Thursday, September 22, 2011

Origen on the wrath of God

We speak, indeed, of the “wrath” of God. We do not, however, assert that it indicates any “passion” on His part, but that it is something which is assumed in order to discipline by stern means those sinners who have committed many and grievous sins. For that which is called God’s “wrath,” and “anger,” is a means of discipline; and that such a view is agreeable to Scripture, is evident from what is said in the sixth Psalm, “O Lord, rebuke me not in Thine anger, neither chasten me in Thy hot displeasure;” and also in Jeremiah. “O Lord, correct me, but with judgment: not in Thine anger, lest Thou bring me to nothing.”Any one, moreover, who reads in the second book of Kings of the “wrath” of God, inducing David to number the people, and finds from the first book of Chronicles that it was the devil who suggested this measure, will, on comparing together the two statements, easily see for what purpose the “wrath” is mentioned, of which “wrath,” as the Apostle Paul declares, all men are children: “We were by nature children of wrath, even as others.” Moreover, that “wrath” is no passion on the part of God, but that each one brings it upon himself by his sins, will be clear from the further statement of Paul: “Or despisest thou the riches of His goodness, and forbearance, and long-suffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? But after thy hardness and impenitent heart, treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath, and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.” How, then, can any one treasure up for himself “wrath” against a “day of wrath,” if “wrath” be understood in the sense of “passion?” or how can the “passion of wrath” be a help to discipline? Besides, the Scripture, which tells us not to be angry at all, and which says in the thirty-seventh Psalm, “Cease from anger, and forsake wrath,” and which commands us by the mouth of Paul to “put off all these, anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication,” ould not involve God in the same passion from which it would have us to be altogether free. It is manifest, further, that the language used regarding the wrath of God is to be understood figuratively from what is related of His “sleep,” from which, as if awaking Him, the prophet says: “Awake, why sleepest Thou, Lord?” and again: “Then the Lord awaked as one out of sleep, and like a mighty man that shouteth by reason of wine.” If, then, “sleep” must mean something else, and not what the first acceptation of the word conveys, why should not “wrath” also be understood in a similar way? The “threatenings,” again, are intimations of the punishments which are to befall the wicked: for it is as if one were to call the words of a physician “threats,” when he tells his patients, “I will have to use the knife, and apply cauteries, if you do not obey my prescriptions, and regulate your diet and mode of life in such a way as I direct you.” It is no human passions, then, which we ascribe to God, nor impious opinions which we entertain of Him; nor do we err when we present the various narratives concerning Him, drawn from the Scriptures themselves, after careful comparison one with another. For those who are wise ambassadors of the “word” have no other object in view than to free as far as they can their hearers from weak opinions, and to endue them with intelligence.

Origen, "Against Celsus," Book 4, Chapter 72

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