Friday, October 14, 2011

Of wagging fingers and the personality of God

You will know from a couple of months ago that I have been waging a small battle with unnamed forces who would cast our God in the image of the Old Testament angry vengeful figure who wreaks havoc on citizens, on Kings and Queens, and on whole nations for their sinfulness.

To be sure that Old Testament language is powerful and compelling. It occurs over and over. We heard it when we (well, the slightly older generation, anyhow) were growing up, and we saw it in our art. Wow, was he - or she, no, always he - ever mad! Fire in the eyes. Lightning bolts in the hands. Meant to scare the bejabers out of us. And it did. And many people today love that stuff. Anger and fear, what great motivators, I guess.

Except they could not be more wrong when it comes to the God of Israel, the God of Jesus, the God of Peter, the God of the death and Resurrection. Are you ready? God loves Paul Bernardo. God loves Clifford Olsen. God loves, are you ready again? Adolf H.

"God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God." (1 John 4:16)

There is the point. The one who does NOT abide in love - love for God, love for God's people - is in for such devastation, self-induced devastation especially in the form of loneliness, isolation, alienation, that we cry out for images to express it. The Old Testament image was of the angry warrior God. Served its purpose in a warrior culture. Needs to be brought into better perspective, a perspective given us by the Good News. Oh yes Jesus talks about people being thrown out into the darkness, imagery his contemporaries would have understood, but he told the parable of the Prodigal Son too. Fr. Eric Jensen says that all the parables of Jesus need to be seen through the lens of that one. And if you read that parable you see that it is the elder son who represents the angry personality, not the father.

"God is love....." The thing is, God holds us to our word if we turn away from him. No need for lightning bolts. We bring the devastation on ourselves. It is built in. But the love is not, repeat not, withdrawn. It is waiting in exactly the same way it was waiting for the prodigal son. But it will never be imposed.

So here is where I find an article in the Toronto Star on October 3, 2011, interesting. Rabbi Dow Marmur quotes writer David Brooks as saying that today's people are "more than ever led to believe that the free-floating individual is the essential moral unit." Great observation. Rabbi Marmur goes on to say " "We find it very difficult to see reality other than through the lens of our personal needs and aspirations. We want clergy to applaud, not castigate us. We distance ourselves from traditional religion when we perceive it to wag accusing fingers at us......... Morality was once revealed, inherited and shared, but now it's thought of as something that emerges in the privacy of your own heart. "

Beautifully put. What catches my imagination here is that this is today's 'violence' if you will, at the hands of God. Nobody will listen - nor should they - if you tell them that God burned down their house as punishment for their sins. But they should take notice of the wagging finger. It is the finger of the parent punching the air to make a point. It is the finger of the teacher raising the voice to get our attention. It is the wagging finger of - no, not punishment, anger or retribution. It is the wagging finger of someone who loves you so much that they want to get your attention and say, hey it's over here! I have Good News for you!

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