taking the words of Jesus seriously

Buy cialis soft onlinelt=”” width=”240″ height=”160″ />In the buildup to the US invasion of Iraq, a haunting video got circulated of Saddam Hussein standing in a room of people who were giving him a standing ovation while he selected certain individuals to be taken out and executed. I’ve often wondered what it would be like to clap for a dictator in those circumstances. Certainly many of the people in the room were clapping purely to convince Saddam that they deserved to stay alive. But I imagine there were some who really did worship the absolute power that Saddam’s wrath represented. That kind of power is intoxicating as long as you’re standing on the trigger side and not the barrel side.

As this video has haunted my memory from time to time, I’ve wondered whether this is what worship is like for Christians who love nothing more than God’s wrath. There’s something erotic about God’s wrath. It’s perhaps no accident that the Greek phrase for it is orge theou. For some Christians, the prospect of an eternity that looks like a never-ending game of Doom for most of humanity can be summed up in one word: awesome!

People who worship the wrath of God could be called the church of outrage. It’s invigorating to worship a God whose most defining feature is His wrath because the closer you get to Him, the more angry and powerful you become. Since your anger is righteous as long as it’s divine wrath, the way to sanctify your own anger is to worship God as vigorously as possible. At least this seems to explain why people grow more and more comfortable in their outspoken condemnation of others the further they progress in the church of outrage. In the church of outrage, a good sermon uses words like “sin” and “hell” and “Satan” frequently without flinching so that the listeners will be terrified enough of God’s wrath to convert from the barrel side to the trigger side while people who are already converted can grow in their rage against those who haven’t.

There’s no denying that God’s wrath is part of the Biblical message. I’ve wrestled for years to understand how it fits, but I find a different center of gravity for the Christian gospel. What I see on the cross is not God spewing His wrath on His only-begotten son but a naked, bleeding God receiving the penetration of the world’s nails. If the cross is the most extreme act of rape in human history, God is not the rapist, but the rape victim. If that makes you flinch, it’s because the cross is supposed to make you flinch since it’s not just an abstract spiritual transaction but a real event of physical brutality committed against the Creator of the universe.

Much popular evangelical theology today talks about the cross as though Jesus were not fully God when He was crucified, as if God crucified somebody else named Jesus as a form of divine anger management. When we talk as though God is not the victim of the cross, we make God and Jesus into two separate gods rather than recognizing the Father and Son are both part of the same Triune God (which is certainly a difficult concept to understand). If God is not the cross’s victim, that eliminates the essential feature that distinguishes the Christian God from Allah and the deities of every other world religion. What makes the cross “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Greeks” (1 Cor 1:22) is the preposterous claim that the Creator of the universe “made Himself nothing… becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:6-8). Whatever else is true about the cross, its uniquely Christian message is that our God made Himself absolutely vulnerable for our sake.

A very different church emerges among people who see God’s vulnerability as His most defining feature rather than His wrath. I don’t think this means denying the presence or importance of God’s wrath. Wrath is what God uses to create a safe space of perfect intimacy that He can enjoy together with those who love Him. Wrath describes what God does when He violently destroys the walls that we build up between us and even digs into our flesh to get the sin that is buried underneath the surface like a stubborn splinter. There are people who don’t want to be vulnerable with God, preferring instead for their facade of perfection to remain impenetrable. These people experience God’s wrath as damnation rather than the scalpel that creates freedom. And what concerns me the most about the church of outrage is that it creates angry, self-righteous people who choose damnation over vulnerability.

Vulnerability is the goal expressed in Jesus’ prayer in John 17: “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you… I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity.” We are not called simply to stand side by side with Christ; we are to live inside of Christ while He lives inside of us. It is a vulnerability that breaches the boundaries of our bodies and Christ’s body as we are interpenetrated completely by God. This is the absolute vulnerability of which the deepest physical intimacy of human marriage is a sacrament. In the church of vulnerability, the goal is to tear down every wall that keeps us from loving God and each other completely. Sin is understood to be any action or attitude that undermines our vulnerability with God and each other. Sin has power over us as long as we live in the delusion that we can or should hide it from God and each other.

One of the tactics for hiding our sinfulness is to clap our hearts out in the church of outrage for a God whom we perceive to be a cruel and powerful dictator, whose cruelty and power are ours to deploy as long as we feel sufficiently “on His side.” We will remain imprisoned to our deepest sins as long as the purpose of our worship is to remain invulnerable and somehow “prove” to God that we really do “believe in Him” and deserve His acceptance. As long we are slaves to this need to prove our worth, we will be slaves to the sin that we are compelled to hide. Sin only loses its power over us only when we trust that Jesus has absorbed on the cross all the shameful things that keep us from opening up completely to God. We lose our shame and become vulnerable by facing and accepting the vulnerability of our God.

The church of vulnerability proclaims that Jesus gave up His body so that He could take us all into His body where we could be safe and free and loved. My prayer is that God will continue to build the church of vulnerability by using His wrath to break the spirits of the outraged so that their “faith” will no longer rest in how many Bible verses they’ve memorized but instead they will become grateful sinners who trust in God’s vulnerability enough to be vulnerable.

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Morgan Guyton is the associate pastor of Burke United Methodist Church in Burke, Virginia, and a Christian who continues to seek God’s liberation from the prison of self-justification Jesus died to help him overcome. Morgan’s blog “Mercy Not Sacrifice” is located at .

About The Author

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Morgan Guyton is a United Methodist elder and campus minister who leads the NOLA Wesley Foundation at Tulane and Loyola in New Orleans, Louisiana with his wife Cheryl. He released his first book in April, 2016: How Jesus Saves the World From Us: 12 Antidotes To Toxic Christianity. He blogs at www.patheos.com/blogs/mercynotsacrifice and has contributed articles to the Huffington Post, Red Letter Christians, Think Christian, Ministry Matters, the United Methodist Reporter, and other publications.

Morgan grew up in a moderate Baptist family in the aftermath of the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention. His mother’s people are watermelon farmers from south Texas while his father’s people are doctors from Mississippi, which left Morgan with a mix of redneck and scientific sensibilities.

Morgan’s greatest influence as a pastor was his grandpa, a Southern Baptist deacon who sometimes told dirty jokes to evangelize his grandson. From his grandpa, Morgan learned the value of irreverence as a pastoral tactic and the way that true holiness is authenticity.

Morgan used to have a rock band called the Junior Varsity Superheroes, but after becoming a father, he turned to electronic dance music, which he performs every summer at the Wild Goose Festival in Hot Springs, North Carolina. In his spare time, he likes to throw basement dance parties with his sons Matthew and Isaiah.

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