An Angry, Wrathful, God?

Most of what I’ve written in the past few posts has been rather cerebral and intellectual… And in a sense that’s inevitable, given my background and training. But actually, the ‘underpinning’ of my faith is something entirely ‘experiential’ - and without that, there would be nothing - in fact, I’d probably still be an atheist.

It was an experience of ‘something’, which I’ll call God, that finally ‘tipped me over the edge’ into belief way back, more than forty years ago now - rather than anything intellectual. Yes, I’d spent the best part of a couple of years ‘exploring’ ideas around God, but I think it was just a sort of ‘idle intellectual curiosity’, and I’d been around in circles several times, never really getting anywhere other than deeper into more complex questions.

But there came the point at which that ‘someone’ appeared in my world, in a way I couldn’t deny or explain away. Initially, it was pretty darned scary. Going from ‘nothing exists which can’t be measured or explained’ to ‘there’s someone else in here with us as well’ is a pretty big, and threatening, ‘leap’ of experience and understanding.

And those early ‘encounters’ were very much coloured by my own psyche and my own state of mind. I was hurting then, a lot, and full of guilt and shame. So the God I imagined was a strange mixture of love and anger. Jesus came across as a good guy when I read about Him; and the Holy Spirit seemed to be ‘on my side’ in some sense, but God-the-Father was really scary. And that ‘fitted’ with what I was being taught about God - that He was angry, and that it was only because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross that God could stand to be near me. That basic ‘view’ of God persisted for decades.

However, something about it bothered me, though I could never quite put my finger on ‘why’.

As I’ve said before, 2015 was an ‘annus horribilis’ and 2016 an ‘annus mirabilis’ - the main feature of 2016 was that it was a time in which I ‘met’ God in an entirely new way, and began to realise that what I’d thought, and been taught, about God couldn’t be right.

That ‘meeting’ was extraordinary (as you might expect, Him being God and all). What I realised (and which seems very simple when written down) was that God loves me. He loves me especially. And therefore He loved everybody else especially too - absolutely passionately - but this here, right now, was about me in particular. It wasn’t a ‘general’ sense of God loving humanity - suddenly it was deeply, deeply, personal.

If the doctrine of the Trinity is correct, then the whole Godhead must be of one mind on that. The relationship between the three-in-one/one-in-three is so close (and Jesus tells us, in the gospels, how He and the Father relate) that there can’t be disagreement or conflict… Which goes against what I had earlier felt, and what the church had taught me, about God.

It has to be said though, that in my experience the church’s teaching doesn’t fit reality - nor what Jesus himself said or did. There’s a school of thought within Christianity which says that God cannot abide sin - that he cannot be anywhere near it, or near anyone who is sinful… One of the passages which is used to back this up is the story of the fall in Genesis chapter three, when Adam and Eve eat of the ‘forbidden fruit’ and are ‘thrown out’ of the Garden of Eden.

But.

BUT!

If you read it carefully, God first of all comes looking for Adam and Eve, and is disappointed when they hide from him… The alienation and separation is all on one side here - God still wants to be their friend! And, regardless, he blesses them as well as pronouncing curses on them. For instance He makes clothes of skin for them, so they don’t have to use leaves. And tells them that they’ll have to toil in order to eat, that childbirth will be painful, and that they’ll die (no mention of everlasting torture when they die either - we’ll come back to this!). And when they’re ‘thrown out’ of the Garden - it becomes clear later God goes with them - as we see in chapter four, and the story of Abel’s murder by Cain, followed by God placing His sign of protection on Cain and the beginnings of civilisation. Accompanying humanity out of the Garden and into all this don’t seem to me like the actions of a God who can’t stand to be near sin.

And then, later still, Jesus comes and becomes human. He is carried in the womb of a woman, is born, grows up, spends time with tax collectors, prostitutes, and other sinners, not to mention healing all sorts of illnesses and disabilities - and don’t forget that, to the ancient way of thinking, illness and disability were direct punishments for sin - a God who couldn’t bear to be near sin shouldn’t or couldn’t have interacted with any of those people.

And then again, compounding it still further, Jesus tells stories about seeking lost sheep, welcoming home rebellious sons, and so on. If, as Christians believe, Jesus is God, then according to the ‘can’t stand to be near sin’ doctrine, none of those parables make sense.

This is the God of my experience - a God who ‘gets down and dirty’ with His creatures, and loves us with wild, reckless, abandon, regardless... Whatever I have done; however much I’ve doubted his existence, however much I’ve rebelled, He has always been there, right beside me… In fact, probably more so during the really tough times - the times of illness and doubt; the angry, shouting and swearing at Him, times; those are the times when He turns out to be most present.

May you too be blessed by knowing God’s loving presence with you.

Copyright Phil Hendry, 2022