church, some things I’d been reading and something the preacher said sort of clicked.

I’d been picturing God’s wrath all wrong, because I’d been thinking of it like mortal anger. Let me explain.

Humans get mean, careless, and stupid when we get angry. We break things, we hurt people (physically or emotionally), we say things we can’t take back. We lash out.

But God isn’t mortal. He isn’t fallen, flawed, or stupid. He isn’t a slave to his upbringing, His adrenaline, His sin.

His wrath isn’t like our anger. When we get angry, we lash out. But what happened when sin kindled God’s wrath and created a separation between us and God? What was God’s plan? What was God’s reaction?

He came to earth, to walk among us, to suffer and die for us.

What is the outcome of God’s wrath?

Compassion.

Incarnation.

Salvation.

Christmas.

Suddenly, “Kyrie Eleison” seems like a perfectly companion for “Dies Irae.”

When sin kindled God’s wrath and created a separation between Him and His beloved creations, He found a way back. He made a way back for us.

Even though it cost Him pain, sadness, death, and – worst of all – even though He had to experience our sin first hand. Of all the tortures Jesus suffered, enduring the flood of evil done by humanity throughout history must have been the worst.

Even with all that, God made a way.

That’s love, and compassion, and wrath, all working to bring His loved ones home.

That’s God.

Merry Christmas.

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2 comments on “Dies Irae (Compassion and the Wrath of God)

  1. I) This just nit-picky, but isn’t it Deis? As in Latin for God?

    2) Didn’t God also wipe out the human race? The flood and all of that. That seems to me to be lashing out and something he can’t take back. I am not trying to be a jerk and be snotty. I am curious if you reconciled it.

  2. Tim Dedeaux says:

    Sorry it took me so long to get back to you. Between family visits and re-purposing my train-wreck of an office/junk room into Kaitlyn’s nursery, I’ve sort of dropped the ball a little.

    1) “Dies Irae” literally means “Day of Wrath.” That it’s God’s wrath is implied in the title, but explicit in the lyrics. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dies_irae

    2) In regard to Noah, the best existing archaeological and historical evidence points to a flood that happened in 2900 BC. It destroyed the “world” as it was known to the people it happened to, but not the world that they had not yet discovered, if that makes sense.

    Theologian Peter Enns explains it in detail here

    http://biologos.org/blog/series/gilgamesh-atrahasis-and-the-flood

    Those who originally wrote this down couldn’t be expected to know if the flood affected, say, North and South America when they had no conception that North and South America even existed.

    Enns argues (convincingly, I think) that it’s not faithful to the Bible to read it without keeping in mind what its original readers/audience would have gathered from it. “The Bible was written *for* us, but is was not written *to* us.”

    Though the Pentateuch wasn’t finalized until the post-exile period, around 500 BC, most of it had been written down far earlier, and most of that had been passed down as oral history for a very long time.

    The flood was common knowledge, and has been recorded at least two other times, once in the 17th century BC as the Atrahasis Epic and once as a sub-plot in the Gilgamesh Epic (the story of Utnapishtim).

    So it’s likely that when the final version of Noah’s flood was written down, it was not written to tell about a flood, but as a theological counterargument to the Mesopotamian accounts (much of the first part of Genesis is this way).

    In the Mesopotamian accounts, the gods had created humanity to work as slaves, and decided to strike them down because they’d started complaining (possibly plotting revolt) against their masters.

    In the Hebrew account, God created humanity to be his children (ok, a bit of simplification, but close enough), but they had rebelled, and (over the course of a few thousand years) had become more and more evil.

    (although, again, we’re looking at a specific area of Mesopotamia, the “known world” for those people at that time, but fairly small by modern global standards)

    According to the Hebrew version, the flood was not a capricious act of annoyed gods who wanted to punish their slaves, but a purifying act of a God who could not let humanity (or at least this given civilization in Mesopotamia) slide into an ever-deepening abyss of cruelty and evil.

    There is also the issue in Genesis 6:1-4 about the Nephilim.

    6 Now it came about, when men began to multiply on the face of the land, and daughters were born to them, 2 that the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose. 3 Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not [b]strive with man forever, because he also is flesh; nevertheless his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.” 4 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown. (Genesis 6:1-4, NASB)

    These verses are hard to interpret, and we truly don’t know if they mean that angels and humans had children, or if kings declared themselves gods and demanded worship, or even if those who worshiped God intermarried with those who worshiped other gods or no gods at all.

    All three are possible. We do know that their descendants/clan were powerful and wicked. Some people suggest that the main purpose of the flood was to wipe the Nephilim out before they took over.

    Granted, this isn’t a clear and simple answer. But I’ve grown fairly suspicious of clean and simple answers, especially where religion is concerned.

    Well, that’s my 2 cents, for what it’s worth 🙂

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