“If God isn’t for us, then who is?” Wait that’s not how the quote goes. But, what happens when God isn’t for us?
Maybe you’re thinking, “God is love, God’s always for us.” And you’re exactly right. Except when he’s not.
The early church folks believed God is immutable (fancy way of saying, “unchanging”).
So, if God is love, then God is always love. God doesn’t change and get angry on the cross. God’s love is wholly and decidedly for you, for creation. It’s for, not against.
What about that other word related to God. The one I don’t like to think/talk/read/preach about: wrath.
What if the wrath of God is the other side of the coin of God’s love? Stick with me here.
If God is for the whole of humanity–in love–then where does God’s wrath come in? James Bryan Smith explores two false narratives about God’s wrath in The Good and Beautiful God:
1) God is wrathful–God’s just angry and out to get you. “You’re a sinner, sorry ’bout your luck.” xoxo, god. [cue fire-bolt]
2) God doesn’t care about sin–God’s a big ole softy. Your sin’s no big deal, he’s the pushover who won’t stand up for himself and just keeps getting knocked back down. “No big deal, I love you.” xoxo, god.
The answer? James Bryan Smith dives into some reflection about passion and pathos, but don’t take my word for it…
No spoilers, go read it.
If God is love, and love is to will the good of another, then wrath can’t be essential to God’s nature. But neither does God just sit by and watch us wallow in our decrepit sin.
“Sin is something that changes God into a projection of our guilt, so that we don’t see the real God at all; all we see is some kind of judge. God (the whole meaning and purpose and point of our existence) has become a condemnation of us. God has been turned into Satan, the accuser of man, the paymaster, the one who weighs our deeds and condemns us.” (Herbert McCabe, quoted on Tamed Cynic).
The usual way we talk about sin makes it God’s problem, not ours. If God just gets angry enough and Jesus suffers enough, then we’ll be forgiven for our sin. McCabe’s discussion of sin makes it our problem with God.
Sin doesn’t make us unlove-able to the God revealed in Jesus Christ. Sin distorts our way of seeing. We see the love of a father instead as a guilty verdict handed down by a judge, the gavel strike ringing in our ears.
So, maybe, you’re like me. You thought you were free from legalism, but this sneaking legalism [blindness] has been present the whole time. Only it wasn’t a legalism of action, it was a legalism of forgiveness. A legalism that says if you just act sorry enough or feel bad enough for what you’ve done, God will withhold wrath and instead meet you with love.
But that’s opposite of who God is. Love calls, inviting you to respond. It doesn’t force it’s way. Love is the way in the kingdom of God–the name for that reality where what God wants done is done.
Wrath is the way outside that kingdom. Not a passionate negative reality (God’s not like Zeus, waiting to hurl down a thunderbolt). Wrath is your experience of God’s active, purifying love.
George MacDonald wrote, “love loves unto purity.” The process may not be easy–or pleasant–but the refining/purifying love of God changes you.
Re-read that last sentence–you. Not God. God is unchanging. The call of love will continue to ring out–whether you hear it best from the cross, the empty tomb, or Jesus’ invitation to “follow me.” Again,
Jesus calls to repent, change your mind, a different way of being human is possible. One where you can tell the truth and seek forgiveness, not as some abstract no-thing, but as a concrete change of your relationship to yourself, neighbor, and God.
If your repentance could somehow impact God’s posture toward you, then you would make yourself creator and your god would be a creature. You would call and your god would respond.
But that’s not how God rolls. God (the creative voice of love) calls, and you (creature) are invited to respond. Repentance and forgiveness are practices you’ve been given to orient your life more fully to the end for which you were created: life with God.
What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments or on our social media pages.