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, rightly or wrongly, 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. They have for me.

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.

Their is a strong 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.

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