For some, the wrath and anger of God as described in the OT specifically is a problem. How can we reconcile a loving, merciful, long-suffering God with a God who can be filled with wrath?
In Fretheim’s discussion of this, he made some helpful points that may be an aid to those who cannot reconcile these diverse portraits of God. One thing to realize is that in the OT, most of God’s wrath is directed at his own people, Israel. God had called them into a special covenant relationship and thus they had special responsibilities before God. The idea that the children of Israel developed down through the ages that their election meant privilege rather than service was their error, not God’s.
The anger of God is also a sign that God cares – that he is involved in this world and that he takes things seriously. He has not set the world in motion and then withdrawn himself from it, and is now aloof. Rather, he works on this world from the inside-out. How would we feel about a God that did not care about suffering and violence and injustice? Our God cares about these issues.
One of the most helpful points made by Fretheim was that God’s anger is always accompanied by tears. Think first of the story of the Flood in Genesis 6-8. Genesis 6:6 says that wickedness of the world “grieved him to his heart” – those are tears, in essence. Tears come before punishment (verse 7).
Another text to consider here would be from the “weeping prophet” Jeremiah. In Jeremiah 9:10 and following consider these words:
"I will take up weeping and wailing for the mountains, and a lamentation for the pastures of the wilderness, because they are laid waste so that no one passes through, and the lowing of cattle is not heard; both the birds of the air and the beasts have fled and are gone. I will make Jerusalem a heap of ruins, a lair of jackals, and I will make the cities of Judah a desolation, without inhabitant."
Tears precede wrath. And what calls forth the wrath of God? Sin. If there were no sin, there would be no wrath.
Next time we will consider some thoughts about the judgment of God.
Think about the following statement and how you react to it: God is the ultimate team player. Have you ever thought about God that way? Have you ever thought about God in Genesis 1 and 2 in that way? It is a challenging thought to me because as I think about creation I have always had in mind the great God “out there” calling the world into being and shaping, fashioning, and forming it by his great power. That, of course, is certainly true, but there may be a richer picture of the process painted for us in the chapters on creation in Genesis.
Consider that God in Genesis 1 creates communally, rather than alone. Fretheim offers the following points to make us think about this idea:
1 – God uses already-existing creatures as material for creating. In Genesis 1:1-2 God spoke into existence the earth, but it still needed to be shaped and fashioned and brought to the place God intended. It was formless and void, it was dark. God’s Spirit went to work on it, and soon God added light.
2 – God invites non-human creatures to participate in creative activity. This one takes some time to get your mind wrapped around, but remember the language of creative days 3, 5, and 6. In the poetry of the narrative, the text says things like “Let the earth bring forth...” and “Let the waters bring forth...” The power, of course, is from the Creator. But the power is described as flowing through that which has already been created to bring forth new things. God is at work, with and through his creation, to enhance his creation.
3 – God invites the divine assembly to be co-creative with Him. The famous verse is Genesis 1:26 – “Let US make man in OUR image...” Here more than any other place we see the emphasis on community in creation. God does not work alone.
4 – God invites the human being to be a creative co-creator. How so? Read Genesis 2:5. In the description there of what the world was like before man was created, it is emphasized that there was “no man to work the ground.” From the beginning, God intended man to be involved in His creation in a direct way. Later in chapter 2, verses 18 and following, God again speaks communally (“Let us...”) as he describes the problem of man being alone. He invites man to be involved in naming the creatures God had made. He then uses man to make a new human – the woman.
Later, man and woman begin to have children. In Genesis 4:1 Eve bears her first child and makes this proclamation – “I have gotten / acquired / created a man with the help of the Lord!” Translations differ on how to render the Hebrew verb there, which is actually a play on the name of the first child – Cain. However one translates the verb, the point is made that God uses Adam and Eve to bring forth new life into the world.
When one turns to the first genealogies in Genesis chapter 5, man is again described in creator-like terms. Genesis 5:3 – “When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son IN HIS OWN LIKENESS, AFTER HIS IMAGE, and named him Seth.” Where have we heard the language of likeness and image before? Genesis 1:26, there applied to God.
Again, the point of all this is to show how intimately God is involved with his creation. He is not separate and acting solo. He is working from within. He has always been Immanuel – God-with-us.
Next post we will begin to look at some of the difficult pictures of God in the Old Testament, like his anger, wrath, and judgment.
There is a better thing than the observance of Christmas day, and that is “keeping Christmas.”
Are you willing to forget what you have done for others, and to remember what other people have done for you;
to ignore what the world owes you, and to think of what you owe the world;
to put your rights in the background and your duties in the middle
distance and your chances to do a little more than your duty in the foreground;
to see that your fellow men are just as real as you are, and try to look behind their faces to their hearts, hungry for joy;
to own that probably the only good reason for your existence is not what you are to get out of life but what you are going to give;
to close your book of complaints against the management of the universe and look around you for a place where you can sow a few seeds of happiness—
are you willing to do these things even for a day?
Then you can keep Christmas.
Are you willing to stoop down and consider the needs and the desires of little children;
to remember the weakness and loneliness of people who are growing old;
to stop asking how much your friends love you and ask yourself whether you love them enough;
to bear in mind the things that other people have to bear in their hearts;
to try to understand what those who live in the same home with you really want, without waiting for them to tell you;
to trim your lamp so that it will give more light and less smoke, and to carry it in front so that your shadow will fall behind you;
to make a grave for your ugly thoughts and a garden for your good thoughts, with the gate open—
are you willing to do these things even for a day?
Then you can keep Christmas.
Are you willing to believe that love is the strongest thing in the world—stronger than hate, stronger than evil, stronger than death—and that the blessed life which began in Bethlehem so many years ago is the image and brightness of the Eternal Love?
Then you can keep Christmas.
And if you keep it for a day, why not always?
When we think of some of the tough descriptions of God in the Scriptures, especially in the Old Testament, it is helpful to lay some groundwork. Fretheim discussed the implications of the following statement - “God is a relational God.” He based this, first of all, on the earliest proof in the text – Genesis 1:26-27:
Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
Let US make man. From the beginning, God reveals himself to be a social being and to be a part of a divine community. God translates this into his world by making man a social being designed to function in community as well. God himself works to establish a relationship with mankind, and eventually with a particular community of human beings – Israel.
When Israel speaks of God, she speaks of him in human terms. The Biblical images of God tend to be deeply relational terms. God has a personal relationship with people. He speaks to them – they speak to him. He hears. He is pleased, and sometimes he is not.
So on the one hand, God is described as high above man and beyond his comprehension. On the other hand, God is described almost as if he is a man – using human characteristics to paint the picture of a God who sees, hears, smiles and cries.
God has also made an interrelated world by fashioning a “spider web” of relationships between man and the rest of creation. Man’s behavior affects more than just himself, but also fellow men, and animals, and the rest of creation (think especially of the Flood here).
The amazing thing about all this is that God chooses to work from WITHIN a committed relationship to this world, NOT from without. As a result, when things go wrong on planet Earth, God is affected. Our God is a God who is involved; indeed, who is deeply committed to this world, his creation.
In the next post, we will look a little further into God’s creation and how it sheds light on who God is and how he relates to us.
I once had the opportunity to listen to some lectures on the Old Testament by Dr. Terence Fretheim, a prominent OT scholar. I have read several of Dr. Fretheim’s books, and though I would hardly agree with many of his critical conclusions on the composition of the OT, his theological insights I have often found to be rich and instructive.
Fretheim’s theme for the lectures was “Problematic Portraits of God in the Old Testament.” His task was to delve into such things as God’s anger, wrath, judgment, etc. I would like to make some posts here and share some of the insights that I found particularly helpful.
Fretheim began by discussing the importance of “creation theology” in answering these difficult views of God in the OT. One of the main thrusts of this lecture was derived from Genesis 1:26-27 –
Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
He talked about the importance of the fact that God is a relational God. “Let us.” God, from the beginning, was not solo – he was in relationship. God is a social being and belongs to a divine community.
Fretheim then listed some characteristics of God’s relationships that have bearing on these difficult portraits of God in the OT:
1 – God values conversation. He puts a premium on prayer.
2 – God values and empowers the work of others. In a sense, God shares power with others. He lets others work in his creation.
3 – God allows others to express their will.
4 – God is affected by the relationships he has with others. Sometimes he is provoked...somtimes disappointed...sometimes hurt, etc.
5 – God does not map out the entire future in detail. As an example, read Jeremiah 22:1-5. Notice how in both verse 4 and verse 5 the word “IF” is so important.
This was some groundwork information for the subsequent lectures on the troublesome portraits of God in the OT. More on this in future posts...