6 April 2016

Romans 1:16-25

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek … For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth.” (vv. 16, 18)

Psalm: Psalm 66


The word 'karma' is better known now than it was when I was a child. I expect we're all familiar with the idea that actions have consequences beyond this life. For some people the state of a future life is dependent on what we do in this life.

Perhaps this is a bit like wrath. But for the Christian, wrath is more to do with now. The hymn In Christ alone has caused more debate and generated more heat than any other in recent years. And it's all down to the word 'wrath' - "The wrath of God was satisfied". So often people hear the word as meaning 'anger'. The dictionary backs this up.

The problem here is that we are looking at the word superficially in English. The Greek word that lies behind our translation is more nuanced. The feeling is of a controlled, passionate, resistance; not something sudden. I look at it like this. If you bang your head on a wall it will hurt. That's part of nature. You won't hurt if you don't bang your head! The fact of the hurt is not because the wall has it in for you. That's just the nature of brick. What Paul is trying to say is that woven into the nature of existence, God given, is a factor that resists wrong. Put another way if we go with the flow of God's will, doing what God would allow, then our going will be easier than if we try to resist.

Now the problem comes, as it always has, in trying to second-guess what God would allow, or what Jesus would do in our situation, 2,000 years later in a totally different context. Added to this today is how we share this idea with those of other faiths and none - Jews and Greeks in Paul's terms. He stresses that others should know of God's ways through nature, or perhaps conscience, and that they should be aware of what is coming to them.

To Ponder

  • If what Paul meant by wrath was not what we so often think it means, is it still a word we can use with integrity? Why?
  • How would you explain Paul's idea of wrath to someone who objects to singing 'In Christ alone'?
  • Paul suggests that others should be aware of God's ways from experience. What evidence is there that this is still true today?

Bible notes author

The Revd Andrew Pratt

Andrew is a Methodist supernumerary presbyter, Honorary Research Fellow at Luther King House, Manchester, and author. He has written over 1,300 hymns.