Friday, May 27, 2011

Wrath or Love?

The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually.  And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.  So the Lord said, "I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created.    -- Gen. 6:5-7

Yesterday, I was watching the news reports on the devastating tornadoes in the Midwest.  I recalled the recent disastrous floods along the Mississippi River Valley.  And last night someone mentioned the flooding concerns from the snow melt in Montana.  There have been so many natural disasters lately, one after another.  I was thinking about how various church leaders claim that when this happens, God is punishing people.  Last year after the terrible earthquake, someone proclaimed that God was punishing the Haitians.  And this year, after the horrific tsunami, someone proclaimed that God was punishing the Japanese.  Do they also say this when disasters strike Americans?

In the passage above, we have the beginnings of a story in the Bible in which God brings a great flood in order to kill off most of humankind as punishment for their iniquities.  From this story, it seems that God does punish people for their sin in such an earth-shattering way.  But then I recall that at the end of this story, God promises to "never again curse the ground because of humankind, for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done.  As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease." (Gen.8:21-22).  From this conclusion, it seems that God would find a better way to correct his wayward children in the future.

Christians sometimes think that the God of the Old Testament is the God of wrath, and the God of the New Testament is the God of love.  But, the idea of God being wrathful is found throughout the Bible.  This is not just an Old Testament phenomenon.  This characterization continues on into the New Testament in the form of hellfire and damnation in the afterlife.  The idea of God being loving and forgiving is found throughout the Bible, too.  When you read the whole Bible, the Old Testament and the New Testament, you find many examples of the steadfast love of God, and his continual forgiveness.  These two strands are interwoven throughout the whole Bible.

One can take passages from the Bible which show a wrathful God and use them to prove that God will destroy sin with death.  But, one can also take passages from the Bible which show a forgiving God and use them to prove that God will destroy sin with love.  These diverse messages in the Bible give evidence that men have been trying to understand the world around them and the role of God in their world for a very long time.  Christians are not alone in making this distinction.

I read today in "Jesus, the Word, and the Way of the Cross," by Mark W. Thomsen:  "Many contemporaries of Jesus saw poverty, tragedy, and disease as the judgment of God.  Many Christian's see God's wrath in every death, failure, and disease.  Much Muslim theology (and also Christian-fundamentalism) emphasizes that obedience to Allah (or God) brings success in life.  Most Buddhists believe that our present lives whether marked by happiness or horrendous pain, are the direct consequences of our own previous actions through an external law designated Karma....  Jesus rejects all these theological myths that enable the rich and powerful to deal with the poor and diseased with contempt." (pg.16)

Jesus turned this way of thinking about God completely upside down.  He showed people that God loves all his children equally -- Jew, Gentile, Samaritan, slave, freeborn, male, and female.  God is like the Father of the Prodigal Son, and is like the Shepherd seeking the lost sheep, and is like the Woman looking for the lost coin.   The sinner is sought by God with great desire and compassion, not damned to destruction.  In his debates with the Pharisees, Jesus describes God as a loving Father who values humanity above all else.  The only ones who are separated from this loving God are the ones who have no compassion for their fellow human beings.  And even then, God seeks by every means possible to change their hearts.

Dear God, your are a mystery to us, try as we might to understand the world you have created.  But when I am in doubt, may I look to your Beloved Son, your word made flesh, and the perfect conduit of your message and will on earth, to lead me along the right path.  Love always, Pam

1 comment:

Stephanie said...

Dear Pam,
I have always believed the description of God that Jesus provided... He is like the Father of the Prodigal Son. The alternative is heartbreaking, because then there is no unconditional love. Yet I know that to be false as unconditional love is something I'm fortunate enough to feel everyday.

I wonder about punishment sometimes. Is it just for the guilty? If one feels no guilt in their actions, if there is no fault? If they are forgiven, do they need to still be punished? I wonder sometimes if those that feel they are punished by God, are battling with their guilt and want to be punished as a way to have closure so they may find a path to forgive themselves.

What reason could there be for natural disasters? When a tornato hits a spot of land and uproots trees or takes the lives of animals, should we think that God is punishing those flora and fauna? I know there are quotes in the Bible that would support God's love for all his creations and even some that would seem to suggest God loves man the most. Though I believe that God does not apply levels to his love and loves all equally, unconditionally, all things. So then, He must love the wind, the cause of this distruction. He must allow it to move freely, acting without intent, but just being as it was created, and sometimes distroying, just as He allows us to move freely.

Pam, you mention compassion. And certainly, when disasters hit, humans have an opportunity to act with compassion. We do have a knowledge of good, which is probably why we search so often for the evil. I think that the evil is not in the disaster, but in the lack of compassion, the pain and the suffering that gets tuned out. We need to care for each other, we need to show our love.

Peace be with you. Stephanie.