Friday, May 11, 2012

Jealous Love: The Tension Between God's Love and Anger

What we believe about God’s nature shapes not only how we relate to him, but how we understand our own identity as his people. This is perhaps why the depiction of God being angry and even wrathful in the Old Testament Prophets is confusing to those trying to reconcile his anger with what Scripture teaches us about his compassionate, loving nature. What many fail to see is the picture that the Old Testament Prophets paint of a God so passionately in love that he is hurt and angry when those he loves reject him. If God were apathetic towards his people and their rejection of Him and his ways, then he could not truly be seen as a God of love. Yet even in his anger God’s desire is always to reconcile his people to himself. God’s nature is not anger; his nature is love that is so strong it is sometimes provoked to anger.
An inability to reconcile God’s love with his anger arises out of misconceptions due to flawed comparisons. Greek philosophy taught that a perfect being could not become hurt or angry with his creation. In the first century, Philo, a Jewish philosopher applied this Stoic understanding to Yahweh God. This same misconception was perpetuated by C.H. Dodd in the twentieth century who explained God’s anger and wrath not as emotions but as metaphors for the consequences of sin. Dodd and others like him picture a God devoid of dignity who, in the name of love, allows his creation to disregard his holiness and sin against him and each other.  This kind of teaching also clearly dismisses Scripture which describes God as having numerous emotional responses including what we may think are negative emotions such as anger and wrath.  God clearly describes himself as an intensely emotional being who of his own will makes himself vulnerable to the actions and attitudes of his people. In the Old Testament God refers to himself as jealous for the faithful love of his people using the Hebrew word qana. Qana describes not only an emotional state, but an emotion which registers physically as the face turning red. This clearly is not a God who is apathetic or who casually overlooks the rebellion of his people.
In modern times misconceptions can arise when a perspective is colored through personal experiences of anger. Human anger is usually retaliation against those who have caused hurt and results in a loss of self-control. However, in Scripture God’s anger is never a result of his loss of self-control, nor is he motivated by vindictiveness. Rather, God’s anger is initiated by his justice and responds to sin with the correct judgment
In order to have the correct perspective on the anger and judgment of God, it is important to see the big picture. First we must understand that “God is love” (I John 4:8) and every action that he takes is rooted in his love nature. Whether he is showing compassion or punishing the wicked; both actions are motivated by love, not anger, hatred or vindictiveness. Secondly, that God can be provoked to anger means that he is not apathetic to injustices perpetrated on his creation. Neither is his judgment eternal, but someday he will completely cleanse the earth of wickedness and establish his Kingdom on the earth where he will rule as the “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end… with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this” (Isaiah 9:6-7).

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Great Cloud of Witnesses (for those of us who have loved ones in heaven)

As a child I was a pioneer, an adventure seeker, an explorer.  My favorite book was Robinson Cruiso and I had a crazy crush on Franz from Swiss Family Robinson.  It was amazing the places my sisters would follow me into – across rivers (irrigation ditches ) and over mountains (the wood pile) and through the vast wilderness. There was an old barn on our property that I shared with my sisters as a clubhouse. Until the day Tara fell through the roof of the lean to and was dangling by her armpits 6 feet from the ground.  Somehow I managed to climb up on something underneath her and rescue her but we were forever banned from that barn afterwards.  By the time we moved from that house there were a dozen other places we were no longer allowed to play because of the traps and trouble we managed to find. Like the field with the neighbor’s bull (it wasn’t so much the bull that was the problem as the manure we managed to drag home on our shoes) and the giant dog house (that really looked like it should be a play house) but was infested with fleas.

I would spend my summer days exploring the fields, woods and meadows behind my house.  Sometimes I would take my little sisters with me but mostly I went alone. I had secret forts and hiding places spread across the mile of farm and woodland behind my house. They were all mine. My Secrets.  My Fortresses. I remember sitting beneath the canopy of the willow tree with the fairies and crawling in the dirt through the cornfield like a soldier on a secret mission.

Then one day I went further than I had ever gone. Clear across to the dirt road that ran parallel to my street.  That’s where I found the cemetery where generations of my family have been laid to rest. I remember wandering the stones that shared my last name and longing to know who they were and what their lives had been like. The grass was so green and the sky so clear, but I could feel the age of the place. I could almost hear the whispers of the hundreds of stories stretched out over the last 150 years of my family’s history. I didn’t know any of the names on the stones then. Now I do. My mother is there, Uncle Fred and my grandparents. Friends are there too. The mother of a boy I went to high school with and the little brother of my childhood friend. I’ve visited that cemetery too often since that day I first discovered it. It still whispers every time I’m there.  Now though I know some of the stories. I know the hope they held for heaven. I know that more than anything else in the world they would want me to know the love of God as they know it now. Looking on his face.

I think they would be proud of me. Of the life I’ve led and the life I’ve laid down for the sake of the Kingdom of God.  Of the adventures I’ve had and the times I gave everything for the sake of discovering what God had next for me.  I guess I’m still a pioneer at heart. But I am not alone. I feel the great cloud of witnesses cheering me on, encouraging me and telling me that it is all worth it in the end. 

Monday, February 27, 2012

Lavished On

"See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!" I John 3:1 (TNIV)

When you think about the love the Father has for you, does it feel lavish?  When you think about being God's kid do you have a warm, secure feeling on the inside?  I know that sometimes we have to choose to believe the truth because its the truth whether we feel anything or not.  But how can you really believe you're loved, if you've never experienced being loved?

That's why Paul's prayer for the Ephesians (the church who had everything going for it) was, "I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord's people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know (by experience*) this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." Ephesians 3:17-19 (TNIV) 

For a long time now I've been mesmerized by the thought of being "filled to the measure of all the fullness of God."  What must that be like?  It must be possible if Paul is praying it for the Ephesians.  But it's not possible by any other means then growing in our experience of God's love.  You can't behave well enough, pray enough, go to church enough, give enough money or serve enough.

So maybe we can help each other grow in our experience of God's love by sharing how it is that you experience the love of the Father.  Somehow God's brought me to a place where all I have to do is think about him or read a bible verse about his love or sing a love song and I feel wrapped up in His love all over again. What about you?