There’s things I keep being told about God that break my heart. I can hear them reverberate through my brain right now, voices that, almost hauntingly, make my stomach sink. “God is a God of wrath.” “How long, Lord, will you be angry forever?” Laments the Psalmist. “Where will you spend eternity- in Heaven or Hell? The day of judgment draws near!” shouts the billboard of 1-95 southbound. Here’s 60 more of those.
I get that we disappoint God and ourselves when we hurt one another. When we are selfish. When we forget about the poor and the vulnerable. When we miss the point completely, in all of our arguing and fighting instead of our loving and reconciling. I get that God is out there, somewhere, longing for us to get to know the one who knitted us in the womb.
But why is he portrayed as being so full of anger? Why does he hate our sin so much that he believes we should die for the time when we flipped off the …idiot… driver behind us? Why did he want baby birds or baby cows to die in order to assuage him into forgiving the sins of the Old Testament?
The American Psychological Association classifies anger into two dichotomies: constructive and destructive. Destroying an entire planet except for a dude, his family, some animals, and a boat would fall on the latter end of the anger spectrum. Inciting war? Also destructive. Completely rejecting an entire country? (Psalm 78:59) Destructive. Getting angry over injustice, over what Bono calls “stupid poverty” (preventable poverty, made possible through 30 cent mosquito nets that can literally save millions from malaria), over children being sold into sex slavery, over racism, over sexism, over homophobia, over unfair labor wages, over privilege, over entitlement, over hoarding riches instead of giving freely? Now that’s something worth getting fired up about.
I don’t know why, if our God is love, I’ve heard so much about God’s anger during the course of my Christian development. If you were to be describing a person using the vitriolic language I’ve heard used to describe God’s wrath, anger, and violence, I would be so afraid of this God that I wouldn’t want to show my face- I’d be hiding for shelter all day long, too scared to come out. But, oh, it’s not a person; it’s God. Why is it ok for God to do these things? Because God is who God is and God gets what God wants?
Isn’t there something better that our faith offers?
Isn’t there something more beautiful than wrath and anger and destruction? Getting angry and screaming? That’s easy. But I don’t imagine that a God who created the entire world, including everything, and everyone in it, takes the easy way out. I believe this God patiently wipes our tears after we apologize. I believe this God gives a look similar to the look my dad would give us kids when we did something wrong: We didn’t need to be spanked, or grounded, or punished (though sometimes we were). All Dad had to do was give us “the look” and my brother and I knew at once that we instantly disappointed the very person we love and respect so much. That’s enough for me to feel remorse and regret for my actions. And it was enough for my dad to express his disappointment without destroying me, killing me, or hurting me. And together, we’d have some heart to heart connection after the apologies have been said and the embraces, embraced. And none of that would have ever occurred if we justified our yelling, our destruction, our violence, our rage.
Perhaps the love I experience in those exchanges with my dad is the joy Jesus alludes to when he says, “blessed are the peacemakers.” There is a gravity inside my heart that longs for God’s heavenly embrace when I’m scared, confused, and alone. It feels like an innate instinct. I think it’s because my heart and mind and soul know that I can trust this refuge, know that I am always welcome back in this Everlasting God’s arms. It must be. Because if my heart and mind and soul didn’t taste of this, and tasted the later- the burning anger, the fiery brimstone, it would protect me from it. For surely, I would die.
I don’t know.
All of this just hurts my heart.
The things I hear youth being told at conferences and conventions and camps about God and how we are detestable in his sight, but luckily, he’ll accept us because instead of making us die, He made some other man die because God loves blood as a means of forgiveness.
It causes me to wonder how we really view God.
If we really see him as so wrathful, how does that impact our relationship with him? Our trust of this God? Our fear of this God? Is this why people are so afraid to propose anything about salvation different from “believe or burn?” Because the God they know is angry and will send people there; no more second, or third, or ninety-nineth chance? What if the “unbeliever” walks gingerly into his or her first few moments of death and experiences a blinding light, struck by the beauty of the God he or she has spent their whole life ignoring, only to realize this wasn’t the God they were intending to ignore. They wanted to ignore the little gods of hatred, bigotry, and shame. But instead they realized that those gods didn’t exist; at least not in celestial form. The only God that exists is the one who loved them from the start, before the start and now it’s nothing but two long lost lovers in an airport, embracing, making up for lost time, lost connection, and renewed relationship.
All of this makes me wonder, What are we telling our kids about this God? How does this impact their development into adulthood?
I can’t explain away the parts of the Old Testament (and New) that describe God in such violent ways. I think there’s allegory and metaphor, and maybe, just maybe, God didn’t actually write in this book about how much he hates people who don’t worship him, people who perhaps don’t worship him because they’re scared of the God they’ve been presented with.
If Jesus told us to love our enemies, is it not plausible that God and Jesus actually practice what they preach and love people who are too afraid to love him? Even the people who don’t believe in Him/Her because they think S/He stands for ignorance and hatred?
I’m seriously not trying to be divisive here. My heart just hurts from conversation after conversation of trite remarks about God’s wrath without ever considering that perhaps certain voices in Evangelicism have blown God’s anger out of proportion. When I read this book, when I live each day, when I experience grace and mercy and forgiveness, when I experience the divine connection to God in prayer, when I see the beautiful sky at night, I’m convinced so deeply that we do indeed worship a God that I can confidently call “love.” It feels so good to exhale and shed one more layer off of an asphyxia-causing noose, a layer of dogma I’ve heard about God but never experienced- a God who is more concerned about our sin that the imago dei he placed inside of us.