Sunday, February 13, 2011

Is God Angry?


God takes man so seriously that he suffers under the actions of man and can be injured by them. At the heart of the prophetic proclamation there stands the certainty that God is interested in the world to the point of suffering...If God has opened his heart in the covenant with his people, he is injured by disobedience and suffers in the people...His wrath is injured love and therefore a mode of his reaction to men. Love is the source and the basis of the possibility of the wrath of God. The opposite of love is not wrath, but indifference. Indifference towards justice and injustice would be a retreat on the part of God from the covenant...As injured love, the wrath of God is not something that is inflicted, but a divine suffering of evil. It is a sorrow which goes through his opened heart. He suffers in his passion for his people.
Jurgen Moltmann, The Crucified God (1974)

…that we may be gentled into joining You
in the hard and holy work of releasing peace on earth.

Take Our Moments And Our Days (Anabaptist Prayer Book)

Throughout the biblical script, God's anger is directed at humanity in a variety of ways and circumstances. Are we all doomed? Perhaps, especially when some of us consider, firsthand, what it's been like spending a lot of time with anger fathers or coaches. Much of the history of the Christian tradition in North America has understood God's wrath as an inevitable corollary to God's perfection (or justice) especially when contrasted to sinful humanity. We are all just Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God! In this framing narrative, the Angry Coach must punish his imperfect players. And sometimes, perhaps, the Angry Coach sends "acts of God" as warnings. This is exactly how popular Christian pastor and author John Piper explained strange weather patterns during the national Lutheran Denominational meetings on homosexuality in Minnesota a couple of years ago:

The tornado in Minneapolis was a gentle but firm warning to the ELCA and all of us: Turn from the approval of sin. Turn from the promotion of behaviors that lead to destruction. Reaffirm the great Lutheran heritage of allegiance to the truth and authority of Scripture. Turn back from distorting the grace of God into sensuality. Rejoice in the pardon of the cross of Christ and its power to transform left and right wing sinners.

Piper's words are a drastic example, but this logic parallels the widespread "rules of the game" for many Christians. Don't piss off the Coach or he'll bench your ass. Unless, of course, the players have acknowledged the mediator named Jesus who knowingly and willingly accepted the scapegoat role on the cross. This brand of Christianity posits that, since the Referee dies scandalously, we can find eternal safety from Coach's Anger.

However, EasyYolk is part of a minority report of Christian faith that believes that God's Anger desperately needs to be reframed according to the original context of the biblical Script so that we can regain the true sense of who God is and what it means to participate with God in the redemption of the world. To be "Christian" is to be lovingly adopted--through the life, teaching, death and resurrection of God's Messiah Jesus--into God's covenant with Israel. God chose the Jews (and still does) to be a light for the world, modeling God's Will for humanity and all creation. God's love and grace saturate every page of the Hebrew Bible (what Christians call the Old Testament), beckoning Israel to live out God's Torah (the law) on the stage of world history. Humanity is wayward, misguided and filled with anxiety and vengeance. So God is patient, determined to set the world to rights, empowering and equipping a People to woo the rest of the world to freedom, reconciliation and healing.

The significance of Jesus' death was not that it vicariously protects humanity from God's Anger, but that it represents God's greatest act of suffering-with-humanity to date. Real Love is filled with Anger, not indifference, towards the widespread pain, suffering and injustice of the world and, on the cross, God demonstrated a willingness to suffer with the worst that humanity could offer (if YOU made humanity, joined them and were rejected by them, how would YOU feel?). According to Ched Myers and his wife Elaine Enns (Ambassadors of Reconciliation, Volume I), throughout the Bible, God's Wrath is an indicator, not a negation, of Real Love. God is a creator Who hears "the blood of the innocent crying out from the ground" (Genesis 4:10), the constant lamentations of the poor and oppressed (Exodus 3:7; Deut 15:9) and the groans of creation (Isaiah 14:7; Romans 8:19-23). But God refuses the irrationality of wayward humanity, rejecting violence and inaction for Real Gospel Logic: redemptive nonviolence and restorative justice.

It turns out, after all, that God is not the distant, clock-maker god of our Deist American Founding Fathers. God is vulnerable, passionate and in solidarity with us all the way. God feels pain and cries. God is here, penetrating earth with heavenly resonances. And when we experience abandonment and neglect and pain in the specific context of our lives, God reaches out and penetrates the cloud of darkness with surprising joy and comfort...eventually. Jesus' lament on the cross--"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"--was not immediately answered. As Moltmann writes, It is the suffering of God in Christ, rejected and killed in the absence of God, which qualifies Christian faith, as faith, and as something different from the projection of man's desire. The real context of the cross is what gives Christian faith moxie and what separates Reality from her pretenders. It takes courage and determination and authentic solidarity. New life eventually comes and those who pledge allegiance to God's Kingdom commit to embodying a new life of Love, responding to injustice by suffering with victims and calling oppressors to account. All humanity is invited to participate in God's future...now.

The manner is which one understands God's Wrath parallels how one understands the death of Jesus. If you believe that the primary significance of the cross is that it cleanses us vicariously so that we are stamped with "saved" for eternity, then it's all about the status of the individual. But if, on the other hand, you believe that Jesus' death is primarily about what happened to him as a direct result of his obedience to God's Way, then it's all about who God is and what it means to mimic God's Way in the world. It is a confrontational pattern that continues: the irrationality of humanity always wants to crucify God's Gospel Logic. But the Story of Scripture, from beginning to end, is about God's mission to redeem the world through a People who courageously--even to the point of death!--embody Who God is.

2 comments:

  1. Tom, could you please clarify what you mean with scripture the last paragraph regarding the common belief that Jesus' death vicariously stamped us "saved" for eternity versus the belief that God's mission is to redeem the world through us, who embody Who God is?
    Thank you~

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  2. Dr. Anonymous! Scripture is filled with vocation language, starting with Genesis 12 & 15, where Israel is founded to be a blessing for the world. We believe in a biblical reading strategy that takes this Peoplehood with utmost seriousness. To be "saved" means participating with God's People in a commitment to redeem/heal the world. Jesus was significant (and controversial) in 1st century Judaism because his life/teaching/death had the result of inviting Gentiles into God's People without being circumcised or rigid dietary provisions. They were members of God's People by being "in Christ." But the whole point of salvation for these Gentiles was that they were living for Something far bigger than themselves while resting (and working tirelessly) in a fervent HOPE that God would make all things new. Jews, by no means, were excluded from this. Jesus did not do away with the Torah (law) but intensified some of it and shifted some of it and audaciously vetoed some of it. Jesus emphasized the prophetic strand (as opposed to the priestly strand) of Torah interpretation. To participate with God's People was to give priority to the oppressed, the poor, the marginalized, etc. It was about extending mercy and sharing manna. From day one, God had in mind a redemption plan that would be worked out through a People. Jesus embodied God's Will through his life and teachings and this confronted the religious, social and political power agendas. That's why he was murdered.

    You can see that I'm explaining the background of the biblical narrative, as opposed to quoting Scripture. All those Bible verses that some Christians quote referring to personal salvation and eternal life in heaven through Jesus must be understood in the light of Peoplehood and Jesus' mission to extend God's Reign on earth.

    Dr. Anonymous, it may be best to share passages of Scripture with us that you think discount a "vocational" understanding of Christian salvation.

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