The Day of the Wrath of the Lamb

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This coming Saturday, 12/13/14, is being widely promoted as a “Day of Anger.” Because many of our institutions seem to be in the hands of liars, hypocrites, the selfish and the cruel, there is much to be angry about in this country, as throughout the world. Perhaps many of us, when next called for jury duty, will find reason to tell the judge, as I do, “I have no faith in this justice system to do justice, nor in this correctional system to correct.” Fortunately, however, there is an all-seeing and almighty God, who has established an infallible justice system and a perfect correctional system.

But while we wait for these to do their work, we have a choice before us: to let anger tempt us to be hurtful, or to forgive. The Buddha warns us that if we give into such a temptation, suffering will follow us “as the cart-wheel follows the hoof of the draft-ox” (Dhammapada, 1). Jesus warns us that if we don’t forgive others their trespasses against us, neither will God forgive us our own (Matthew 6:15) – and this, not because our all-merciful God, whose very nature is Love, wants to withhold forgiveness, but because our blocking the outflow of forgiveness from our own hearts also blocks the inflow of it, just as breaking a wire in an appliance stops the flow of electric current and disables the appliance from doing what it was made to do.

Jesus modeled God’s forgiveness by forgiving even His own betrayers and murderers as He hung dying on the cross (Luke 23:34); so did His follower Stephen (Acts 7:60), setting a pattern for all persons of good will to follow. We should make every effort to follow this example, not for the selfish reason that we’re hoping for a personal heavenly reward (in which case we may not deserve that reward), but out of compassion for all those merciless, fear-driven human hearts responsible for police violence against persons of color, for CIA torture of political suspects, for sins against the planetary ecosystem, for government coverups and perversions of justice everywhere. These souls are our brothers and sisters, human broken appliances in need of repair. If we can’t wish for their recovery and salvation, we can’t fairly wish for our own; without the repair of our own unforgiving hearts, we can only expect to wind up in the same junkyard.

All this is not to say that we shouldn’t rebuke evildoers; the all-important question is what spirit we rebuke them in: with intent to hurt them or intent to heal.

The Book of Revelation describes, in symbolic form, times of trouble yet to come, when disorders of nature will threaten men and women with fearsome sufferings, not unlike the way our scientists expect them to do shortly. In an ironic twist, the narrator announces that a lion will step in to save the day,  but the heralded “lion” that appears turns out to be a lamb (Rev. 5:6), symbolic of Jesus Christ. The action then heats up: war, famine, mass death, a great earthquake, and the darkening of the skies. Terrified, the rich and powerful flee to their bunkers in the mountains, where they call to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us, and hide us from the wrath of the Lamb!” (Rev. 6:16.) What, the wrath of the Lamb? Only the insane would be afraid of the wrath of a lamb! Only the insane… or those so deeply guilty, and so unforgiving in their own hearts, that when their hopes of controlling the situation vanish, they can only expect to be treated as unfeelingly as they have treated others; and that expectation is their own self-condemnation.  As the Gospel of John (3:19-20) puts it: “This is the condemnation: that men loved the darkness rather than the Light… for everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.”

Earlier I expressed my trust that God’s correctional system is perfect: by which I mean that every soul gets corrected and healed, and in the end none are lost. But the thought of guilty and violent souls, before the end of that process, calling for mountains and rocks to fall on them – that’s enough to turn my Day of Anger into a Day of Tears: tears not only for the victims of racist or other police brutality, but for the perpetrators themselves. I could wish such self-inflicted cruelty on no one; and neither, I think, could the loving Creator that I worship.

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2 Responses to “The Day of the Wrath of the Lamb”

  1. Matthew Says:

    Hi John,

    Near the end you said:

    “Earlier I expressed my trust that God’s correctional system is perfect: by which I mean that every soul gets corrected and healed, and in the end none are lost.”

    Can you elaborate? Are you implying reincarnation?

    ~Matthew

  2. John Jeremiah Edminster Says:

    Dear friend Matthew,

    Let me start by confessing myself to be profoundly ignorant about how it all works. I only “know” God’s absolute goodness, and that, by faith – which is to say, in the darkness of night, by a kind of knowledge of the heart rather than of the mind. Faith tells me that God ultimately saves every creature that He/She breathes life into: that breath is of God and, because it can never cease to be of God, it must return to God. The angel told the shepherds, “I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be unto all people” (Luke 2:10), and as Robert Barclay (_Apology_, 1675) observed, if Jesus Christ had not come to save all people, the angel would have had to say, “I bring you tidings of great sorrow, which shall be unto most people.” (A personal note: I’m in the process of moving, and almost all my books are in boxes, except for my Bible and a few textbooks. I’m about to start studying toward an M.Div. degree at Earlham School of Religion, so I’m quoting and citing authors from memory, and I may make mistakes.)

    This is not to say that there is no hell: Jesus spoke as if there were, and, in a vision, showed Teresa of Avila the place in hell that might have been hers. The Buddha and the prophet Muhammad taught the existence of hell; Dryhthelm of Northumbria (mentioned in Bede’s _History_), Emanuel Swedenborg, and New York Quaker Joseph Hoag all gave first-hand reports of hell, and Jakob Boehme explained that, just as the kingdom of heaven is within us (Luke 17:21), so is the kingdom of hell, and when our mortal flesh falls away and our soul is left alone with itself, if we have been of a hellish disposition, we become our own tormentors. By all accounts, it’s unspeakably horrible. In hell, teaches the Qur’an, “they neither die not live.”

    But for all that, Jesus appeared to Julian of Norwich in a vision, and when she expressed concern for the souls of the damned, He answered, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” I trust the Jesus of Julian’s vision. God is clever enough to solve all problems, and God is Love Itself. In the story of Cain and Abel, the first of all murderers complained to Love Itself that his punishment was greater than he could bear (Gen. 4:13), and, wouldn’t you know it, Love Itself lightened it for him. Love does that.

    So I believe in a God who does not damn. We damn ourselves. This was the view of the author of the Fourth Gospel (John 3:19). But for all that, we remain God’s darlings, and God would do anything, like the Good Shepherd of the parable, to wash us clean of our sins and welcome us back. And there is nothing too hard for God (Jer. 32:27).

    So therein lies my faith in universal salvation. My faith in universal salvation is supported by these further considerations:

    (1) The Psalmist’s reasoning: I’m referring specifically to verses 9 and 10 of Psalm 94: “He that planted the ear, shall he not hear? he that formed the eye, shall he not see? …he that teacheth man knowledge, shall not he know?” If *my* compassion tells me that God ought to rehabilitate Hitler rather than soak him in a lake of fire for ever and ever, then how much better must God’s compassion be than mine!

    (2) The example and teachings of Jesus, who said, “he who hath seen me hath seen the Father” (John 14:9). If either the scriptural record and the horror-stories of the daily newspaper tempt me to suspect that God is capricious or sadistic, I need only look at the character of Jesus, who never harmed a soul or refused a request for healing, who took no revenge but consistently returned good for evil, who forgave His own murderers, who died for my sins. Jesus shows us what God is like, for whoever hath seen Him hath seen the Father also.

    All that said, — Do I believe in reincarnation? I don’t know. Maybe. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that a lot of my own character traits are recycled ones. Many wise ones (Krishna in the Bhagavad-Gita, for example) report remembering past lives. Jesus said that John the Baptist “was” Elijah (Matthew 11:14). Qabalists, Theosophists, Rosicrucians, and Christian Hermeticists join Buddhists, Hindus and many others in teaching reincarnation. But I recall a chapter near the end of the “Combined Edition” of _A Course in Miracles_ entitled “Is Reincarnation So?” which wisely, I think, rejects the very question. The reason? Because the spiritual work we have to do can be equally well supported by a world-view that recognizes reincarnation and by one that does not.

    And the truth, I suspect, is beyond a yes-or-no answer. If a drop of rain, falling into the ocean, bounces out again, is it the same drop? If I reunite with God and then re-emerge from God, am I still the same “I?” The youth that later became known as Ramana Maharshi spoke, after his experience of _samadhi_. as if he were no longer the same person. “That fellow died long ago,” he told his mother. But not yet having had such an experience, I can’t speak of it from first-hand knowledge.

    I return to the poor, imperfect knowledge that I have by faith, Matthew. When I read that God will wipe away all tears from our eyes (Revelation 7:17, 21-4), my heart leaps, recognizing it as true. And one of those tears that must be wiped away is my tear of doubt that God, who so loves us, would let us suffer any longer or more intensely than was necessary for our perfection. I wouldn’t do that to my own children; why would God?

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