Rotten Fruit: God and Violence

Thursday 27th October 2022

“Til on that cross, as Jesus died
The wrath of God, was satisfied
For every sin, on him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live.”

(from In Christ Alone by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend)

I love belting out that anthemic hymn, I’ve always thought it sounds like the theme tune for a superhero, which of course, Jesus is!

The more I think about the words though, the more I struggle to sing it.
The God who rescued me, who put me back together and gently healed me after abuse isn’t wrathful. Even when I rail at God about my abuser, when I’ve been at my angriest and wished the worst possible outcome for my ex-husband, I’ve never felt any sense of wrath towards him from God. Frustration, some anger, disappointment maybe, but not wrath. Not the sheer white-hot rage that delights in sending a person to hell for an eternity of suffering. That’s just not my experience of God.

Yes, I know there’s verses like Ezekiel 7:8 “I will soon pour out my wrath upon you and spend my anger against you” and I’m no biblical scholar who can offer an explanation for every difficult passage of the bible (I’d love it if we could start a conversation about these verses though) but what I do know is that God is love and God is just; love and justice don’t pour out wrath or delight in the suffering of an innocent for the sins of others.

I’m not writing an apologetic for a particular doctrine of salvation. I don’t have all the answers, what I do have is an understanding of abuse and of the beliefs that fuel it and I know that any idea should be tested by the fruits it produces. If God is our role model then how we view God will affect how we behave, or at least which behaviours we justify. So how will the followers of an angry, wrathful, violent God behave?

Perpetrators of Domestic Abuse tend to have a somewhat dissonant attitude to violence; on the one hand they will tell you that violence is wrong, they will also often be fiercely defensive; saying they don’t like men who hurt women because women are weaker and a “real man” would protect women. Yet this profession of a dislike of violence won’t stop them from using violence to control their wives and children. The justification? Violence is not good but is sometimes necessary- like when Will Smith slapped Chris Rock in defence of his wife: because real men use violence when necessary. Like when John McClean brutally killed a load of bad guys then threw Hans Gruber off the top of the Nakatomi Plaza, of course his ex-wife fell back into his arms, because he was a hero, a real man, who used violence when necessary.

Like when God ordered the Israelites to kill every man woman and child of the Cannanite nation, or when he killed Egyptian babies, or when he sent a bear to maul children for mocking a bald man or when he was pleased to see his only begotten son nailed to a cross. Or, as a delightful man on Facebook warned me- how Jesus will delight in murdering me and sending me to an eternity in hell when he returns, because I’m a feminist.

The cognitive dissonance demonstrated when perpetrators of abuse say “Violence is wrong” but also “Violence is good and manly” is an echo of the cognitive dissonance of Christians who say “God is love, God is just, Violence is wrong” but also say “God is wrathful, God turns people to a pillar of salt, God had his own son murdered.” This image of a God who is simultaneously wholly good and pleased to use violence leaves space for moral ambiguity around the use of violence and in particular the use of it by men in order to control the behaviour of others.