God is vengeful. It’s right there in black and white.
So say more than a few believing Christians who were well taught that whatever grace might be, it is delivered by the hand of a God who is quick to anger, unforgiving, and ready to condemn for all of eternity. Years of Sundays devoted to the Good News of God in Christ Jesus, and long standing involvement in adult bible studies, cannot erase the damage done.
I wrote a newspaper article some years ago about the progressive nature of biblical revelation, how it is a constant unfolding of new and deeper understanding, always headed in the directions of inclusiveness, love and reconciliation. I was slammed in a letter to the editor by a local pastor who demanded to make it known that there is nothing progressive in the bible. It is all of a piece, and no part takes precedent over another. All is equally true and inerrant.
How sad is that? I’ve tried to explain to those in my classes that God can only speak with the vocabulary that his listeners can understand. The early followers of the God of Israel had a vocabulary that could accommodate neither monotheism nor the mercy of a God who loves his people and desires to engage with them for their wellbeing. What vocabulary did they have? It was the vocabulary of the gods of Egypt and Mesopotamia who were ruthless, capricious, numerous, needy and vengeful. Nevertheless, as God spoke through successive prophets, he constantly pushed the vocabulary envelop in new directions, until we receive the full unveiling of God through Jesus Christ. However, it seems that that it came to us in the form of a very complex origami package. Two thousand years later we are still trying to unfold what that full unveiling is about. God, it seems, is not done speaking. That insight is hung on banners outside many UCC churches, and I think they’ve got it right.
That should not be hard to understand, but it seems that too many Christians have been treated with some kind of repellent. They nod yes and go right on trying to read this or that text in it’s plain as day black and white meaning according to their early 21st century vocabulary, and without the slightest concern for how it relates to anything else in scripture. The fact that God is not an American, that the two thousand years of Hebrew scripture cannot be judged as if nothing developed over those two millennia, and that the people of Jesus’ day cannot be imbued with contemporary American ways of thinking just does not penetrate.
Oh well, I’ll keep on trying.