How we see God matters. Is God an angry wrathful deity needing appeasing, or does He show us something else in the Bible? What we believe affects how we see God and how we treat other people.
The other articles of this series are:
Everyday you make judgements about the people around you, one of whom is the person you see in the mirror each morning. You make decisions about what those people are worth, and how you will treat them.
copyright Steve Jurvetson (creative commons)
The decisions you make change everything about how you are in the world, and they say everything about how you see the world. The way you value or don't value people is the best indicator there is about how you ultimately view reality, and about how you see God.
We suffer in our day from an epidemic of unlove, that stems from two causal streams: two sources that are in themselves two different kinds of fear.
Two types of fear
The first poisoned source is this wrong sort of fear towards God. For hundreds of years we have associated the word "God" with the wrong sort of fear. We know that an ancient text tells us that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, but we do not realise that this text is speaking of a different kind of fear, the kind of fear that empowers us to live a fruitful life in a relationship of loving respect with our maker. The other kind of fear, the kind we live with, and that is poisoning us, is the kind that stems from fear of punishment.
We would only be getting what we deserve. Because we are worthless. We are 'objects of his wrath'. Often associated with Christian beliefs, this view is surprisingly close to the views of ancient pagans in some of the most primitive religious systems in the world.
In these systems 'the gods' are perpetually angry with us. They are capricious, and not to be trusted, and you never know when their anger might spill over into a thunder-storm, a bad harvest or a drowning at sea. The only way to avoid these events is to appease these angry Gods with offerings taken from your harvests, your flocks or in the worst case scenarios, your children. Only offers can appease the gods. Without offerings they have to go with their anger and smite you.
Substitute tithes, prayers and worship for the grain, sheep and children and you have a fairly accurate description of worship as understood and practised in much of what we call Christianity. Despite whatever it is that Jesus Christ has achieved in the founding moments of the faith, God is still angry. His default disposition towards us is wrath.
This leads us to the second source of poison that is destroying us. Having indulged in the wrong sort of fear of God, we move on to embrace the wrong sort of fear of people. Because of our distorted view of God, who remember is still angry until we make some offerings to appease him, we squeeze people into two distinct categories - acceptable and unacceptable. In the acceptable category we place all those who are making the offerings we have prescribed - surely God loves them as he loves us. Because of our offerings.
In the unacceptable category we place all those who do not make their offerings in the way we have done: who do not use the right words or sing the right tunes or commit their time and energy to the right causes. These people, in our view, are not making any effort at all to appease God's anger, so he is no doubt still in a rage at them. Still disgusted. Still turning his eyes away. They are surely objects of his wrath.
Two very dangerous untruths branch-off from this unfortunate stream of poison. The first is that all the acceptable people appear to be somewhat like us. No-one who has ever declared that God likes or chooses certain people and rejects others has ever placed their own type in the rejected pile. We always attribute choseness to actions or decisions we have taken. We don't mean to say 'God loves people like me and hates people who are unlike me' but that is in practise what we are saying.
The second untruth is that this condition in which we find ourselves, of being accepted and chosen, must be because of our offerings. It must be because of what we've brought. We've paid for this acceptance. We've earned it. It is because of who we are. God accepts us because of us. And if there are those he does not accept, it must in turn be because of them. They didn't make the right offerings, or say the right words, or sing the right tunes. Should he choose to smite them, it will only be fair. They deserve it. It's their fault. We've earned God's acceptance. They haven't. End of story. What's so wrong with that?
Picture of God
What's wrong is that this is not the picture the Bible paints of God. If you don't much care what picture the Bible paints of God, then this fact will mean nothing to you. But don't give up yet, because you might find, as you read on, that what the Bible does have to say about these things is intriguing and unexpected and speaks to issues at the very heart of our human journey.
Because what the bible says is that God doesn't hate. That he isn't disgusted. That he doesn't need to be appeased. That everything that needs to be done for him to accept you has been done. That he thinks the world of you. That he sees your potential and would love to work with you to bring it to fulfilment.
It wasn't just the anger of God that got dealt with 20 centuries ago in the death of the one called Jesus Christ. It was the very notion of angry gods. According to the Bible, the life and death of Jesus Christ mark a fundamental change in the meaning of God-ness. Up until this one life the universal global view of the gods was that of the angry-until-appeased variety. And even though Yahweh, God of the Hebrews, tried to reveal a different side to himself, it was pretty much as an angry-until-appeased God that he was received. But this, according, to the Bible, is not because that is what God is like, but because that was the meaning given universally to the word 'god' at that time. Yahweh had to wear the known definition of God at the time, uncomfortable as the costume may have been, in order to initiate a conversation in which he could ultimately show his true colours. Only after centuries of conversation were the people ready to see God as he truly is, and even then a huge number of them ran from what they saw. This can't be god, they said.
God's default position
So God's default disposition is not anger, but love. He is not waiting to smite us but to embrace us. He loves us, each and everyone. He loves you. He loves those around you. He thinks you are brilliant and he thinks they are gems and he has plans and dreams and ambitions for you and for them and for anyone who's listening and will co-operate. There is no anger to appease because he swallowed it. Ate it up, whole. Chewed it and turned it over and took it into himself and said "It's gone".
God is love, and because he is love he loves you, and he loves those around you. And he wants you to see yourself, and those around you, as he sees you and as he sees them. He wants to change the way you see people, and as a result change the way you live. God wants to swallow up the unlove, to take it away altogether. He wants you to know yourself as the beloved and to be freed to love others. He wants to heal you of the burden of the wrong kind of fear. Change the way you see yourself. Change the way you see others. And you will change the world. This is God's purpose - God's mission. And that is what life is truly all about.
May 10th, 2012 - Posted & Written by Gerard Kelly