God’s Vengeance : Duane W.H. Arnold
There are those who love the apocalyptic side of Christianity. They somehow want an accounting to be made. They look around at the world in which we live and they long for vengeance. I must admit that there have been times when I have wondered if hell can burn hot enough as I consider the violence, injustice, and exploitation that we see around us every day. There is, however, all the difference in the world between human and Divine vengeance. Human vengeance is necessarily tainted with revenge. Its root is the maxim of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”. Indeed, if it were possible for us to add something more severe as a punishment, we probably would.
I would suggest that Divine vengeance is altogether different. Indeed, I would suggest that God’s mercy is his vengeance. It is impossible to categorize or to explain it, but we know it to be true. Moreover, it provides a pattern for the Christian life lived in the world.
The world in which we live is wholly preoccupied with itself. It is preoccupied with loving itself, hating itself, vaunting itself, exploiting itself, pleasing itself. Increasingly, scarcely a thought is given for anything beyond itself and its material concerns. When, as believers, we speak of the generosity of a God who is a life giver and sustainer, the source of all our wisdom and inventiveness, we sound as though we are speaking in another language and in another age. Yet, the rejection of what we say is not hatred, it is indifference. As Elie Wiesel said, “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.” It is the indifference of the self-sufficient. It is the indifference of a world that is fascinated with itself and its own machinations and that wishes us to join in that fascination.
So, to a world that has rejected him, that is indifferent to him, God brings his unique vengeance.
Yet, God brings this vengeance not in a cataclysm, nor in a calamity, but in a baby’s cry. In the Incarnation, God is suddenly among us. He is among us as we are, one of us, helpless and vulnerable like the least of us, poor like most of us, dependent on love like all of us. He places himself in our predicament, he gives himself to a world that has never dreamt he would do it and that has never really wanted him among us. That is his vengeance. His vengeance is his mercy. In the Incarnation, God risks it all. He risks being unwanted, unrecognized, unwelcome, and alienated. In that we are unwilling to give ourselves to him, his vengeance has been that he gives himself to us. In his coming among us he invites disagreement and misunderstanding. With no concern for the inconvenience and discomfort of a supposedly self-sufficient world, he appears among us. Regardless of being considered ill timed, he comes among us. We would put him off forever if we could, but he comes among us. This is his vengeance and this is his mercy.
A friend of mine once said, “It is as though God is an uninvited guest at the table, who does not bring conviviality, respectability, or good luck; yet he does bring food, food for eternal life. You see, he brings himself.” Not only that, but he keeps on bringing himself to our table of discontent and disappointment, failure and foolishness, and in so doing he keeps us alive. His vengeance for our indifference and inattention is that he has reclaimed us for himself and has bestowed upon us his life and his love. How does God settle accounts? He settles accounts by coming among us and inviting us to act like him. If you wonder what that looks like, read the Sermon on the Mount.
For almost a millennia, it was the custom in the Roman Catholic Church that the end of the Mass concluded with the “Last Gospel”. The Last Gospel consisted of reading John 1:1-14 from the altar as the last thing that would be heard by someone attending services. It was a reminder that the Incarnation was central to our faith and to our conduct in the world. If it were up to me (and it’s not) I would reinstate the custom for, in my opinion this is the greatest unveiling (apocalypse) of God’s mercy and God’s vengeance that one can find in all of scripture. It is the bedrock of my faith in the present and my hope for eternity.
“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”