Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Loving Father

Many people like to point to the Old Testament and say that the God of Christianity is only one more angry god of ancient times, cruel and proud and bloodthirsty. To say that the God of the Old Testament is an angry God is only fair, after all: it seems as though the Lord's anger is often burning at at least some portion of his people (Ex. 4:14, 2 Kings 23:26, Isaiah 5:25, and those are just 3 results from an internet search). But there are lots of angry gods in the various mythologies of the world. There's Bacchus, who so clouded the mind of a woman that she killed her own son and stuck his head on a pole and paraded it around the city. There's Moloch, who demanded child sacrifice. There are the countless gods of bloodstained altars, whose temples ring with the screams of the unfortunate chosen. All of these gods, as well as the God of the Christians and the Jews, could be fairly called "angry." But it is only the Christian God whose anger is that of a father spanking his child for running out in front of a car. It is only in Christianity that the flames of divine anger are fueled by the fiercer and more fiery flames of divine love.

Now, the modern world doesn't really seem too keen on the whole "spanking" thing, anymore. But to go to my original example: a stranger won't care that some kid ran out into the street. Or if he does care, he won't be angry at the child. The parent, though... the parent will be furious at the child. Because of love. The child carelessly endangered his life, and the parent will speak harshly to the child, even spank the child, in a frantic effort to get him to understand that you do not run out into the street. It's dangerous out there.

This is the God of the Old Testament. This is the loving parent of an unruly, foolhardy child, who loves to not only cross the street without looking but actually engage in a game of hopscotch on the freeway. This is the God who laments that "Children have I reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against me... Israel does not know, my people do not understand" (Isaiah 1:2-3). It is punishment, yes, even angry punishment: but it is punishment with a goal, an aim, and motivated by love. There is not one life at stake, nor one family: the entire people is at risk, and every mistake made, every child-sacrificer taken in, every false god not driven out, is a threat more deadly than any car. "Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow." And yet Israel fails to get the message. We fail to get the message. And we make mistake after mistake, long after any earthly parent would have given up in despair. And yet God remains, both to ancient Israel and to us, the loving father who is angry at his children, and punishes them, because he loves them so much more than they know.

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