Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Wrath of God

I seem to have a theological obsession with this topic. I was in a men’s Bible study for several years, and there was a collective groan whenever I raised the subject!

My anxiety seems to peak around Easter - around the doctrine that Jesus was a scapegoat for our sins. I fully appreciate his sacrifice, but I’m troubled with the notion that God required it. I understand the consistency with Jewish tradition and theology, but again, it confounds me.

I can grasp the wrath of God as a concept. When we go our own way, when we lapse morally, ethically or selfishly there are consequences.

Are there eternal consequences? Yes, maybe there’s a separation from God. Maybe a spirit or soul can be so overrun by evil that it’s somehow extinguished. Indeed, I hold tightly to the belief that God is in the process of eradicating evil and restoring humanity. Still, I’m not convinced this invokes the sulfurous fires of hell.

God made us. He gave us free will. He can't be surprised when we run amok. Surely, he's disappointed, but not angry.

I’m rambling. It’s more useful to pray:

God of Mercy, God of Forgiveness,

I return to this theme with trepidation. I don’t want to mislead anyone with my doubts. Still, I seem to revisit the wrath of God regularly.

The phrase is noted about twenty times in my concordance. There’s no denying that it’s Biblical, but I cannot reconcile my God of love with an angry deity.

Did the Bible’s narrators and interpreters give you human emotions? Were personality traits borrowed from the gods of pagan cultures? We’re inclined to link our desire for justice with punishment, but maybe that’s a temporal construct?

Lord Christ, is there really fiery and eternal punishment for the people you died to lift up? Does the suffering servant really impose suffering upon others?

Wrath, retribution, anger - it just seems like an insult to your nature, to your character. It misses the point of Easter. You came to save us. You died to save us.

Jesus, do my questions teeter on the brink if blasphemy? (Have I crossed the line?) Where there are gaps in my comprehension fill them with your love. Amen.

Artwork: depiction of God by Michelangelo; Sistine Chapel, Rome

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Hidden Meaning

Your words, Lord Christ. A terse, blunt account of what we now call your Passion and the events of Holy Week:

…everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be handed over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.

Then, Luke tells us that your Disciples failed to understand: Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about.
(Luke 18:31-34)

Am I any different from the Disciples? Do I grasp the meaning of your suffering? I’m rushing to Easter morning attempting to avoid the troubling details:

Rejected by the religious establishment. Wronged by the authorities. Betrayed. Deserted. Humiliated. Tortured. Killed.

It was an unimaginable sacrifice...expressing a love of incomprehensible intensity.

Jesus, you endured humanity’s malevolence that we might rise above it. Today. And at our own resurrection.

During Lent, open my eyes, open my heart, to the full meaning of Easter. Amen.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Jesus 101: Forgiveness

Forgiveness is typically defined as the process of concluding resentment, indignation or anger as a result of a perceived offense, difference or mistake, or ceasing to demand punishment or restitution. (Wikipedia)

I am telling you what Christianity is. I did not invent it. And there, right in the middle of it, I find “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” There is no slightest suggestion that we are offered forgiveness on any other terms. It is made perfectly clear that if we do not forgive we shall not be forgiven. There are no two ways about it. (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)

We live out our faith in a variety of ways. Holy Spirit, help me to appreciate and honor that diversity. Some people have gifts for teaching or hospitality or music. Others are passionate about service work. We find great examples of personal piety and discipleship among the faithful.

It’s our biggest shortcoming that we hold in common. We all struggle with Jesus 101: Forgiveness.

From the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:12) to the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15), the gold standard of Christianity is forgiveness:

“Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. (Matthew 18:21-22)

Still, we prefer to nurse, curse and rehearse our hurts as Dr. Robert Schuller preached. Reversing our hurts, healing and reconciliation call for genuine forgiveness. We’ll take a stab at it, but we add conditions and limitations.

Lord Christ, incredibly, you offered a prayer of forgiveness for your executioners:

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

Jesus - in your grace - it seems that I am forgiven hourly. And permanently. I must become more forgiving. No disclaimers or fine print.

Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Colossians 3:13)


Photo credit
Dr. Robert Schuller, from The Be (Happy) Attitudes

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Frozen Chosen

Generous and Patient God,

I have heard Episcopalians (and other good church folk) called the frozen chosen - stuck in their ways, stuck in their pews. Are we guilty as charged, frozen solid in our tradition?

There is a downside to that chosen people status of our Hebrew heritage. It should evoke gratitude and servanthood, but it's just as likely to breed arrogance or indifference.

Yes, we are chosen: chosen for service and called to serve those not chosen by society, circumstance or bad choices.

The Book of Common Prayer is very realistic about our true status in its Prayers for the Church:

We pray for purification, direction, reform, strength, provision and unity.

We ask you to “strengthen the faithful, arouse the careless and restore the penitent.”

That’s a generous description of the body of Christ - and of me. I can be found in each category: often careless, inconsistently penitent, sometimes faithful.

Father, I pray for a thawing of the frozen chosen. Inspire us to contrition and devoted, energetic service, in Christ’s name, Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer, page 816