Thought for the Day by Richard Barton (All Hallows)
Sticks and Carrots
The Bowls of God’s WrathRevelation 16:1-11
Then I heard a loud voice from the temple telling the seven angels, ‘Go and pour out on the earth the seven bowls of the wrath of God.’
So the first angel went and poured his bowl on the earth, and a foul and painful sore came on those who had the mark of the beast and who worshipped its image.
The second angel poured his bowl into the sea, and it became like the blood of a corpse, and every living thing in the sea died.
The third angel poured his bowl into the rivers and the springs of water, and they became blood. And I heard the angel of the waters say,
‘You are just, O Holy One, who are and were,
for you have judged these things;
because they shed the blood of saints and prophets,
you have given them blood to drink.
It is what they deserve!’
And I heard the altar respond,
‘Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty,
your judgements are true and just!’
The fourth angel poured his bowl on the sun, and it was allowed to scorch people with fire; they were scorched by the fierce heat, but they cursed the name of God, who had authority over these plagues, and they did not repent and give him glory.
The fifth angel poured his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness; people gnawed their tongues in agony, and cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and sores, and they did not repent of their deeds.
The Bible is full of sticks and carrots, of warnings of Gods anger and wrath, and of consolation and encouragement. The passage from Revelation does get more punitive! The first five of the seven bowls of Gods Wrath. Painful sores, bloody seas, bloody rivers, scorching heat, pain and more sores. I darnt even look at the last two bowls.
There are of course at least two ways of looking at this. Literally the pain people are enduring in these passages is explicitly because they did not repent of their deeds. We do wrong in the sight of God we fail to repent and we are punished for it. This of course sits somewhat uneasily with the ethos of Christ as the loving forgiving son of God and our saviour. For me I believe it is important in the parable of the prodigal son that the father started the celebrations before the son had even arrived and he had heard his confession, and that Christ said to the woman caught in adultery “ I don’t condemn you” before he said, “Go and sin no more”.
Perhaps a different approach to this, for which perspective Im grateful to a fellow All Hallowite Toby Parsons from a recent sermon, is to view the bowls of Gods wrath as possibly representing some of the pain and suffering we are inviting on ourselves by our failure to respect creation and each other. The “foul and painful sores” representing infectious diseases that emerge and proliferate due to our degradation of Gods creation and failure to address global poverty. The seas and rivers of blood are a symbol of our pollution of this earth and the fierce heat a terribly accurate prophesy of the effects of global warming from our addiction to fossil fuels and habitat destruction.
So we are bad people and deserve the stick!
But in our Isaiah reading comes consolation and comfort. God says. “those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” These are wonderful and reassuring words, aimed at encouraging the exhiled people of Israel seeking a return from Babylon. But they echo down through the ages. I image the strength that comes from God, like the lift that comes from watching the white tailed sea eagles in western Scotland soar.
There are carrots and sticks aplenty in the bible. The sticks are really of our own making. But the carrots taste divine!