From the Disk of the Pastor January 2010
As we enter the last year of the first decade of the new millennium, I would like to take up what many would consider a surprising topic - the wrath and judgement of God.
Many times it is said that Martin Luther grew up thinking that Christ was an angry judge who needed to be appeased, but that when he read the Bible, he found that this was all wrong. This view of Luther and the Scriptures is incorrect. Late in his life, Luther lectured on the book of Deuteronomy. He stated: “God is called ‘Fire’ because He utterly destroys the godless and leaves them nothing; nor is there anything that can resist His wrath. He is called jealous because His disposition is such that He will not spare. Who, then, should not fear Him of whom it is known that He will not spare and that He has the ability implacably and unceasingly to take vengeance.” (WLS #5033) This echoes earlier comments from 1529 when he preached on Deuteronomy 4:24. In this same sermon Luther explains that because people do not understand that God is a consuming fire, they have no fear of Him and live wild lives.
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” (Romans 1:18) St. Paul make it clear that God’s anger does not cease with the coming of Christ. Luther’s position is that of St. Paul. God is our righteous judge as we confess in the creeds. But that is not all that God is. Christ is also our Savior from sin and death as well as our judge. Christ is the One who will judge the living and the dead. But He also takes that judgement upon Himself. This is why we should both fear and love God.
Luther, as we noted, said that people don’t understand the true nature of God’s anger. Thus they regard God’s commands lightly. There are two categories that we should address. Before we take up those two categories, let me point out a third group. The unbelievers do not fear God’s wrath and they cannot be moved to fear God until they come to understand His reality. Thus the two groups that we are examining are both believers, or at least claim to be. First we have those who live without a care for God and go about their worldly business, thinking that God forgives them so that they can have no more care for God. They don’t come to the Divine Service, they don’t raise their children in the faith, and they don’t dine at our Lord’s Table. Yet, does not Christ say that those who deny Me before men, I will deny before My Father in heaven? Is not such indifference a denial of the One who died for their sins? This indifference angers God. The other group is those who abide in sin, but do not consider this important because they are forgiven. They continue to come to the service and even the altar, but never amend their lives, or even intend to amend their lives. Christ understands our weakness. But He does not countenance indifference toward sin. This too is a thing a thing that places us under judgement.
As we move into 2010, we need to look carefully at our lives. We are sinners. We have a God who is rightly angry over sin. We need to understand what causes this consuming anger. We need to see Christ as the righteous judge. But we must also, at the same time, see Him as our Savior from sin and death who takes the anger of God against us and places it upon Himself. Knowing that God forgives sins, should then lead us to seek to amend our lives. While we know that our lives are never perfectly amended, we do not want to add to our sins those of indifference. This is how we properly respond to God’s words of Law and Gospel.
Rev. Jody R. Walter