Friday, October 4, 2013

Why God Throws Temper Tantrums

For my personal devotions for the last couple weeks, I've been reading through the minor prophets. They're the short books with weird names at the end of the Old Testament and they have something of a reputation because the words of God recorded by these prophets sound, well, kinda mean. Really mean. Downright cranky.

In fact, God can sound so angry in these texts that one early Christian bishop named Marcion though the God of the Old Testament was a completely different God from the one Jesus described. He was later named a heretic, but to this day you can hear people talk about the "Old Testament God" like that God is somehow separate from the "New Testament" one.

A lot of the questions are understandable. After all, God threatens some pretty nasty stuff in these books (and other parts of the Hebrew Scriptures), but as I've read these prophets this time, I've come to see God in a different light.

How? Let's look at a few verses. First, in Hosea 7:13 God proclaims: "How horrible it will be for these people. ... They must be destroyed because they've rebelled against me." Angry stuff right? But look at the rest of the verse (emphasis mine): "I want to reclaim them, but they tell lies about me."

Or in Amos, God makes this threat in 2:13: "I am going to crush you as an overloaded wagon crushes a person." Later in chapter 4 there's a pretty graphic threat involving fish hooks. But both of those are followed by this verse in Amos 6:3: "My people, what have I done to you? How have I tried your patience? Answer me! I brought you out of Egypt and freed you from slavery. I sent Moses, Aaron, and Miriam to lead you."

As I read the followup verses in each case, I start to have a different image of God. As God reveals more of his thoughts, God sounds less angry and sounds ... hurt. I imagine a scene from a TV drama in which it's just been revealed that one spouse has cheated and the victim of the infidelity is sobbing and screaming, "How could you do this to me?!? After everything I gave for you? Doesn't our love mean anything to you?!? I trusted you..." And this fits because infidelity is the major complaint God has in these books.

From this perspective then, God isn't a petty rule keeper looking to zap us. God is jealous. God wants to have relationship with me and, like a lover, may react with anger when I break that trust. And while it seems strange to me at first to imagine God being so vulnerable, it ultimately makes God seem more real to me. For all the mysteries that surround the Triune God (including that Triune thing), God the jealous lover is a side I can recognize.

"You know I've been unfaithful, lovers in lines, while you're turning over tables with the rage of a jealous kind." -Jars of Clay, "Jealous Kind"

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