Archive for August 2008

God’s wrath?

August 21, 2008

Partly in response to neuro in the previous post and partly because i wanted to talk about this anyway.

“For those who love the Lord, His presence will be infinite joy, paradise and eternal life. For those who hate the Lord, the same presence will be infinite torture, hell and eternal death… The “fire” that will consume sinners at the coming of the kingdom of God is the same “fire” that will shine with splendor in the saints. It is the “fire” of God Himself who is love… For those who love God and who love all creation in Him, the ‘consuming fire’ of God will be radiant bliss and unspeakable delight. For those who do not love God, and who do not love at all, this same ‘consuming fire’ will be the cause of their ‘weeping’ and ‘gnashing of teeth’. “Thus it is the Chruch’s spiritual teaching that God does not punish man by some material fire or physical torment. God simply reveals Himself in the risen Lord Jesus in such a glorious way that no man can fail to behold His glory. It is the presence of God’s splendid glory and love that is the scourge of those who reject its radiant power and light” (Thomas Hopko).

Between God and us there is an analogical gap. There is always analogy in all our language about God. Eg. If i say ‘God loves me’ the meaning of the word love in this sentence is different than if i am to say ‘my mum loves me’. My mum’s love for me is not the same as God’s love for me and yet i have used the same word. my mum’s love is in someway like God’s love but they are also different. and yet they are not so different that i can’t grasp something of God’s love by thinking about the love of my mother. Make sense? SO, there is always a gap between God and creature even in our language about Him. It is wrong to say there is no gap (eg God’s love is exactly like my mothers love) and it is also wrong to say that there is no connection at all (eg God’s love and my mum’s love have nothing in common whatsoever). We must recognise this gap as we read scripture and talk about God.

It is in this context that i have been thinking about God’s wrath. I (maybe we) have a tendency to leave no gap in our understanding of Gods wrath and our wrath. We understand that it is bigger and more just (perfectly just) but the nature of his wrath we think of as the same rage and danger that we see in ourselves and each other. Because of this the quote above by Thomas Hopko really caught my eye, along with a reminder of CS Lewis’ thinking in ‘the weight of glory’.

As you read above, Hopko describes God’s wrath as we know it, as actually being God’s glory or beauty. This beauty destroys that which is not of it because it is unable to bear the weight of glory. When we see moments of God’s wrath eg in stories in the Old Testament we think that God must have just lost it in that moment. This is ok to us because we understand that God only looses his temper for the right reasons and from the right heart and motivation. (admittedly it does make God seem a bit like jackal and Hyde at times)

But what if Hopko is right? What if our experience of God’s wrath is actually his love and beauty and glory being revealed and the parts of me that are not of Him cannot bear it and are destroyed by it. This is very different than the picture i often have in my head of God zapping people (i picture lightening coming out of his finger cause that’s how my mind works) because they didn’t bring the right sacrifice or whatever. It is not so much God punishing but rather God simply revealing himself and that which is not born of Him cannot survive in his presence. Bonaventure said “I cannot see God’s face and live, so let me die!”.

This idea also makes sense to me in light of the fact that God is love. He is not only loving, but he is in fact Love itself. This means that God can be and do nothing other than love. Kind of like the way sun is light and can’t not give light (i plagiarised that). So what we call God’s wrath is actually His love. I’m not saying that God is wrathful for loving reasons i’m saying that His acts of wrath are actually themselves acts of love.

We need to view every experience of God through the lens that He is love and his love is constantly and fully expressed in every moment. This is where i begin to struggle, because when we ask questions of why did God allow suffering the answer must somehow be ‘because he loves me’. Although i find this hard to swallow somehow i also feel freed by it and for many years i have lived my life on the same kind of premise except it was the words of Jesus when he said ‘i have come that you may have life to the full’. when i really saw this i was able to view everything in my life and everything that God commanded me to do through this lens. So when i hear God say forgive your enemy and i say but why God? i know the answer is partly because He wants me to have life to the full. That is always his agenda for us. To live like this is to see God as much more involved in your life and everything that he allows in your life. It also allows me to enter into pain with a sense of joy and hope at the same time.

BUT! I really struggle with this whole idea though because it seems then that God is not angry and (although i don’t want him to be angry at me) i want him to be angry at the people who have hurt me and the people who hurt others. If he is not angry it seems like he doesn’t care about the suffering in the world, kind of like he is passive towards it and uninvolved. This doesn’t really sit right with me but i cant seem to reconcile it all.

SO, bring on the comments i need your help.

Did God turn His face away?

August 13, 2008

What actually happened between God and Jesus on the cross? I don’t know if you’ve ever given this much thought but for a lot of my childhood I believed the suffering of the cross was the physical pain Jesus went through. When i got a little older I began to realise there were a few more layers to this cross thing. I began to understand that the physical pain was only part of it, but what was worse than this for Jesus was the separation from God he experienced as he took on the sin of the world. I believed that at that moment when Christ ‘became sin for us’ that since our sin separates us from God it also must have separated Jesus from His Father. That God the Father had to (as we sing) ‘turn his face away’ from His Son.

This idea in my head was reinforced by the words that Jesus Himself speaks on the cross “my God my God why have you forsaken me”. It seems from these words that God did infact forsake Jesus on the cross. More than that I believed He had to otherwise the cross could not have accomplished all that it has accomplished. BUT my thinking has been flawed. So simply and yet so significantly (I have to admit im a little pissed with myself that i didn’t figure this out alone but that’s just my pride).

So, as my new friend pointed out: ‘if there were ever separation in the trinity the whole world would have ceased to exist’. Can’t argue with that right? It’s true and obvious. And yet this being true means that the way i have understood what happened between God and his Son on the cross is not quite right. God did not forsake His Son. He did not turn His face away from Him. (I was flabbergasted when my friend said this at first).

Some of you may be in protest – but hold on you say ‘what about Jesus words on the cross?’ this is where it gets even sweeter. The words that Jesus says on the cross are a quote from Psalm 22 as most of you already know. If we actually take the time to read the Psalm we realise that although the psalmist begins with cries about why God has forsaken him and is so far from saving him he comes to a place where he says these words “…You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel! For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one;he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help…” You see? When Jesus quoted this Psalm that’s exactly what He was doing, quoting this psalm – his hearers wouldn’t have just heard the words my God why have you forsaken me, they would have also heard the words for He has not despised the afflicted one, He has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help. His hearers would have known this whole psalm they would have known that Jesus was referring not to a prayer of desperation but a prayer of hope. They would have heard the hope in Jesus words, but today we just hear desperation. We hear it wrong simply because we do not know scripture as we should, it is not in our minds and on our lips like it would have been in Jesus day.

It’s kinda like when i say something like “in my best behaviour i am really just like him” those of you who are sufjan stevens fans will understand that i am saying that i am a deeply sinful person because i am quoting a line from a song that is about a murder. Those of you who do not know sufjan stevens song will be like ‘what the flip?’. It’s a culture thing. I don’t have to explain myself to those of you who like sufjan you know exactly what i’m saying although i don’t actually say it. And so it is with Jesus on the cross, this phrase of despair was also a phrase of sure hope. I feel like this is something fredric Buchner would say because he talks so much about the comedy of the gospel – well, this is the comedy of the cross and Jesus knew it. As he hung there for us offering himself as the sacrifice for our sin in pain and suffering that we will never understand he at the same time knew fully the picture of what he was accomplishing also in a way that we will never understand.

At this point i now have all the how questions. Somehow Jesus has taken the world’s sin on his shoulders and yet at the same time remained one with the Father. Somehow He has experienced death and hell and yet at the same time remained one with the Father. how does this all work? – i will play with these questions on another entry on another day.

What is beauty?

August 7, 2008

I recently spent two weeks learning from the incredible Laura Smit (she has definitely been added to my list of heroes) about the theology of beauty. Over the next few weeks i will attempt to process some of my thoughts and musings here so that you can help me shed more light on this phenomenal topic. today’s entry is a light introduction into a number of questions that are often keeping me awake at night.

What is beauty? It is tempting to think there is no answer to this question. We believe that beauty is undefinable because it appears to be subjective. What you may call beautiful i may not. Take for example my crazy potter friend who has been moved to tears at a mere picture of a pot (true story i promise!) never mind the real thing. That picture did not make me cry. it barely caught my attention. In this case it seems that beauty really is ‘‘in the eye of the beholder’. But is that the truth? Here’s something my favourite potter friend has done for me – she has taught me to love pots. There was a time that i would have walked around life and barely noticed ceramics. But now i am unable to avoid noticing! everything ceramic catches my eye, i find myself drawn to touch these pieces of art, i am compelled to turn them upside down and look at it’s finish. I appreciate the texture, the colours the impressions of the artists fingers on the clay. I say to myself ‘that is so beautiful’. (maybe not enough to make me cry though!). How did this change happen? I didn’t just flick a switch inside my brain, rather as i watched her love pots she has pointed me to the beauty that was there all along which i had been looking past.

Beauty is not subjective. It is real. It is present. The question is do we see it? Do we perceive it? When i fail to see beauty in something it is just that. I fail to see it. It is not that the beauty isn’t there. If this is true (which i believe it is) then the gift of community is that other people help us see beauty where we cannot yet perceive it. We are all so unique with our own God given gifts and passions that make it easy for us to see beauty in those places. The biologist sees a pattern of cells and finds it stunning. I don’t know why but i want to and he can help me see it so that i too can share a little bit in this beauty that glorifies God who is Beauty himself. We must look and see, and help each other see, that we may join in worship as we acknowledge and enjoy the presence of God in this world.

Beauty: a quality of being percieved.  The perceptibality of a things truth or goodness. (Smit or someone she quoted and i didn’t write down;)