I always try to avoid the mean, nasty, wrathful pictures of God you find in the Bible.
I don’t like them, I don’t like the picture they paint of God, I don’t like the language that is used, I know too many people who can’t buy in to God because of them, so I just ignore them. (By the way, how hilarious is this picture?!?)
But we decided to do this whole stupid lectionary thing and those images keep coming up. So apparently we can’t ignore them, we have to deal with them.
But maybe actually dealing with them can help re-paint the picture. Maybe in these glimpses of “God’s wrath” when can look beyond our cultural assumptions and typical metaphors and see something deeper about God.
Before I dive into this, a few comments. One, many of you know I have a man crush on Rob Bell. He has been doing a blog series on the Bible which helps move this kind of conversation forward, so I highly recommend it.
Secondly, this is also a deep area we are dealing with so it is much bigger than the scope of what can be said in a blog. So if you’d like to go deeper, Greg Boyd (second only to Rob in my man crushes) has a really good sermon on some of this and if you want to get really academic and theological, check this out.
But I am going to make a feeble attempt with a metaphor I call the “mama bear” phenomenon.
If you are not familiar with this phenomenon, let me illustrate with my wife.
My wife is one of the most loving and compassionate people I know. She has such a deep sense of care and concern for others. She is also very sweet. When you first meet her, it is hard not to say anything but: Awww….
Unless you mess with her babies.
Mess with her little ones and this tiny, sweet, gentle person becomes a terrifying force to be reckoned with. This is actually true of everyone she loves. She is very protective of the people she loves.
Because she is a mom.
Not just biologically, it is her natural predisposition. She was built to care for and nurture other humans. Actually having kids only increased this capacity within her. She has this deep capacity and care for and love others.
This care and concern is what makes her so fierce in these instances.
When you see a woman go into true “mama bear” mode we typically do not react to the person like they are horrible or awful. We know what drives it.
A mama bear is not someone who is angry at the world looking for a fight.
A mama bear is someone who loves fiercely. A mama bear is someone who is so deeply invested in the well-being of her babies that she will react in whatever way possible to protect them.
She fights against whatever might try to harm the ones she so deeply cares for.
The mama bear fierceness and anger is actually an expression of love.
It is not arbitrary anger, and it is not anger directed at anyone who might be unfortunate enough to cross her path.
The wrath is unleashed only when there is a threat to the growth, development, and flourishing of those she has carried in her womb and those she seeks to nurture into their full potential.
The mama bear phenomenon is actually something quite beautiful.
So let’s (as Elizabeth Johnson does) extend this metaphor a little further.
What about the Mother of the universe?
What about the One who birthed all of creation – humans, animals, the environment – all of it?
What about the One who is constantly in the labor pains of restoring creation to the way it is intended to be?
What about the One who gave life to all that is and is now in the process of nurturing it to its highest potential?
We often do not speak of God as Mother, but God births all of creation into existence and is constantly working for the good and growth of all God has brought to life. So it seems appropriate to think through God as Mother.
And wouldn’t a good God who brought forth life have some sort of “mama bear” phenomenon going on?
When we speak of God’s wrath, we often see God as some angry being just looking for someone to smite. But since Jesus likes humans, Jesus took the hit for us.
Really? Do I want to trust a God like that? Arbitrarily angry?
But what if we saw God as the Mother of all that is?
What if we saw a God whose primarily motivation was the growth, development, and nurture of the children who get their very breath and being from this God? What if we saw a God who was never motivated by anything but love, concern, and compassion? What if we saw a God who was deeply invested in the flourishing of humanity?
So invested, this God would take all that is wrong in the world on Herself.
What would that God’s “wrath” look like?
That “wrath” would be motivated by love and compassion. That “wrath” would have to say there are certain ways of living and treating others which are just not okay. That “wrath” would be one which is working towards eliminating injustice and the wrongful treatment of those God loves. That “wrath” would look out for all of the ones who could not protect themselves. That “wrath” would occur so human beings could flourish, especially the least of those humans.
And this “wrath” would be tempered with the fact that this God loves even those who commit the injustice.
Maybe the wrath of God is not something we should avoid. Maybe it actually speaks to the depth of love and compassion within God. Maybe it actually shows how much this God cares for humanity.
Maybe we just need better metaphors.