Monday, February 15, 2010

God of Love/God of Wrath . . .

I'm only in about the 3rd or 4th Chapter of A New Kind of Christianity.  Thus far, the ideas are mostly reviews of some of McLaren's other material, but he's putting it together in a slightly different way.  After the intro, he starts off talking about the Western Christian metanarrative as one that is largely Greco-Roman in origin, and Platonic in philosophy.  He asserts that it has actually supplanted the Jewish, Biblical metanarrative.  Jesus, instead of emerging from a particular culture and carrying the story of man and God forward, is actually now someone we look at in retrospect - through the eyes of Paul, and Augustine, and Martin Luther, and Billy Graham.

I really love the way Brian weaves larger themes of history, theology, philosophy, and literature to show us how we arrived at the Christianity many of us currently own.

What it got me thinking about is this question I've always had about God.  I know that orthodoxy has us spouting the cliche that "God is the same yesterday, today, and forever."  He is unchanging.  He is eternal.  But I couldn't possibly be the only good, Evangelical kid who grew up fearing the God of the Old Testament, and loving the lamb-cuddling Jesus of the New.  I couldn't possibly be the only one who was discombobulated by the God who says "please kill that whole tribe of people - and don't neglect the women and kids - or I'll kill you!" and then turns around and is full of grace and truth not but a few books later.  Even practically speaking, the only really baffling "act" of God in the New Testament that's remotely like the God of the Old is when the Holy Spirit rids the Christian community of Ananias and Sapphira.  But never again do we see anything remotely resembling the fearful God of the Old Testament.

At least, that's how I've always thought about it.  But today, I realized that the God of Old and New didn't so much change his wrath as he changed the way in which he meted it.  The Old Testament God was merciful, yes - but only to his "chosen people", and even then he could be pretty cruel (killing off the dude who tried to keep the Ark of the Covenant from shattering anyone?)  But what he did not do was threaten eternal damnation and eternal, conscious torture.  But the God of the New Testament was just the opposite: graceful and loving to those in this life (again, just those "chosen" by some means), but ever threatening to destroy the immaterial souls of those not in the fold by torturous hellfire. (Of course, this is merely the prominent, Western interpretation of the Bible . . . McLaren argues that it's actually a Platonic superimposition on the text).

Thus, the God of Love and the God of Wrath is an element that is preserved in both Old and New Testament.  But why this change in modus operendi?  Why the God of Wrath to earth-dwellers, but soft on eternal damnation in the Old, and God of Love to earth-dwellers, but nearly sadistic to those in eternity in the New?

Have we perhaps misconstrued the Biblical narrative all along (as modern day, born-and-raised Evangelicals)?  Has Plato's dualism muddied our lenses?  Hmmm . . .


Joe Moderate said...

Hmm. I long struggled with how to make the God of the OT fit with what I learned in Sunday School and the "good news" that we should tell everyone. I like how you said it: "But I couldn't possibly be the only good, Evangelical kid who grew up fearing the God of the Old Testament, and loving the lamb-cuddling Jesus of the New."

Now I'm not even sure the God(s) referred to in the OT and NT are the same.

D.J. Free! said...

Interesting. I think that's a great question. As a matter of fact, that question is practically begged - at least due to the ways in which we were taught about those Gods.

Why do you think they're not the same? What (who?) do you think the OT is describing? What (who?) do you think the NT is describing?

Breka said...

Your final question has been tugging at my mind ever since I read it a few days ago. The idea that maybe we've been misconstruing the Bible is something I've been wondering for a while now, but hadn't really put into those terms. There's so much about modern, evangelical christianity that doesn't make sense to me. Among other things, the picking and choosing of OT/NT aspects of God...take those nice promises to the Israelites but not the ferocity or the laws. I wonder sometimes, if there isn't too much mixing of Christ with God. Christ's purpose is intercessor, but the God I hear from a lot of evangelicals isn't the type I'd feel I needed a middle man to stand up to for me.