Thursday, February 20, 2014

One More Comment From the Edge

OK. It's obvious that if I continue to stand up for what I consider to be a valid viewpoint, that is that God can and does experience what we perceive as anger or wrath, that I am in danger of imbalance. God is love. His anger is, or would be, a merely situational thing. It's not a default. It's not a part of his nature. Yes, I've been arguing that any righteous being with the capacity for emotion will also be angry when presented with evil or wrong. But I would be doing God a disservice if I left everyone with the impression that that is what God is all the time. His declaration of his name, given to Moses on the mountain (and I do take the whole passage to be his name) compares maintaining love and forgiveness to a thousand generations with pursuing the guilt to a mere third or fourth generation. It's a ratio I should be observing to stay balanced -- a thousand words (posts?) about love to 3 or 4 about wrath.

In fact I was going to do just that. A comment on my last post, I thought very good (do go back and read it) was about the needlessness of God's wrath based on the order of magnitude difference between what he is and what we are. I'm not even going to disagree with it. I was going to repost it here and then the same commenter elsewhere posted this. It's a litany of what the article calls 'Dick Moves' committed by God in the Old Testament. I assume that the aforementioned phrase implies senseless arrogance and stupid maliciousness. So I've just got to put up my hand and say hang on a minute, before I leave behind the whole subject of 'wrath.' I have two things to say about this.

1) The people who wrote those things were proud of God for doing them. It meant a great deal to them that God would, unlike any god around them, step in and punish and stop evil.
2) Unlike today the world used to intuit that there were things that were worse than death. In fact many, many things topped the list before it. Things like (dare I say it?) blasphemy. Our 'death is the worst thing' ideal informs so much of this offence we have when we read the Old Testament. Do I agree with the past on this? I don't know. But I'm very shy about calling the O.T. stories (blech!) 'Dick Moves.'

Someone commented on my post about the continuing war between adult and child in me and said that even my intellectual pursuits had a childlike element to them. So here's my childlike response. I don't have the same view of inspiration in the Bible as many evangelicals do. That's obvious from my previous posts. But I do feel a kinship with the writers of the Bible. David, Moses, Paul, etc. are my family members. If I disagree with them, I disagree with what they say. But I'm not going to let them be called dupes. At the very least not without a rebuttal. And I've realized that's what I see in whole-hog attempts to reclassify the 'wrath' events in the Old Testament as either not actually God or mis-perceptions of God and my response to those attempts. It's all about family. These are my people and they're not stupid.

Addendum: After some processing of that comment about God never actually needing to be angry because of the difference between us, I realized that if he is angry with us, he is marking us out as peers, that is, his expectations of us are actually akin to the expectations he has of himself. It could be an evidence for "you have made him a little lower than God" as found somewhere in the Psalms.

But so much of my writing is in reaction to something else. And that fact has taken me to the edge on this one. Admitting that, hopefully I can inch my way away from it.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Jesus vs. the Wrathless God

I had a recent discussion on Facebook that has made me think harder about something than I have for quite a while. I've made related posts about this in the past but it seems I should take this one head on. A friend of mine has been on a quest to exonerate God of ever having what the Bible calls wrath. His argument seems to be as follows.
  1. Wrath, anger, etc. are dark, evil emotions and the idea that God would ever experience them conflicts with the premise that God is light and in him is no darkness at all -- here he borrows a quote from an Archbishop of Canterbury who says that God is Christlike and in him is no un-Christlike-ness at all.
  2. The ultimate revelation about God's true character comes in the Gospels from our encounters with Jesus there --  culminating in the Cross and because we can see no wrath there, only mercy, wrath is not part of God at all. 
  3. Any other data about this in the Bible is suspect because the writer had never encountered Jesus and even in the New Testament the rest of the books have to be seen through the lens of the Gospels.
  4. When the Bible refers to wrath, it's really a metaphor for God backing off his protection and allowing us to experience the consequences of our actions, and hence, he's not doing it to us -- we're doing it to ourselves.
And the thing is, I'm really tracking very close to all of this. This is generally the way I read the Bible too. The Gospels are the proper lens through which to view the rest of the Bible. If you're a long time reader you might remember that I've posted a rant much earlier on about how the completely arbitrary published order of the New Testament ostensibly gives Paul the last word over Jesus on so many issues.

So where is my problem? Mostly with 1) and 4). I think that to not allow for this aspect of God's character is to lessen his personhood. Wrath, anger, etc. are not intrinsically evil. Any and all righteous beings, if they have any emotions at all, ought to and ought to be allowed to disapprove of evil on an emotional level. That seems a limp-wristed  definition of wrath, but really, everything else is a matter of degree and perception. Presumably greater evil would evoke a greater response. Certain situations (say, being called to account) will amplify the perception of wrath. Secondly even if the wrath talked about outside of the Gospels was not clearly perceived by the writer, something was perceived. It can't be negated into a metaphor or written off as a complete mistake. I also feel that the whole discussion has an 'our time' feel to it, that it never would have occurred to earlier cultures, especially the culture of the times of the Bible's actual writing, to raise these issues. (But I've touched upon that elsewhere)

Another thing that has to be said is that we're all really on the very same side. We're even accepting the same task. Those who want to see God exonerated of all wrath are defending his character by saying that with wrath, he has a defective personality. I'm defending his character by saying that without wrath he doesn't even have a personality.

But, accepting the standard of the Gospels as the lens through which all else is understood, my task is clear. I have to find wrath in the Gospels. Maybe I have made things too easy for myself by defining wrath as disapproval on an emotional level, but really what else is there? I freely admit that the wrath of fallen humanity is tainted with evil, so if God and/or God in Jesus experiences righteous anger, it's going to be different at so many levels than our experience of even what we call righteous anger. Emotions-based disapproval might be the only commonality, so that is what I am looking for. So sternness, severity, anger are fair game as candidates for wrath because all are perceived the same by those on the receiving end. It could be that wrath is qualitatively different, and I'm just not understanding that aspect of the argument, but for purposes of this post I will shelve that idea and anyway, I haven't heard anyone say anything like that. Excuse me for a bit...

(passage of time while the 'Pilgrim' skims through the Gospels -- "talk amongst yourselves?")

So here's the most significant thing I've found. (I avoided the Cleansing of the Temple because that's gotten to be a cliche. "Jesus got angry and so can I.") What caught my attention was the parables. The 'God' figures in several of the parables express wrath fairly clearly. Some actually are said to be angry and acting in anger, and some, as evidenced by their words, are merely severe. And I think it's more, not less significant that these moments of wrath are in the parables. Thing is, parables are stories. The "master", the "king", the "wedding host" getting angry at evildoers rounds out the story because that makes the story more plausible, more understandable, more right. So back to our story. Doesn't it make sense that if we sin, we suffer his extreme displeasure? Is that not wrath in some form? And does wrath not round out our story too?

One last little note about 4). A near as I can guess, it's not a solution at all. It's time-shifting to beg the question away altogether. Consequences come to us for our actions because that is the way the world was made from the beginning. By whom? Um, God. It seems God designed the cosmos with consequences in mind -- the punishment for evil is built right in. And who removes his hand of protection? Um, God. So it's really moot. At the recipients end, the difference between wrathful punishment or impassive non-protection are really not distinguishable. Metaphor? I think not. The story makes more sense, if God, having a legitimate reason to be angry, actually is.

And having allowed God the prerogative of just anger, I am even more thankful that "he will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever..." (oops, that was from the Psalms, not the Gospels-- maybe the Psalmist should have said, "we won't experience this metaphor forever?")

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

What Would You Do?

I have a more intellectual post waiting in the wings, but I am compelled to write this first. Earlier on in this pilgrimage, I wrote about the war in me between that which childlike and full of wonder and that which is more grown up and concerned with cold, hard realities, etc. Click on the link 'war' and read. I promise it's a short post.

This past year has been the year of the grown up. A year ago I left the church that I had had years of dreams for based on what I perceived as a trend of wrong headed decisions that wasn't going to be reversed in my lifetime. That's a very grown up move and flew right in the face of all the child had invested. Consequently the war has been in very great danger of being over. And the child might soon completely dead.

A couple of days ago while at home group, (house church, cell group, or whatever you want to call it) an inkling came to me that God might want to revive the child. "If you ask me, I'll give it back..." He was talking about life and passion, maybe even power. The child.

I won't insult your intelligence by laying out all that I risk by asking. Dreaming again will be as uncertain as an abyss. What glories or pains await me if I jump? It's not knowable till I do. I'll just ask this. What would you do?