Monday, June 15, 2009



(Continuing the ideas from Good Goats begun in the previous posting)
In the prophet's idea of the covenant, God's justice is no longer at odds with his steadfast love, instead mercy and justice come together.
Now to say "God is just” means God is true to Himself, and acts in accordance with his nature as the merciful one, the great-hearted one, the unconditional lover. Isaiah 54:9 tells us that God will never again vengefully punish sin, but rather will heal the hard-hearted by being excessive beyond measure, by "astounding this people with prodigies and wonders" (Is 29:14)
The prophets were indeed preparing the way for the ultimate divine revelation when the Word will become flesh. The prodigies and wonders would turn out to indeed be “excessive beyond measure:” God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten son, that whovever believed in him should not perish but have everlasting life. (Jn 3:16) Look at his encounter with the Woman at the Well, or his initiative with Paul's on the road to Damascus.


But we find it hard to believe to believe that Jesus could really be just as generous to US! We hang on doggedly to that old Deuteronomist view of salvation, no matter what Christ says. We'll even twist his words to fit.-- And it makes perfect sense to us Americans and our sense of justice. The Greek word CHARIS, grace, implies a gift totally unearned, completely gartuitous on God’s part, the prior, unearned gift of God's love. We just doggedly hang on to this image of Uncle George, no matter what. Look at Jn. 3:16, Rom. 5:7-8, Mt 5:44-46


Matthew Linn, S.J. and his brother Dennis and sister-in-law wrote a book called Good Goats: Healing our Image of God. They deal with this whole issue of an image of God that contradicts the plot of the bible, and offer some explanations of how the Uncle George God still manages to survive. Their provocative ideas are at least worthy of some attention.

1. Some defend this image of God by quoting SS passages about eternal fire. We take seven days of creation as a genre needing to be interpreted. We accept that when Jesus calls himself a vine or calls us sheep, that these are figures of speech pointing us to certain deeper truths. The statement: "If you wish to follow me you must hate your father and mother, " well, that's typical oriental love of hyperbole, not to be taken literally. When Jesus advises "If your eye is your problem, pluck it out" we say "Oh, that's hyperbole again. It doesn't mean that you should really pluck out your eye." But when the rest of the sentence refers to "the everlasting fire of Gehenna," suddenly the Semitic love of hyperbole and metaphor is forgotten, and that image about divine wrath and eternal fire is to be taken word for word!

2. Another source of confusion came, the Linns say (p.58), from some of the early Fathers of the Church who took certain principles of the greatly renowned system of Roman Law and applied them to the theology of salvation based not on Scripture but on Roman notions of justice. They put a great emphasis on LAW and OBEDIENCE, so that JUSTICE got divorced from LOVE, almost opposed to it. According to this view, SIN is no longer the weakening of the bond between God and us but an infringement on the rights of God. SIN becomes a CRIME; this requires legal vindication through retributive justice.

3. The Linns suggest that our image of a vengeful God is the cause and the effect of our ambiguous child-rearing practices: Out of exasperation, a mother smacks a young child who bursts into tears. Then she calls the child over and hugs him and says, "You know I love you, right?" – Love through cruelty. The Linns call this schizophrenic. It does seem like psychological terrorism to send two conflicting signals: the parent speaks words of love, while simultaneously inflicting vindictive pain.

While there are those who would still refer to the bible to justify physical punishing children in preference to less violent means, many Christians nowadays would contend that to do that to a child is destructive. The therapists and social workers call it psychological abuse. By the way, let me be clear that I'm not talking about corrective measures such as "time outs", sending a kid to his room, making him stay after school, or turning off the television for three days. Discipline is important, and offers children a precious gift.

But I've got two problems with Uncle George theology:
First, We simply accept as a given that God is abusive, saying he loves us while visiting all sorts of vengeful punishment on those who cross him. Second Uncle George does not fit the basic plot of the New Testament. The idea of a God who is domineering and overbearing and vindictive confuses and contradicts the whole basic message of the Gospel which is, like it or not, a message of love; the God of Intimacy is constantly seeking intimacy not mastery! Scripture is a love story about a God who is so madly in love with me that he dies to prove it, who wants nothing more than to have me with him for all eternity.

I’ll be honest: Uncle George is much easier to work with and to control than is a God who is madly, crazily in love with me. Uncle George is predictable – you always know the score. Uncle George is certainly a lot easier to imitate, because achieving mastery is easier than achieving selfless intimacy) I’d like to propose a test involving both these views of God: LOOK AT THEIR CONSEQUENCES.


1. A Church dominated by Uncle George is filled with fear, power, minimalism and measuring.
2. A home or a religious house run by Uncle George would be a pretty sad place, characterized by LAW and MASTERY
3. And think of how this false image affects the way treat one another! We believe that we are made in the image of God, right? We want to be like God, right? Naturally, we imitate the God we worship. So if my God is Uncle George, then I imitate Uncle George, the God of Mastery
and not the Good Shepherd, the Gentle God. It's easy to identify with George: I know where he's coming from: He's Master of the Universe, Almighty King: on a power trip.
-- I willingly quote my Old Testament to prove that God is controlling, vindictive, unforgiving, and threatening, so that I can refuse to forgive my brother until he says he's sorry or at least shows some sign of repentance. Hey, I'm just imitating my Old Testament God, who loves and forgives me only after I repent.
-- When a student is being particularly obnoxious in class, challenging my authority, well, I can bully or terrorize him and justify it, if unconsciously, by saying that God bullies, terrorizes and threatens all ME the time!
-- When I write off a brother forever because he's insulted me, I can point to the deity and argue, “Well God gives up on sinners and consigns them to hell fire forever. So by comparison, hey! I'm being lenient : I’m just never gonna talk to the guy again!"

This is not the way of the Gospel, though. If the God I adore is the loving Father of Our Lord Jesus, then I hear myself called to walk in the steps of a gentle savior who told stories about prodigal sons, who ate with sinners, who died for me while I was still a sinner. When someone crosses me, or when things go wrong, I respond with Jesus’ gentle approach, when I find that I'm not acting like the gentle Christ but am being domineering and masterful, I might want to check out my own image of the Lord: it may be that I need to heal my image of God.
I am CHALLENGED by the GOSPEL to imitate not Good Old Uncle George, but the God of GENTLENESS, the God of the Gospel.

The central monastic virtue of Humility seems to be much easier when I'm imitating a humble God, who was so humble as to take flesh and be born in a manger, who knelt in front of his disciples and washed their feet. I can accept my imperfect self and my imperfect brothers
only when I know that God is not Uncle George. Let’s say good by to Uncle George – He’s nothing but trouble, hurt and heresy. Instead let us put all of our trust in the God of our Lord Jesus, who loves each of us no matter what and accepts each of us without having to fix us first.
To this God of Gentleness, whose love is greater than all we can ask or imagine, be the glory now and forever!

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