Wrath of God

For we know the one who said, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay.’ And again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.’ It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Hebrews 10:30-31

The concept of ‘the wrath of God’, is one which we find many times especially in the Old Testament, but also as the quote above suggests, in the New Testament. My reflections on matters relating to climate change and climate injustice during the Season of Creation have led me to think that we need to revisit the concept and reframe it for the 21st century and the ‘scientific’ age.

The the whole of creation works according to what we sometimes refer to as the Laws of Nature and the Laws of Physics, etc. These are how things are and how the world works and we cannot change them. We can of course work within them to achieve particular goals. The trouble is that if we change something, then because these laws continue to operate, something else unexpected might change as a result.

There is a complex interconnectedness between things, which we cannot hope to fully understand, even if we build very sophisticated computer models of what is going on and continue to increase our knowledge across a wide range of disciplines. For example, over the years, the computer models used for weather forecasting have grown ever larger and more complex,as computing power has grown. However the accuracy of the predictions still often isn’t particularly good.

You may recall King Canute (or Cnut), who was king of Denmark, Norway and England in the 10th and 11th centuries. The well known story of King Canute trying to hold back the tide to show how powerful he was is an apocryphal anecdote, recorded in the 12th century by Henry of Huntingdon. In the story, Canute actually demonstrates to his courtiers that he has no control over the incoming tide, he actually explains that secular power is vain compared to the supreme power of God.

The episode is frequently alluded to in contexts where the futility of trying to “hold back the tide” of an inexorable event is pointed out, but often misrepresents Canute as believing he has supernatural powers, when Huntingdon’s story in fact indicates the opposite, illustrating the piety and humility of King Canute.

There is no doubt that humanity has invented and discovered many things and that we all benefit for a myriad of scientific and technological advances, however, we have to recognise that what we actually know is a mere fraction of the way that creation is and we all need to have Canute’s humility in all that we do to avoid being caught out by unexpected consequences.

If we act as though we are masters of the universe then we should not be surprised if the laws of physics or nature produce those unexpected consequences. We might see this as unfortunate or being unlucky and that we just need to be a bit cleverer to fix it.

Alternatively in humility, we could accept that because we fail to fully understand what we are doing, then when we are caught out by physics and nature ‘reacting’ and ‘re-balancing’ things, this might reasonably be described as the wrath of God.

We are not God, we cannot control everything and we are not masters of everything around us – that role belongs to the creator of the universe who set the laws of physics and nature in motion and gave us the wonderful world that we live in and which in some form we will hand on to our children and grandchildren.


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