God’s Infamous Wrath
For two-hundred centuries, Christianity has spoken about the wrathful nature of God. God is jealous, fickle and when “His” people sin against “Him” He punishes them with His wrath – doing all manner of terrible things against humanity in retribution for their sin. We hear of God’s judgment and how those who disobey, who anger or disappoint God, who do not live up to God’s standards will be cast into hell where they will burn for an eternity for their sins. We read stories of God’s punishment of humanity – barring us from paradise, devastating the world through a flood, destroying Sodom and Gomorrah for their sins, condemning the Hebrews to wandering in the wilderness for 40 years in their search of the elusive “promised land.” We hear of how God tested humanity by His wrath – asking Abraham to sacrifice his long=awaited son, creating an environment where jealousy would emerge between Cain and Abel and Esau and Jacob, Jacob’s sons and Joseph. In the Christian interpretation of Hebrew scripture, God’s wrath has become infamous and for 2000 years has been used as a means of threatening Christians into obedience – even though Jesus spoke only of a loving and compassionate God. What happened?
Lost in Translation
As I was doing some research in preparation for my Order of Melchizedek Level Four class on the Hebrew Alphabet and the Major Arcana of the Tarot, I came upon an obscure reference on the biblical term wrath:
Wrath is the quality associated with (the Hebrew letter) Samech, but this is a blind. The literal meaning of the original Hebrew noun is “quivering” or “vibration.” A similar blind is found in the use of the Greek noun thumos, also translated “wrath” in the New Testament. (The Tarot – a Key to the Wisdom of the Ages; Paul Foster Case. Pg 153).
This reference blew me away! If it were true, it completely changes what Christians have been taught about the wrathful nature of God. Not satisfied by a singular reference, I got to researching and discovered that what Paul Foster Case is suggesting is undoubtedly true. While there are many Hebrew words that have been translated “wrath“they all have one thing in common – a sense of movement and vibration, somewhat akin to breath.
The Hebrew word chemah provides the perfect example of the deeper meaning of wrath:
Chemah is commonly translated as wrath. When we break this word down into the Hebrew letters which make up this word so that we can more fully grasp its meaning. we get the following:
Ches/Chet: Means an enclosure – that which supports, protects and carries us. On a spiritual level, Ches/Chet implies Divine Grace.
Mem: Means water. On a spiritual level, Mem represents the revealed and the concealed – inviting us to look beyond the surface of things to what lies beneath/within.
Hei: Hei means window/door – that which allows light and air to enter our home. On a spiritual level, Hei is the breath through which God creates and represents God’s limitless mercy. (The Wisdom in the Hebrew Alphabet by Rabbi Michael Monk)
Putting this all together, we have chemah – the breath of God which supports, protects and carries us – no matter what that breath looks like from our limited human perspective. In other words, that which feels like punishment is in fact God’s infinite mercy carrying us to and through our growth.
Let me give you an example – the most basic example – the example upon which every fear of God’s eternal punishment has been predicated – the story of “The Fall.” We all know the story – Adam and Eve lived in Paradise. The serpent came and tempted them to eat of the tree from which God forbade them – the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They ate. God was angry over their disobedience and as punishment, cast them forever out of the Garden of Eden. The problem is, however, that this is not really how scripture describes it:
Then the Lord God said, “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life. GN 3: 22- 24
First of all, it only says that the man was driven out. (things that make you go hmmmmm). Beyond an interesting feminist exploration, a bigger question emerges! Was God’s action a punishment or an act of mercy? If the human condition is the consequence of humanity’s decision to “eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil” do we want to live forever? Do we want to be condemned to remaining in the Garden where we will have to experience the suffering that is inherent in the human condition – FOREVER? I don’t think so! In God’s great mercy, God removed humanity from the Garden where we could eat of the Tree of Life so that we WOULD NOT have to live forever. In barring us from the Tree of Life, God opened the door/window (Hei) to our return by ensuring that the human experience is only temporary and after we have completed our journey here, we can return to our original state of Oneness with God. The other mercy in humanity’s exile from the Garden is the longing for home that has been planted within every human being (Ches/Chet) that compels us to seek after the satisfaction of that longing that can only be fulfilled in God. This longing is the foundation and source of our spiritual development and growth and ultimately what makes us human.
Throughout scripture we can apply this perspective to every story that speaks of God’s wrath. Was it wrath and punishment or God’s infinite mercy? Is it condemnation or an opportunity for growth? When we look beyond the surface of things (Mem), we can see the loving hand of God in everything that unfolds in our human experience – even those things we would rather avoid (pain, suffering, loss, death, betrayal, etc.). When we look at life through the lens of love, we see that EVERYTHING is an opportunity to know love (aka God) more.
Wrath from a Human Perspective
Now that we have a better understanding of wrath as it pertains to God, let’s take a look at it from the human perspective as it relates to the very real human experience of anger. (Putting on my spiritual psychology hat)….
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