Dr. Seuss and the Gospel Part 5: Yertle the Turtle and the “Wrath of God”

Dr. Seuss’ book Yertle the Turtle is about a King who rules through violence, oppression, and scapegoating. But the more he builds his kingdom on the backs of his subjects, the more likely his kingdom will come tumbling down into the mud. [Video Below]

What does Yertle the Turtle have to do with the Gospel? In his book, Must There Be Scapegoats, Raymund Schwager discusses St. Paul’s statement about that the “Wrath of God” in Romans 1. The “Wrath of God” isn’t something inherent to God. In fact, wrath is a purely human phenomenon. But God’s “wrath” for Paul has nothing to do with violence. Rather,

According to Paul, God’s anger consists only in the deliverance of humankind to themselves, their desires, passions, and perverse thinking. No external violence plays any further role. God’s wrath is identical with the granting of full respect for the human action that turns against God and leads to complete perversion of personal relationships.

We see the “complete perversion of personal relationships” as Yertle builds him empire on oppression, but his kingdom soon falls. The biblical prophets gave the same message to the ancient kings – if continue to scapegoat the poor, weak, and marginalized, your kingdom will fall. The alternative is to care for those who are marginalized.

Jesus picked up that strand within the prophets and showed that the kingdom of God was based not on oppression and scapegoating, but on caring for the marginalized. Schwager states that this is the new order of human relationships. “Whereas the old social order was founded on the scapegoat mechanism, the new people distinguished themselves by the fact that they no longer needed to compete with one another for supremacy.” This new way of life frees us to live into God’s realm of love and compassion for all people, including our scapegoats.

“The uncovering of the underlying process of violence through the message of boundless love must lead inevitably to a fundamental change in power structures,” writes Schwager. Those in power may experience that change in power structure as the “Wrath of God.” But it isn’t wrath. Rather, it’s God’s loving justice that seeks to heal our relationships with “boundless love.”

For more in the Dr. Seuss and the Gospel Series, see:

Part 1: On Beyond Zebra and the Restoration of all Things

Part 2: The Lorax, the Prophets, and the iPad

Part 3: The Cat in the Hat, Jesus, and Chaos

Part 4: How the Grinch Stole Christmas



2 replies
  1. Jake bosch
    Jake bosch says:

    Stretching growth to something new
    We are all one
    Great and small
    This crazy math were you never get the sum
    And Time and Eternity melt into one
    distractions become a gift
    lamentations become friends to set one on edge
    Human centres crack with a cutting edge
    So grace can finds its revolutionary home

    Learning how to live
    That’s how the light gets in
    Eternity is ordinary and makes the day spectacular

  2. Jake bosch
    Jake bosch says:

    A letter to a friend:

    “It made me question do we define God by our actions or understanding or do we define our actions or understanding by God “.

    Tom your response is a lot to take in. These are your words ( above ) from the last email and they are indeed the tension that we talked about. To stay alive in this discomfort is to navigate the christain life in honesty and vulnerability.

    To resist the temptation to smooth out differences by fixing personal compass settings to what I think is my true north disguises our actions into religious activity turning the human factor to tip towards soft absolutes.

    These are my words to try and digest what you said especially in light of our visit together at Yesterday.

    To hold that tension for as long as it takes is I believe our true witness to our neighbour. Our deep need for surety will always try to edge in in a way to squeeze out the struggle and the pain of lose not to mention your deep question about our actions and our understanding. They will always need to be tested against the death that has been overcome and the lion eating with the lamb.

    That spiritual reality will always interrupt our interpretations and our boundaries.

    The questions actually become the gift to unwrap in the tension to be holy as ” I am holy ” and expand the boundaries to Gods faithfulness in our journey to be holy.

    Without resting in this bed of human/divine reality it is to become trapped in in an image of our own making and setting the boundaries were they are safe and reliable for our christan practice.
    And christain practice is never static it is risky business to have conversations with people who do not have the same context of nurture as you do.

    That is the most exciting thing to overcome what others think may be offensive and usually take personally to a new understanding and a fresh activity and discover new categories for being born again. Not easy but Peter did end up eating snake. In other words the Gentiles did have full privilege to becoming new creations. Thank God.

    Tom please forgive me for this one way chat and even my arrogance to help you with your home work but it is like I am sitting across from you at the kitchen table right now.
    Now it’s your turn?
    Ps your story is fascinating. Thank You


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