Now that we’re in the middle of Revelation…One of the most difficult aspects of Revelation is the violence and suffering it describes –much of it appearing to be from God. There are two Greek words that get translated as “wrath” throughout Revelation and they are used a total of 16 times. One time refers to the wrath of the devil. Twice there is a reference to the wrath of Babylon the Great (a.k.a. the beast, a.k.a. the empire), and the other 13 times refer to the wrath of God. Two of those even attribute wrath to the Lamb. Wrath carries connotations of anger, fury, rage, punishment, and revenge. Generally speaking, wrath aint good, and bad stuff happens when wrath shows up.
It’s perfectly possible to read Revelation in such a way that the Lamb has a personality change and goes on a rampage. Perhaps the most troubling passage in the entire book is 14:10-11 when the worshipers of the beast “drink the wine of God’s wrath” and are then “tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke from their torment goes up forever and ever.” Wow. I’ll pass on that wine, please.
It’s difficult to square “the wrath of the lamb” with the words of Jesus on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” Rather than call down curses from heaven on his enemies, Jesus calls down blessings. Against their better selves, the people were inflicting violence on Jesus and one another, and in the gospels Jesus never mirrors the violence back. He returns it with an entirely different kind of energy. Vengeance Jesus-style is to forgive, and it’s not a passive forgiveness that covers over and forgets the wrong. It’s a form of forgiveness which seeks to defeat and conquer and terminate the harm it is avenging. Jesus sure as hell (pardon the expression) does get angry. His not-so-nice clearing of the temple is a case in point. The Lamb got wrathful, but it was for the ultimate purpose of redeeming people rather than destroying.
Forgive me (because I don’t know what I’m doing) for not being able to wrap all this up in a short reflection. Maybe for John the wrath of God and the Lamb simply means leaving evil to its own devices and letting it self-destruct. Maybe John is reminding us that somebody ought to get angry at all the injustice in the world. Maybe John failed to follow through on his own deepest insights and misrepresents God and the Lamb on this. Maybe God’s not angry at all except to the extent that fierce Love ignites everything it touches and burns away all but the essential. I can go along with any of the first three, but I’m totally banking on the latter.
One thing is for certain: fear-based religion is caustic to the soul and has nothing to do with the gospel. This coming Sunday we’ll finally allow that Tree of Life up front to have a larger role in the worship experience. Anyone who wishes will be welcome to come up under the leaves and receive a blessing of healing, especially healing for any kind of internalized fear-based religion you may have picked up along the way in your faith journey.
“And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” Revelation 22:2