‘They paraded us like prisoners of war and hurled abuse at us as they led us from one alley to another,’ said Sister Manal, Principal of the Franciscan School at Bani Suef in Egypt. She was describing what happened to herself and two colleagues after the school was destroyed by Islamists last week.
Earlier in the week, hundreds of supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood died in Egypt when security forces stormed the camps occupied by those protesting at the ousting of President Morsi.
Last Saturday morning, I was sitting having coffee at the House of Bruar with my wife and daughters. We were discussing some of the week’s news stories.
I’d been horrified to hear of the death of Daniel Perry, the 17-year-old apprentice mechanic from West Fife who committed suicide after being duped and blackmailed on line. Horrified too by reports of a new insurance scam which the experts are calling ‘flash for cash.’ Criminals flash their lights to let other drivers out at a junction, and then crash into them on purpose, blaming them for the ‘accident’ and making false insurance claims. This apparently is costing £392 million a year, to say nothing of the physical and emotional pain suffered by the victims.
It makes me angry. Angry that wherever you look, lives are being damaged, and God’s creation defiled by the terrible darkness of human cruelty.
Christians believe that these things anger God. However God’s anger is not a wild, frustrated lack of self-control, but a calm, resolute, immense, implacable opposition to acts of darkness. Some may feel that the idea of an angry God is a medieval hangover – but in fact God wouldn’t be much of a God if the divine heart were undisturbed by the daily litany of pain in the news headlines.
There’s been recent debate in the USA regarding the wrath of God. The Presbyterian Church there wants to include in a forthcoming hymn book the well-known modern song In Christ Alone. The hymnal committee were unhappy with one of the lines in this piece, which, describing the death of Jesus on the cross, says that there ‘The wrath of God was satisfied.’ They wanted to replace this with ‘The love of God was magnified,’ but the hymn’s authors refused to permit this change.
According to Mary Louise Bringle, the committee chair, the issue wasn’t with the reference to God’s wrath, but with the idea of ‘satisfaction’ being used to describe the significance of Jesus’s death. But I believe the hymn writers had in mind not a curmudgeonly deity who needs appeased by constant sacrifices. Instead, the scenario runs like this:
God’s wrath is directed against those whose actions proclaim them to be God’s enemies, and yet God loves them with an immense love, grief-stricken by the darkness in them. It is a basic principal that actions have consequences. God cannot simply forgive human beings without the consequences of their choosing darkness being addressed. In Jesus, God bears our punishment for us, so that we can be forgiven and enabled to live light-centred lives. Justice has been done. The Judge has paid the penalty. The prisoner walks free.
That’s the wonder of Christianity – forgiveness comes as the free gift of love. The words Bringle’s committee preferred focussed on God’s love being magnified. It is precisely because in Christ the wrath of God was satisfied that we can begin to see the bigness of God’s love.
We’re rightly appalled by news stories showing what human beings are capable of – but many times daily each of us chooses darkness in small, but not insignificant ways. So each of us must make our way to the cross and find forgiveness and increasing strength to choose light and the assurance that when we love the light and the king of light we need not fear the wrath of God.
And as individuals we will work, not by violence, but through prayer, with courage, in love to bring light into dark places, to bring peace where there is war, looking forward to the day when the glory of the Prince of Peace will radiate through the whole cosmos and darkness will be a fading memory.
As Christians, we celebrate God’s grace and we do this not only by revelling in the wonderful fact that on the cross of Christ ‘The wrath of God was satisfied’ and ‘The love of God was magnified,’ but also by daily actions deep-rooted in grace.
Sister Manal describes how, when she and her colleagues were being dragged around the town they were rescued by a Muslim woman called Saadiyah who invited them into her house. ‘I can protect you,’ she said. ‘My son-in-law is a policemen.’ For wherever there is strife and conflict grace is also found.
(Christian Viewpoint column from the Highland News dated 22nd August 2013)