Yes, friends, this is my bookshelf. One of them. After having gotten rid of just as many before we moved to Colorado, believe it or not! I am all for e-readers and Amazon Kindle.. but there is something about reading an actual book for me. I like to be able to highlight and mark up what strikes me as I’m reading – mostly because I fly through books and can’t recall which one I was reading that made such a great point – but if I can flip back through them I can find my notes!
This summer, I’ve been doing some “light” reading (just kidding – theology books not required by seminary, just stuff I’m interested in. You know, 300 page books that take a month to read. Those I got delivered to my ipad.. much easier for toting around). One of them recently reminded me of a passage I read over earlier this year and had started researching.
“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath”. (Or as some bibles translate, objects of wrath, or children of wrath)
I have always cringed getting to that last part.
The concept of God being wrathful is something I struggle with … and I am pretty sure I am not the only one, either.
This idea of being under or deserving God’s wrath fits well with the Old Testament view of God being full of wrath for the enemies of Israel, and how Ancient Near East (ANE) peoples understood gods to be.
Yet I cannot help but wonder if Paul’s statement was spoken not only as a Jew who once believed that God had wrath for anyone not following the law, but also to a group of people whose worldview believed in wrath as well (like did his gentile audience believe their gods were wrathful, and thus he was including himself in the description of being deserving of wrath?)
I know the idea of wrath seems to be all over the pages of the Hebrew bible (our OT). I know Paul speaks about it. Yet if Jesus was God in the flesh, and Jesus himself was not full of wrath, how then can we say the character of God is wrathful? I will be honest, the picture I am getting as I go through my OT classes is a completely different picture. I’ll have to unpack that later as I go through round two this next semester 🙂
Anyway…. I recently re-read Tony Jones book “A Better Atonement: Beyond the Depraved Doctrine of Original Sin”, and just like the first time I read it, it opened my eyes to views of the atonement of Jesus that do not require God to be a god of wrath. Did you know they were out there? That is certainly something I was never taught in the evangelical church!
So I looked up the Greek for the last part of Ephesians 2:3
First off, I will say that the word “deserving of” [wrath] isn’t in there. these are the words that are:
We were (eimi) – to exist, to be present (so this is present tense.. reads better as “are”)
By nature (same) – by nature
Children – (teknon) – children, offspring
Of (same) – of
Wrath – (orge) – anger, indignation, violent emotions, impulse, natural disposition or temperament; movement or agitation of the soul, especially anger
Is it possible when Paul spoke of wrath in this passage that he was referring more to OUR character and nature instead of God’s? That we, before we understood the transforming nature of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we naturally were governed more by violent emotions, anger, impulsivity, and the like?
This understanding would certainly fit with the previous verse where Paul is speaking about satisfying the cravings of the flesh. In addition, when you look further towards verse 12 where he addresses the way Gentiles were formerly excluded from citizenship and the promises of Israel, he doesn’t speak of Gentiles being under wrath there at all, which you would think Paul might state, if he thought everyone outside of Israel was under God’s wrath.
It’s nothing groundbreaking, and certainly not anything some of you might have not unpacked yourself, but it certainly broke through a difficult section of scripture for me so I thought I’d share!