Can we fear God?
January 10, 2008
Here are some somewhat disconnected and probably not very helpful thoughts:
Given the reconciling work of Christ in that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us,” is God’s wrath eternally placated? We can add the conditionals of repent and believe, but the direction of, especially Protestant (and especially Modern Reformed), theology for the last hundred years is that God’s only word to the sinner is “forgiven” and “come into your inheritance.” Contrast this with the development in the Church into the Middle Ages which felt compelled to locate the atoning-substitutionary work of Christ in the eternal cost of sin but still allowing grievances against God to require temporal penalties. In other words, God can still be pissed; even though this wrath may always have the happiness and reconciliation of man as its end. The general mentality of mainline Protestantism, however, finds it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to think of a wrathful God, at least vis-a-vis the repentant (though a logical extension would easily put you in the universalist camp), except perhaps a dialectic of wrath and mercy revealed in Christ’s mission (but wherein God’s Yes overtakes the No in Christ’s redemption of fallen humanity). However, with the eternal-temporal distinction in Catholic thought, the free grace of God’s sacrifice for repentant humanity is still preserved, as is the possibility of God’s wrath and punishment toward these who are reconciled. Given that the end-game, so to speak, for God’s reconciling work is the purification of fallen man, these temporal penalties are naturally assimilated into this work of redemption and given both a negative (e.g., you deserve punishment) and positive (e.g., suffering unites us to God) aspect. This goes a ways to revealing how Catholics have been able to better deal with the problem of evil/suffering in a world already purchased by the blood of Christ, and, to be a little unfair perhaps, why Protestants have easily fallen into prosperity mindsets (and this is hardly a problem only among the evangelicals).