Friday, January 6, 2023

The Art of Biblical Paradox: Is God Loving or Punitive? (6)

The dialectic of God's love and punishment is ongoing in Scripture. For sure the New Testament's final book, Revelation, juxtaposes the two sides in the following passages:

Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, the murderers, the fornicators, the sorcerers, the idolaters, and all liars, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.  Revelation 21:7-8

And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life. Revelation 21: 23-27

The New Testament upholds the Old Covenant in that the people called by God are given responsibilities with God's covenant. It assumes that there are two parties in the marriage and consequences for unfaith. What does that say about the God who first offers covenant, and about us?

Being made in God's image means that I am capable of covenant. The consequences of unfaith come as a result of my choosing. Free will, a part of being made in God's image, allows me to choose faith, or not. Before sin is an act, it is a state of mind.  Are there not ways of choosing that best nurture my relationship to self, God and others? *

Those who affirm covenant with God bear the most responsibility, for sure. Much is required from whom much is given. Consider that Jesus' sharpest words are for those who claim that they have the first seats at the table of God's covenant, those who think they are called to judge who is blessed and who is cursed. **

Still, why would anyone choose to be close friends with someone who slams the door on people whose names didn't make the cut or who throws people into a burning lake, even if for purgation?  Even if it is a matter of emphasis, the juxtaposition of blessings and curses runs throughout the biblical whole. It is there for all to see, whether believer or not. 

It would be honest to say that there is not a satisfying solution in Scripture or theology, but rather, in the continued walk with God. Scripture says many things and so does theology and yes, I need to see the consequences of my faith or unfaith on myself and others.***But is the meaning and purpose of my life to please a god with anger issues? Or, is being reminded that God judges my every step keeping me from a deeper communion with God?  

Wisdom, the fruit of spiritual direction stresses that, in order to be in a loving friendship with God, I come to know God whose name is Love.  It's about re-discovering my blessedness not my wretchedness. God is love for everybody if God is love for anyone. God parents me with redirection and encouragement in the life of Jesus Christ in the Gospels, the discernment of the Holy Spirit, and the wisdom of my fellow companions in Christ, past and present, the cloud of witnesses**** 

*This is at least implied in Jesus teaching, to "love God, and your neighbor as yourself.." See Matthew 22: 34-40.

**See Matthew 21:31-32: Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, the tax-collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax-collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him." Also Luke 37:42-52

***The teaching of limited atonement posits that Jesus died as an act of appeasing God's honor that humanity had sullied. God wants us dead, but Jesus died instead and God's honor is restored. Further, atonement is only possible for those who believe. I realize that this is a passing reference, just like what I heard from a clergy leader who told the congregation that God's forgiveness was there "for those who believe." What about those who struggle to believe or want to believe but cannot? 

**** ‘Tis Love! ‘tis Love that wrestled me! I hear thy whisper in my heart. The morning breaks, the shadows flee, pure, universal Love thou art. To me, to all, thy mercies move—thy nature and thy name is Love. Charles Wesley, Come Thou Traveler Unknown.

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