Love in the Land of Wrath

I’m still expanding on ideas from this post:

Christ’s death is the door out of wrath

The main thing I am examining is not the idea of wrath, but the way in which belief in Christ and Him crucified opens the door to and becomes the animus for our love for one another (1 John 3:23). I don’t want to shy away from thinking about the wrath of God because it is a very real and present part of the human experience – wrath is the visceral barrier to authentic relationship. Christ’s death is the necessary key to our release to love without hypocrisy. I don’t really want to fixate on wrath, but it is a necessary component to understanding the need for Christ to die for us and rescue us from ourselves. When we glaze over and skip over the concept of God’s wrath, and make it meaningless and distasteful, thus suppressing the truth, we also minimize our felt need for rescue and salvation. The true presence of wrath and rejection in our interpersonal relationships and within our own secret mind is the thing that makes love without Christ functionally impossible.

I previously wrote, “We end up loving by pretending that judgment and wrath are not part of the picture, because of a false grace.” We’re going to spend some time unpacking this.

Loving the false persona

In the first place, as we step into and step through a relationship with someone, we begin by hiding our insecurities and past mistakes, to put forward a false persona that we hope will win the other person’s respect and love. In putting forward a false persona, we do what the apostle warns against in 1 John 1:6,7. If we succeed at tricking the other person into liking our persona, then in reality they don’t love us, they love our fake persona. Our true self remains isolated and alone, frightened of a true reveal.

Our own standard of excellence makes us hide

In this way it doesn’t so much matter what fragmented and imperfect version of righteousness the true self subscribes to, but that that standard of righteousness keeps the true self in hiding:

22 The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves.
(Romans 14:22, NASB).

24 And He was saying to them, “Take care what you listen to. By your standard of measure it shall be measured to you; and more shall be given you besides.
(Mark 4:24, NASB).

It is strange to think, but the standard of measure is the version of excellence that our own conscience truly subscribes to. This is the version of the law that we really fall short of. There may be a standard of law which is greater or more perfect that we should be measuring ourselves against and thinking that we fall short of, but our actual conscience has an emotional and present existential grasp of the things we believe are excellent, and this is the standard our conscience accuses us by. This is the version of success and rightness by which we condemn ourselves and stay hidden.

Don and Betty Draper as the “Every Couple”

It is this isolation and deep aloneness through the shame of our own measure of failure with one another from which Christ has come to save us. In the middle of our talk of walking in the light and being authentic with one another, there must be the saving blood of our propitiatory savior, or else our authenticity breeds only judgment and rejection. When Don Draper finally comes clean with Betty that “Don” is not his real name and that his whole life is really a complete lie, she does not forgive. She is more honest than that. She does not take a bite of his forbidden apple; she does what we think Adam should have done. She rejects him. It is the end of their relationship, not the beginning. She loved his persona, not him. His persona was manly and successful and courageous. His true self is a lying cheating coward. There must be judgment because there is true wrath for his elaborate and extensive cowardly lies. He has truly injured her and this cannot be undone with a word of contrition. His true self has been rejected.

Community Belief in Christ’s Sufficiency

So we lie, and so we hide, and we know that if we reveal, we will not be forgiven and accepted – we will be judged. This is our need for a savior: our collective consciences require justice and love, but these two are exclusive without Christ. Furthermore, I don’t need you to only believe in the power of Christ’s blood for yourself. Actually I really do need you to believe in the power of Christ’s sufficiency for yourself, it is very important. However, I need you to believe in the power of Christ’s blood for me. I need you to believe in the power of Christ’s blood for the entire community of those imperfect sinning souls who belong to Christ. When John says “this is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us” (1 John 3:23, NASB), he means it. WE must believe, collectively and in concert, in the name of His Son Jesus Christ. We must believe collectively in the sufficiency of His blood for one another.

Let me have a bite of that forbidden fruit!

Apart from Christ, once some aspect of our true self that we have been hiding is revealed, the offended other person must pretend a false grace to continue the relationship. We are thus forced into an acceptance of destructive and harmful and sinful ways that is uncomfortable and wrong. We can pretend a bloodless forgiveness with a word and a thought, but the evil revealed really requires a public announcement that it is wrong. So in our false grace we become co-conspirators in the sin. We come along like Adam, and seeing Eve with the juices of the forbidden fruit dripping down her chin, we eat as well, so that we may continue the relationship. We must choose between the person or God, and we choose the person. We call this “love” and “forgiveness”. This is our “grace” – we accept the person and the sin. What we need is a way to accept the person while expressing wrath on the sin. Not just “forgiving” it, but expressing wrath upon it. We don’t need false grace, but real grace. That way is belief in Christ and Him crucified.

Please understand that I am not saying that our true self is our sinful self and that our moral or righteous self is all a sham. I don’t know that that is true. It is that our fear about our true self’s lack of moral fiber may trump whatever is lovely and worthy of being called the “image of God” in us. If we step into the light, we must come naked, warts and all, or we are still hiding and holding forth a falsely good persona.

False grace breeds weak relationships

Our false grace and anemic forgiveness breed weak relationships that are easily broken. We are insufficient sources of grace and forgiveness. False grace predicates fidelity and loyalty on acceptance of evil and participation in lies. True grace accepts that sin needs wrath and that there is a propitiation so that wrath can go to Christ instead of to your soul. What I need in my circle of family of friends, is that they all believe that the blood of Jesus is sufficient for me. I need to believe, not only that the blood of Jesus is sufficient for me, but that it is sufficient for you as well. We need for the whole community of us to believe in the sufficiency of Christ’s blood for us together. This is incredibly powerful.

Christ’s propitiation leads to love and community

This is how belief in Christ becomes the center and the engine of our interpersonal relationships. We can love each other, we can continue with one another, we can walk transparently and authentically with one another, knowing that there is no danger that your evil need be supported by me, or that my confession puts you in danger of supporting my evil. I can love you with a clean conscience, and that is a very big deal. I can love you when I know that you reject your own evil in Christ, and that you reject my evil in Christ. We have community because Christ has washed our collective consciences clean together.

7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.
8 The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
9 By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.
10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
(1 John 4:7-11, NASB).

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