Upon reading our passage for today and NT Wright’s interpretation of it, I am struck by a double offense. We seem to be caught in the horns of a dilemma.
On the one hand, we moderns are offended that God stands by idly while his people are massacred and martyred. “Why doesn’t God do something?,” we might ask. I am sure that those being martyred must have reflected on this question as they and their loved ones were being thrown to the lions, torched up like bonfires, and ran threw with swords. God’s people are expected to suffer martyrdom faithfully and with patient endurance. If you and I sat idly watching people being mistreated, mutilated, and murdered when we could do something about it, we would be held morally culpable. Some might ask, “Why didn’t you do anything to help these people?”
A number of post-holocaust Jews have asked this question of God. Where was God when God’s people were being rounded up and packed into cattle cars? Where was God when God’s people were being sent to death camps? Where was God when God’s people were being gassed with rat poison? Where was God when God’s people were forced to work in the most horrid conditions? Where was God when God’s little children were being thrown alive into crematoriums? I remember first reading Elie Wiesel’s classic, Night. What a shocker! This book chronicles his horrifying experiences in Auschwitz as a teen. Wiesel says he lost his faith one day while watching several men hanged. One was a young boy about 12 years old. The boy was too light to die quickly, but the Nazis made the Jewish prisoners watch to the bitter end as the boy kicked and fought death at the end of a rope. One rabbi near Wiesel exclaimed aloud, “Where is God? Where is God?” Wiesel’s answer: God was there hanging on that rope. When the boy died, Wiesel’s faith also died.
On the other hand, we moderns are offended that God will judge and punish sinners. We don’t like to think that God will actually punish wrongdoers for their wrongdoing. While I mostly agree with NT Wright’s interpretation of Revelation, I am not convinced of his interpretation of Revelation 14:14-20. It seems that Wright so wants to correct the negative view of God as angry and wrathful, that he offers a quite unique spin of interpretation. He thinks that those being squashed in the winepress of God’s wrath are not the evildoers, but faithful Christians. He suggests that these “are images of salvation, not of condemnation” (p. 133). The context of this chapter seems to mitigate against such an interpretation as does the two problems Wright tries to explain (1. This is a winepress of God’s anger; and, 2. Blood flowing out of the winepress as deep as a horse’s bridle, 200 miles long). I think that these images depict condemnation rather than salvation, however vindictive and gruesome they may appear. They are only symbols to express the gravity of God’s anger. Be that as it may, I think that most of us moderns are repulsed by the thought of an angry, wrathful God. But can we have it both ways? We are offended by God when God does nothing to help suffering humanity and we are offended when God judges. I do not see a way out of this dilemma. How would you reconcile it?