Friday, September 30, 2016

Is God "Primarily Angry"? (6) - Conclusion (and the answer is "No")



This is the 6th and final post in a series centered around the question of "Is God primarily angry?"

Previous posts are here:
Is God "Primarily Angry" (1)
Is God "Primarily Angry" (2) - Defining Our Terms
Is God "Primarily Angry" (3) - Trinity
Is God "Primarily Angry" (4) - Cross
Is God "Primarily Angry" (5) - Eschatology

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"Is God primarily angry?"

That was the question posed in a sermon several months ago.

Initially, my intent in writing this series of posts was to simply address the fact that people often believe God to be "primarily angry" because the God that they are presented with from a variety of sources and in a variety of ways is, in fact, "primarily angry".  That's all in my prior posts, though, and I don't want to rehash it all here.  But this series turned into a good deal more for me, and for that I'm grateful.

So after a good deal of rambling in these 5 posts over the course of several months, how shall I conclude?

Perhaps I'll return to the beginning.  As I stated in an earlier post, we live in a semantic universe.    What do we mean by the term "primarily angry"?

Does the term "primarily" suggest that God has "parts" and that we're attempting to identify which of these parts is the more fundamental?  Does "primarily" expose a sort of tension that our theology demands within the heart of God?  Are certain traits at war with one another?  A tension between love and justice?  A god whose mercy and righteousness war for the right to be "primary"?

What do we mean by "anger"?  Is divine anger in the interest and for the good of the object of anger (think discipline) or in the interest and for the satisfaction of the offended party aka God (think retribution as an end in and of itself?)  These aren't the same thing after all.  And I think people frequently defend God's anger using the former, but effectively mean the latter.

Now all that said, I absolutely love the way that the question (a loaded question for sure) was posed to the congregation and it inspired me to wrestle with it for myself.  After all, the semantics cannot obscure that the question itself is fairly easy to apprehend at first glance.  It does it's job.  Do I believe deep down that God looks at me with anger or disappointment at my behavior, lack of faith and gratitude?  Is God impossible to please?  Does God love reluctantly and through gritted teeth?  Do I use the word "love" but actually mean something else?  Something more sinister?  Something that isn't consistent with "love" at all?

The way that the question was phrased reveals our propensity to perceive a sort of tension within the heart of God - justice vs. mercy, love vs. holiness, etc.  And we need to get on God's good side.  Where does this come from?  And why does it so stubbornly persist?  Is it true?

There is a lot that I might have said but didn't.  I didn't mention Biblical violence (Old Testament genocide) at all.  I didn't mention personal experience at all - that sense that "God is out to get me" after going through a rough stretch of loss and pain.  This is completely legitimate and I have great sympathy for it.  I suppose that I chose not to address it here because there are many people who believe in an angry God even if things are going well.

I've argued that, in our time and place, common theological understandings of eschatology and atonement reinforce and even require a "primarily angry God".  Our anxiety that God is primarily angry comes from them and not in spite of them.  This isn't isolated to the theologically minded.  I think all Christians, right or wrong, have a basic idea of "why Jesus had to die" even if it isn't wrapped up in fancy language.  And these things may work deep below the surface in the heart and mind of the individual and be so integrated within the ethos of a faith community as to go virtually unnoticed, but I believe such things whisper to us.  They shape how we formulate our conceptions of the nature of divine love, anger, forgiveness, and our own worth.

One sees a "primarily angry God" emerge because they do believe what they're told, not because they don't.  Returning to my post on eschatology, for example, how could a person be told that "Revelation is the worst book ever written if you're not on God's side" and not consider if God might be primarily angry.

So what matters to me, in the end, is not whether we assert that "God is not primarily angry".  It's whether the underlying theology supports such an assertion.  And I don't mean "theology" in an look-at-me-I'm-a-smarty-pants-theologian way, but in the practical truth that everyone thinks about God, whether they do it with fancy language or not.  Whether God is "primarily angry" is bound up with the answers to many other questions - of that I am sure - and the relevant questions matter to us regular people.

I am thoroughly convinced that an "angry God" is the natural result of (some of) our theology, and so we must either (1)discard that theology that causes it or (2)discard the notion of a God who is not "primarily angry".  I suppose that sentence is the summary of everything that I was hoping to say in this series.

We must defy the temptation to avoid the cognitive dissonance that this creates.  I hate cognitive dissonance.  I really do.  But the place of seeking and wrestling with these questions is the place where the soul reaches for God, and so I'm less and less afraid to wrestle even though it's lonely and it hurts.  The journey of faith requires it, even if the wrestling leaves me limping like Jacob.

I conclude with a quote from Thomas Merton:

For the world and time are the dance of the Lord in emptiness. The silence of the spheres is the music of a wedding feast. The more we persist in misunderstanding the phenomena of life, the more we analyze them out into strange finalities and complex purposes of our own, the more we involve ourselves in sadness, absurdity and despair. But it does not matter much, because no despair of ours can alter the reality of things, or stain the joy of the cosmic dance which is always there. Indeed, we are in the midst of it, and it is in the midst of us, for it beats in our very blood, whether we want it to or not. Yet the fact remains that we are invited to forget ourselves on purpose, cast our awful solemnity to the winds and join in the general dance.

Let us hope and believe that God is eternally good and loving and greater than all our thoughts about Him.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

On Existential Efficiency


Don't use tough love when gentle love will do.
Don't use wrath when kindness will do.
Don't make enemies when friends will do.
Don't berate when encouragement will do.
Don't take when giving will do.
Don't buy more when what you have will do.
Don't speak when silence will do.
Don't move quickly when slow will do.
Don't hold grudges when forgiving will do.
Don't use three words when two will do.
Don't curse when a blessing will do.
Don't imprison when freedom will do.
Don't detach when the moment will do.
Don't run away when your presence will do.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Is God "Primarily Angry"? (5) - Eschatology


This is the 5th in a series of posts centered around the question of "Is God primarily angry?".

The 4 previous posts are here:
Is God "Primarily Angry" (1)
Is God "Primarily Angry" (2) - Defining Our Terms
Is God "Primarily Angry" (3) - Trinity
Is God "Primarily Angry" (4) - Cross

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Throughout this series of posts, I've argued that those of us who do struggle with the idea of an angry God do so largely because of what we're told about God, not in spite of what we're told.

Some might think that the above distinction is just a matter of semantics....told vs. not told.  What we are told, after all, is necessarily an absence of something else being told.  I hope that this post will help to clarify what I mean.

This post (the 5th in a "series" that has been dragging on for far too long) is about eschatology, or the completion, purpose, and end of things.  It's a wide ranging and controversial topic.  I've been trying to to find a way to take a ton of thoughts and condense it into a post of reasonable length but just haven't been able to do it.

But suffice it to say, like the cross (atonement theology), eschatology is often ground zero for "angry God theology".  It's the fertile soil, maybe THE MOST fertile soil in which it grows and flourishes.  And I'd simply like to demonstrate an example of that in this post.

First though, one must recognize that eschatological thinking can't be dismissed outright as an irrelevant endeavor whose most zealous participants are a weird and freaky circus of dispensationalist hermits mining sacred texts for a road map of the future.  That is not eschatology.

Where is creation going?  What is the destiny of creation?  When the veil is pulled back, what do we see?  To the degree that we dare speak of the unknowable, what do we say?

These are eschatological questions.

As David Bentley Hart says,
"In the end of all things is their beginning, and only from the perspective of the end can one know what they are, why they have been made, and who the God is who has called them forth from nothingness."
Who is this God who creates, who brings forth something from nothing?  Eschatology is inseparable from this question, and this question transcends time.  To put it simply, eschatology matters for the now.  It creates a vision of the sort of world that is possible, the sort of world that lasts and triumphs because it's in harmony with the life of the One who created it.

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The Biblical book of Revelation is often one of THE primary sources for this eschatological conversation.  And so we come to it - the content of a recent sermon at Lifespring:
"I want to demystify something right now.  The book of Revelation is not some weird thing that you should stay away from.  It is a book of victory.  It is the summation of all of the rest of the Bible.  It is the stamp that closes it and says "this is done".  It is done."
Pause here.

Importantly, this says nothing about HOW to interpret the book of Revelation.  That is NOT the point here.  But note the build up and significance being created.  It is a "book of victory".  So what is the nature of this victory?  It is the "summation of all of the rest of the Bible" and "the stamp that closes it".  So how does it end??

And so the sermon continues.
"It is done.  It's a book of victory.....unless.....you know......well, put it this way.  It's either a book of victory if you're on God's side or it's the worst book ever written if you're not."
In the audio version of the sermon you can actually here the "chuckle chuckle" of the congregation.  Perhaps it's an uncomfortable chuckle.  Perhaps not.  In any case, it's a knowing chuckle.  A chuckle of familiarity.

The exact details may differ, but we all know what's being said here, right?

"The worst book ever written".  That is presented as "the summation of all of the rest of the Bible" and "the stamp that closes it".  Never mind that we recently sang "Mercy, mercy, as endless as the sea".  We didn't mean it.

And so concludes the tragic and dualistic story of creation, the end to which we are inevitably hurdling.  That is the revelation of the God who has called us forth from nothingness.

Think this doesn't have an impact on how a person sees God?  Sees themselves?  It might create an evangelical "urgency", sure.  But an urgency derived from what?

I want to be clear that I'm not trying to pick on my church.  I just want to note the depth to which an angry God permeates our thinking and is intertwined with a great many things that we say about God.

Can we really have this sort of an eschatological vision and say with a straight face that God isn't "primarily angry"?  

No, ultimately this vision requires an angry God.

Continue to part 5 - Conclusion

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