I am coming in for some flak after my yesterday’s outrageously callous declaration that God loves us. What, I hear the strangled cry, has Mr Nastiman, the fascist reactionary Mullen, finally gone soft? What are these semblances of the milk of human kindness which, so late in the day, seem to seep out from his putrescent and malevolent soul? What has become of his accustomed misanthropy?
For the record, I have never believed in the vengeful God and my reasoning is plain and simple: for I have so often been the recipient of God’s mercy. I know with utter certainty, from entirely undeserved experience, what the love of God feels like. I know I am a justified and forgiven sinner. And there’s an end on’t.
Thus, I am unable, quite, to psyche myself up into the foaming, fulminating apparition of the apoplectic caricature of the Old Testament prophet: that blazing-eyed, stormy-cheeked delirious rabble-rouser, that Elmer Gantry, that Bible-whacking preacher come to tell us the good news of our damnation. I’m sorry, but I’m just not up for it. The whole gospel speaks to me of a God whose property is always to have mercy. God hates sin but he is in love with us sinners.
We may yet go to hell, but we go there by our own devices and desires when these are at odds with the pattern which God has set out for us. God does not and, I would even say by his nature, cannot consign his creatures to hell. He hateth nothing that he hath made. Aquinas, when asked, replied that there is certainly a hell: “But there’s no one in it.”
Anyway, we have enough hell on earth without need of further torture.
One of the more amusing reports from the 19th century is of the acquittal of the editors of Essays and Reviews (1860) for their alleged heresy in denying the reality of eternal punishment: “The Lord Chancellor dismissed hell with costs and took away from orthodox members of the Church of England their last hope of everlasting damnation.”
There is such a thing as the wrath of God – his orge – for those with the smattering of Greek. But the wrath of God is distinct from the will of God and the love of God. The wrath of God is the natural consequence of our disobedience and sin. (For connoisseurs there is an explanation of this in C.H. Dodd’s commentary on Romans)
From our first and perpetual disobedience, sin and death, God has redeemed us in Jesus Christ. Rejoice. Alleluia. Bloody well cheer up!
Or what’s a gospel for?