Sunday, March 6, 2016

The Wrath Of God & The Bible, 3 Options? (Michael Hardin)

The following excerpt is taken from What the Facebook? by Michael Hardin, a compilation of roughly a year of Facebook posts.

The content of this post cuts right to the heart of many of the issues that I've been wrestling with over the last few years as it relates to the Bible, wrath, and the very nature of God and the Gospel.

What IS the Bible?
How far do we take "God is love" as an interpretive axiom?
In the end, is the ONLY way to be done with the "angry alcoholic in the sky" to extract the Bible from the umbrella of verbal plenary inspiration and infallibility?  Is this, then, to confirm that a "plain reading" DOES reveal a God who's wrath is ultimately just as axiomatic as love, as I often suspect?
And on, and on.

What I Believe (4) Aug 19 

Yesterday one of my FB friends from Melbourne asked me a question. She said, “The biggest problem I have is the one everyone has OT God can be the least loving thing imaginable, and yet the most loving at times also. NT God (as shown in Jesus) is nothing but loving. Jesus lost his temper pretty badly (only once that is recorded, granted), but frequently showed signs of frustration and what I'd call mild anger at the disciples and some of the crowd. I often wonder if there isn't a bit of 'selective editing' going on in the NT stuff to play down the anger side of Jesus (and hence, of God) or if the 'angry God' of the OT still exists but we chose to ignore him?”

The concept of the wrath of God is so deeply embedded in us that to understand what the Bible is doing with the concept can be difficult. Basically there are three positions one can take.

1. The texts that speak of God’s wrath or anger are literally true. God gets angry at sin, unrighteousness, idolatry, injustice and any number of other things. Heck, God gets angry if the ark of the covenant tips over and you try to help out! In this view, wrath is an attribute of God. This understands wrath as an affectus of God.

2. Texts that speak of the wrath of God are to be interpreted in the light of an emerging dissociation of the affective view (#1) and see wrath as an effect: God allows us to go our own way and suffer the consequences of our actions. This view uses Romans 1:18- 32 which begins by saying ‘the wrath of God is revealed from heaven’ and three times uses the verb ‘to give over’ with regard to the consequences of sin. Wrath in this view is not so much anger as it is resignation.

3. Both views #1 and #2 are grounded in a view of the Bible’s infallibility. However, if one is willing to come to the Bible critically, one can understand texts about God’s wrath as projections. That is, these texts are not really about God but instead reflect Israel’s and the church’s inability to break free from pagan notions of God’s wrath.

At one time or another, I have held all three views. I began at #1, moved to #2 in seminary and then have since moved to #3. My Melbourne friend is right to notice that there are two seeming contradictory trajectories in the Jewish Scriptures, sometimes God is like an angry alcoholic in the sky, at other times God is like a gentle grandmother. When these views are put together they create what I call a Janus- faced (or two- faced view of God), and this way of conceiving God has been the heritage of Christianity even going back into certain New Testament churches and documents.

When the early church sought to understand the character of God in the light of the revelation of Jesus what they produced was the doctrine of the Trinity. It took several hundred years for this to fully emerge and even then, there were splits, some deeper than others. There still remains a split today between the Eastern and Western churches on the Holy Spirit. It has never been completely settled. Today we stand at the cusp of a new Reformation, a time when Christians the world over are rethinking the doctrine of God. Who is this God we worship? How shall we understand God’s character? Is God like Jesus? What is the relation of Jesus to God? What is the relation of the various traditions about God in the Jewish Scriptures to the One Jesus called Abba? If I John says “God is Love” how does this statement play out in our thinking as an interpretive axiom? What is the role of the Passion and death of Jesus in the light of God’s love? These and many more questions can be raised.

The Big Hurdle is in the way we understand the issue of the authority and inspiration of Scripture. It is what sets apart view #3 from views #1 and #2. Those who are willing to rethink the Bible (and I don’t mean those who throw the Bible out, whom I call “fundamentalist” progressives), but to do the hard work of rethinking theology within the context of the larger historic Christian tradition, are the ones to whom we can turn fruitfully and find answers to these difficult questions. The fact is that just as the “fundamentalist” position is outdated, psychologically crippling, moldy and no longer intellectually viable, so also those who would throw out the theological baby with the ecclesial bathwater are just as ill informed and ungrateful for the real valuable positive gains that have also been made in Christian life and thought for the past 2000 years. We seek a third way, a genuine intelligent, spiritual, faith oriented, Jesus centered way. I believe this way is manifesting itself all over biblical scholarship and theology these days. I see it in hungry congregations and pastors willing to risk their ministries for the sake of the gospel. I am glad to be part of those who are helping move us into this wonderful new theological space that I believe is being created by the Spirit of Jesus.

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