Q & R: Wrath and hell

Here’s the Q:

I am a part of the Present day “Inclusion”, or “Ulitimate Reconciliation Movement.” Bishop Carlton Pearson and many others have been the one who influenced me. However, after reading your book “The last word and the word after that.” I am seeing things in a new light. The “inclusion” movement speaks heavily of the Greek words thumos and Orge as “degrees of God’s Passion.” Orge is spoken of as “God’s Passion.” Thumos is the “inbreating of God’s Passion.” Yet, I got a feel from some of your writtings that we need to shift our attention to the Hebrew words for “Wrath.” The Religious leaders of that day warned against the “coming” wrath while the common people welcomed it. You have obviously done alot of research. Your website comments that Your new book deals with this. I am doing my own research at Dallas Theological Seminary, SMU, Southwestern in Forth Worth, Texas. Plus I live in a Messanic Jewish Community. Can you help me see more details on your View of Wrath. Recommend something?

R: Thanks for your question. I’m so glad that Carlton – at great personal cost – had the courage to question the view of “eternal conscious torment” that we were both taught, and that large numbers of people sincerely believe is their only option. In my new book, I take a slightly different tack that isn’t incompatible with other approaches, but maybe provides a larger context or frame that supports them.
The key issue I raise in the book is our assumptions about the big narrative of the Bible. (I avoid the contentious term metanarrative for reasons I explain in the book.) Once we question the precritical assumptions about the story which the Bible is telling, we suddenly find that specific words take on different meanings – meanings that are more in tune with the Jewish rabbis of Jesus’ own people. You mention the word wrath – which many people assume means “anger that leads to the punishment of eternal conscious torment.” But outside of the old narrative, another possibility arises: wrath means God’s displeasure that allows people to experience the consequences of their negative actions. Try that out in a reading of Romans 1 and see if you think it fits. So if we neglect the poor, there will be crime and revolutionary movements … If we neglect our children, they’ll feel alienated from us, hurting themselves and us. If we neglect the environment, we’ll suffer erosion and global warming. If we worship idols, we’ll play to our own baser instincts.
Another powerful example is “righteousness,” which I actually think would better be translated “justice” in most cases, and the related word “judgment.” Most people assume that righteousness means simple religious rigor, but if it means justice, it integrates personal uprightness with social concern – doing right to my neighbor, enemy, stranger, and so on. And judgment in the conventional narrative means God sending people to hell. But what if … what if this is based on a mistaken understanding? What if judgment means “setting things right,” or “restoring justice?” So for God to come as judge to bring judgment would mean God coming to stop the oppressors from oppressing, the polluters from polluting, the violent from plundering, the greedy from hoarding, etc? It would be good news, not bad news!
A short way to say the same thing: we assume justice is merely retributive. But I believe God’s justice is far better and richer than that. It is restorative. I hope my new book will add more shape and depth to this.