As far as I can tell, it stems from the recognition that evil has marinated the world; that everything appears to be submerged in evil and has soaked up its dark brine; that if something doesn't change, if something doesn't happen, the world will reach a saturation point and drown.
Recognizing the current pervasiveness of evil stimulates a yearning for justice; a yearning to see those opposed to God and Creation receive their due punishment in this life. Likewise, it is a simple longing to see the good guys "win"; to see Truth, Beauty, and Goodness triumph; to see evil get what it deserves. At a more basic level, it is a yearning to witness the power of God rise up and vanquish all opposition and set things right.
As I mentioned above, this yearning for a vengeful God is somewhat understandable. After all, Christians are currently mired in an intense spiritual war where the forces of evil appear to be advancing with great speed and precision. In the grips of such intense spiritual warfare, some Christians have begun to question the utility of the forgiving, redeemer Son and have begun to explore the potential utility of the unforgiving, vengeful Father.
Though comprehensible to a certain extent, I consider any longing for the intervention of a vengeful Old Testament God - the same God who drowned the wicked in the Flood and reigned fire upon Sodom and Gomorrah - to be a grave misstep for any Christian, and in a subsequent series of posts I hope to outline some of the reasons why any Christian longing for a vindictive God is misplaced and misguided.
The impulse behind the yearning for God to intervene in the world as an avenging force can be directly connected to the metaphysical confusion plaguing contemporary Christian consciousness. The possible explanations for the yearning can be boiled down to the following:
- an incomplete understanding of the development of Christian consciousness
- the perceived weakness of Christ's mission as it pertains to evil
- a misinterpretation of Christian motivation concerning salvation and creativity
- an acute awareness of convergence in most forms of institutionalized Christianity
- a yearning for religious passivity rather than religious activity
In today's post, I will examine how the yearning for a vengeful God is misguided from the perspective of Christian consciousness.
One thinker who is particularly interested in religious consciousness is Nikolai Berdyaev. In his writings he divides the development of Christian consciousness into three stages, which I have outlined in some detail in an earlier post:
Berdyaev defines the three epochs of Christian consciousness as Old Testament law, New Testament redemption, and religious creativeness. According to Berdyaev, the religious epoch of Old Testament law was marked by obedience and the sin of disobedience. New Testament redemption saved Man from sin, revealed his god-like nature to him, and offered him the reality of everlasting life. The third epoch, religious creativeness – which Berdyaev defines as “a transition into another sphere of being” – has yet to begin.
Berdyaev values the first two religious epochs and insists upon their necessity in the development of human consciousness. In essence, he considers them stages on the spiritual road. Old Testament law is the moral realm of ‘thou shall’ and ‘thou shall not.’ The commandments come from above and Man’s chief occupation is obedience and adherence to the law. New Testament redemption is the realm of salvation whereby the moral element is mystically transfigured and love and grace shine forth. Man’s innate divinity is also revealed to him in this epoch.
Berdyaev notes that both of these religious epochs essentially “come from above.” The moral element is not as predominant in New Testament redemption as it is in Old Testament law, but the moral still apparently predominates over the aesthetic and perceptive. In other words, salvation or perdition is connected to Man’s moral perfection, but not with his aesthetic or perceptive perfection.
Berdyaev considers this to be a “tormenting problem to Christian consciousness.” If religious life is complete with redemption from sin, then higher creativity being is both unattainable and undesirable. Atonement for sin becomes the only meaningful focus, which reduces New Testament redemption to the level of Old Testament law. Life is diminished back to the imperative of perfect obedience. Berdyaev insists there is only one way out: “the religious acceptance of the truth that the religious meaning of life and being is not wholly a matter of redemption from sin, that life and being have positive, creative purposes.”
For obvious reasons, the contemporary materialistic, atheistic, and anti-Christian consciousness that possesses many in the West and elsewhere cannot be included in Berdyaev's epoch framework, but in terms of contemporary Christian consciousness, Berdyaev posits that it stalled out at New Testament redemption and has since slipped back slightly and has fused with Old Testament law.
More specifically, current Christian consciousness remains fixated on the belief that Christianity exclusively "comes from above" and that its sole end is salvation. Instead of recognizing that salvation represents but one aspect of what Christ offered man and that the further development of consciousness must "come from within", Christians have spent the last two centuries looking to the heavens for some kind of external revelation.
According to Berdyaev, Christ's gift of redemption did far more than merely offer man freedom from, it also opened the possibility of freedom for. Put another way, in addition to salvation, redemption offers the potential for a consciousness shift through which man could free up his energy and focus his efforts on his own latent, divine creativity and, eventually, actively begin to co-create with God.
Berdyaev claims Christians have access to the "freedom from" redemption offers through salvation, but have yet to embrace the "freedom for" that redemption should inspire. In Berdyaev's view, this inability to approach freedom for has caused contemporary Christian consciousness to turn negative. That is not to say that freedom from is unnecessary. On the contrary, salvation remains a prerequisite - it takes precedence over creativity, but it is not a substitute for creativity. Salvation is needed for creativity to begin, but over the past two or three centuries Christians have come to view salvation as the final stage of Christian consciousness rather than as the foundation for a higher, creative impulse.
Contemporary Christian consciousness remains locked in the belief that religious life is complete with redemption from sin and that any higher, creative fullness of Christian life is dangerous, undesirable, unnecessary, and unattainable. This glaciation of Christian consciousness has allowed New Testament redemption consciousness to slip back to the level of Old Testament law. If salvation is the completion of Christian life, then all Christians need to do is focus on religious-moral perfection and repentance.
Berdyaev interprets this as a negative and imperative purpose because it places Christians in a kind of stasis that eventually leads to regression. In this stasis, the potential dynamism inherent in redemption is used up by the safeguarding of salvation, which becomes the primary motivation of Christian life.
Rather than looking within and working toward the potential of a third Christian epoch, Christian consciousness remains locked into the second epoch and becomes disproportionately focused upon the existence of any sin and evil that endangers salvation. Thus, the consciousness of New Testament redemption begins to regress back toward Old Testament law.
Berdyaev does not dispute the vital need for New Testament redemption, but he regards fixation on salvation alone as a narrow, simplified, and limited understanding of Christian religious life. If obedience and sinless life leading to an acceptance of Christ as redeemer represents the ultimate culmination of Christian life, then, Berdyaev argues, there can be no fully satisfactory explanation for the appearance of Christ and His Mission on earth. I suspect the yearning for a vengeful God is directly connected to this unsatisfactory explanation of Christ's mission, which focuses exclusively on only one aspect the mission alone.
A vital point to remember when contemplating Berdyaev's conception of the three epochs is that it traces the development of Christian consciousness and not the development of God. Put another way, Berdyaev's epochs help explain the changes in how people understand and think about God and themselves in relation to God. In essence, God has remained the same; the only thing that has changed over time is how we think about and understand Him and ourselves in relation to Him.
In the epoch of Old Testament law, consciousness could only conceive of God as a stern lawgiver, and the purpose of the law was to make people conscious of sin. The consciousness of sin is a suppressed and frightened consciousness that knows God as an autocratic master, one that demands strict obedience and submission and punishes severely if these are not granted. Furthermore, Old Testament law reveals a consciousness focused primarily on events in the temporal world and God's subsequent actions and reactions to these events.
This is much different from the consciousness of New Testament redemption revealed by Christ who knew God as a loving and forgiving Creator - a personal God with Whom man could form a personal relationship - a relationship exemplified by Jesus Himself. Moreover, New Testament redemption consciousness unveiled the reality of immortal life and the possibility for man to participate in immortal life through the active and conscious choice to believe in Christ and follow Him.
The other aspect of Jesus's mission, the one Christians have yet to fully embrace, not only sets the stage for Berdyaev's third epoch of Christian creativity, but also provides a full and satisfactory explanation of Christ's mission on earth - the revelation that God is not only near us, but that He is a person. That He is in us, and we in Him.
Christians who express a yearning for a vengeful God are inadvertently expressing a desire to return to a shallower form of consciousness - that is, to a less full understanding of the nature of God and themselves. The longing for an avenging God grounds man firmly back into the consciousness of sin and burdens him with the restrictive weight of the purpose of law. The yearning for a vindictive God is a regressive yearning because it works against both aspects of Christ's redemptive mission - to free man from the burden of sin and offer the possibility of life everlasting; and to free man into the potential of divine creativity - the state in which man is called to immediate participation in divine life.
This participation will not come to us from above, but will emerge from within. Any yearning for a vengeful God makes us look above when we really should be looking inside.