many faces

“The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD is avenging and wrathful; the LORD takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies… the LORD will by no means clear the guilty. His way is in whirlwind and storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet. Who can stand before his indignation? Who can endure the heat of his anger? His wrath is poured out like fire, and the rocks are broken into pieces by him.”

“A bruised reed He will not break
And a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish;
He will faithfully bring forth justice.”

Unsettling contradictions.

The God of Nahum:”jealous… avenging… wrathful … indignant… angry…“. How free could submission to such a deity ever really be? It would be neither a free act of conscience, nor a courageous act, but a submission born of fear.

in contrast to the words of Nahum, the prophet Isaiah reveals a divine mercy we usually equate with the Jesus of the Gospels, who commands his disciples to forgive “seventy times seven”,  to seek not revenge but to turn the other cheek. The Jesus who came not to condemn the world, but to save it. The friend of sinners, freely breaking with the religious taboos of his day and associating with tax-gatherers, prostitutes, adulterers, the unclean, demoniacs, heretics, the diseased. And yet Jesus also said,

 “The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Christians explain these apparent contradictions in terms of the old and new covenants – but the paradox is in both Covenants and is not resolved by setting the old against the new. Scholars who know the bible to be an amalgam of redacted texts from diverse authors, ancient languages, from different times and social contexts explain the contradictions by this very disparity of authorship.

In “Christ, a crisis in the life of God” by the former Jesuit Jack Miles, the author proposes the Incarnation is the act of a God struggling with His own conflicted dealings with man. He becomes a man, not as a warrior king – but as a physician come to heal a broken world.

Of course Miles is not ‘doing theology’ here, but looking at the Bible as a work of literature with God as the protagonist.

But even as the dispensation of the Incarnation and the Paraclete have come, the apocalyptic visions of Saint John of Patmos seem once more a return of the wrathful God of the Old Testament. The Gospel carries with it this shadow that will not be erased. When Christians share God’s love, His Wrath is the counterpoint.

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