But in God may be no wrath, as to my sight. For our good lord—endlessly having regard to his own worship and to the profit of all them that shall be saved—with might and right he withstands the demons who out of malice and wickedness busy themselves to counteract and go against God’s will (emphasis added).
Julian’s conviction that there is “no wrath” in God is a powerful theme that she will develop throughout her text. For Julian, this revelation was a colossal breakthrough. She had grown up hearing preachers threaten that the wrath of God would send a person to hell for a curse. The Old English word wrath connotes intense anger and moral indignation. Wrath was also a biblical metaphor used to express divine hatred of sin. In theological terms, wrathfulness was considered an attribute of God and an expression of divine justice.
However, in recording her visionary experiences, Julian will insist that she never saw the Savior “wrathful.” Jesus Christ, the Son of God, did not stretch out his arms to be crucified, suffer excruciating pain, shed his blood, and die an ignoble death because he was angry. On the contrary, the Son of God hung on the cross in obedience to his Father’s will in order to effect the ultimate salvation of the whole world. Christ did not die to punish us, but to save us from ourselves and the powers of evil. Everything he ever did, he did out of love. If we want to know what divine “wrath” looks like, we have only to contemplate the figure of Christ hanging on the cross, as Julian did. It is the true image of God giving everything to save humanity from itself.
Far from accusing us, Julian sees that our good Lord withstands “with might and right” all the demons that could possibly harm or destroy us. He fights for us against our frailty, our temptations, our bad habits. Even in our sinfulness, he does not condemn us any more than he condemned the woman taken in adultery (Jn 8:1-11) or Peter after his betrayal (Jn 21:15-17). Instead of wrathfulness, the Lord repeatedly offers mercy. He counsels us gently but firmly: “Go your way, and from now on do not sin again” (Jn 8:11). He urges more daring faith, greater hope, and the loving service of our lives.
Julian knew well that “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8). In her theology, she will carry that truth to its fullest implication: God cannot stop loving us because that’s who God is. Unlike the anthropomorphic image of a highly volatile God—loving us when we are obedient, then becoming “wroth” and punishing us when we disobey, then relenting and taking pity on us—Julian’s understanding of divine love is that it is eternally constant; it does not change. It is we humans who are changeable. We accept or reject or simply ignore God’s love. But God never ceases loving and protecting us, even in our misdeeds.
The way we view God is really up to us. If we are open and receptive to divine love and willing to share that love with each other, then we will surely recognize God as the wellspring and fulfillment of every love. If, on the other hand, we fail to love God and each other, if we are unjust, unkind, unforgiving, and unfaithful, eventually we become guilt-ridden. Then what do we do? We get angry with ourselves and project that anger onto God: “God must be angry with me. God is a wrathful God.” What a terrible injustice to God!
It may take a long time for us to outgrow our age-old projections of God as changeable, vindictive, and wrathful. Those of us who were terrified as children by the threat of God’s punishment may still be struggling to do so. Julian’s Revelations will help us. In fact, she sees that Christ scorns Satan’s evil designs on us, utterly deriding their (lack of) power. Christ wants us to do the same. This realization was so liberating for Julian, it made her laugh out loud.
Also I saw our lord scorn his [Satan’s] malice and nought his unmight, and he wills that we do so. For this sight, I laughed mightily, and that made them laugh who were about me, and their laughing was a pleasure to me.
It may be difficult to think of laughing at the overwhelming “malice and might” of evil that we see devastating our world right now. But still, with Julian, we may cling to hope that the Lord is always “at work,” especially in times of war and extreme suffering, persecution, imprisonment, fear, and loneliness. He took it all on himself on the cross and he will transform it all into his glorious resurrection. And ours.
PLEASE NOTE: Translations from the Middle English and excerpts above are from my book, An Explorer’s Guide to Julian of Norwich (IVP Academic Press) © Copyright by Veronica Mary Rolf. Available from the Publisher and Amazon worldwide.