THE IMAGE AND WRATH OF GOD: A Reflection on the Events in Minneapolis

When the Coronavirus pandemic descended upon us, one of the many musings that ran through my mind was: will any news story be able to knock this virus off the front page? Tragically, something has: the murder of George Floyd.

God is ultimate reality. Therefore, there’s nothing we do that doesn’t relate to him. This is what Nathan helped David to realize when he committed adultery with Bathsheba and arranged for her husband’s death. After seeing his sin, David made that striking and profound confession: “Against you only, God, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.” He has an affair with a married woman. He kills a man. How does that relate to God in such a way that David says his sin is against God? It has to do with the unique way in which God created human beings.

In Genesis 1, we’re told God created human beings and only human beings in his image and likeness. Normally, we use that terminology simply to establish the unique dignity human life possesses. And this is right. But there’s more. An illustration may help.Imagine a well renowned artist sculpts a statue of you as a gift. (I realize a full-size sculpture of you may not be your first choice, but stay with me.) The artist finishes and pristinely puts it on display in your backyard gardens. The aesthetics are quite nice.

Imagine waking up the next morning to find the sculpture torn down, spray painted, and dashed to pieces. What are you thinking? Not only does someone not like the new addition to your backyard, they don’t like you either. After all, it is YOUR image that’s been destroyed.

To desecrate the image is an assault on the One the image-bearer images. The desecration of George Floyd perpetrated by this officer is simultaneously an assault on God because George Floyd was God’s image and likeness. As Christians, that ought to bring out of us two layers of lament: the unjust loss of life and rebellion against the Ruler of the Cosmos, God himself.

In light of this, the anger in Minneapolis and around the country is understandable. However, the riots and looting are not. Which is why we NEED a wrathful God.

Miroslav Volf miraculously survived the ethnic warfare in the Balkans. He writes:

“I used to think that wrath was unworthy of God. Isn’t God love? Shouldn’t divine love be beyond wrath? God is love, and God loves every person and every creature. That’s exactly why God is wrathful against some of them. My last resistance to the idea of God’s wrath was a casualty of the war in the former Yugoslavia, the region from which I come. According to some estimates, 200,000 people were killed and over 3,000,000 were displaced. My villages and cities were destroyed, my people shelled day in and day out, some of them brutalized beyond imagination, and I could not imagine God not being angry…Though I used to complain about the indecency of the idea of God’s wrath, I came to think that I would have to rebel against a God who wasn’t wrathful at the sight of the world’s evil. God isn’t wrathful in spite of being love. God is wrathful because God is love.”

We NEED God to be a God of wrath for without it, he is unloving. But how does this help our response to injustice? 

In another place, Volf says, “Violence thrives secretly nourished by belief in a God who refuses to wield the sword.” In other words, if in the deepest part of me I don’t believe God “wields the sword”, I will be tempted to take matters into my own hands and wield it myself. If, on the other hand, I’m convinced that God is a Judge who will mete out his verdicts with perfect justice, then I can walk by faith that one day this evil will be “righted.” The apostle Paul agrees…

Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. – Romans 12:19

It’s at this point in a short reflection like this that everyone asks, “so what do we do?” My takeaway may be less exhilarating than most, but I think it’ll be one that’s overlooked: please, don’t forget the God-centeredness of the injustice and judgment. The officer that desecrates the image of God, thinks little of God himself. Those that take to the streets to riot and loot, think little of the God of wrath who is coming again to judge. Don’t lose sight of God in all this.

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