Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Tuesday of the Fourth Week in Lent

Exodus 32:7-14 / John 7:14-31

There is a standard trope in contemporary theology and spirituality which asserts that the image of God as wrathful, as there being such a thing as divine anger, is the result not so much of revelation as an incomplete emotional and spiritual development on the part of the believer. On this view, God is never, indeed can never be angry. He is always love, always joy. To see God as angry and our task to be appeasing that anger is, on this view, an infantile, and ultimately destructive view of the Lord.

What, then, shall we make of the account of Moses' pleading with God to spare his people Israel for the sin of making the golden calf, worshiping it, and offering it sacrifice, even though it was the Lord who brought them out of the land of Egypt? Seeing the rebellion in his people, the Lord God says: I see that this people is stiff-necked: let Me alone, that My wrath may be kindled against them. To defend his people, Moses pleads, not making an appeal to mercy or love, but to the honor of God's own name which, should he destroy Israel, would come into disgrace among the nations. It was, as the story goes, in this way that the Lord was appeased from doing the evil which He had spoken against His people.

It is not helpful, I think, to suggest that Exodus merely records a primitive state in the religious and spiritual development of the people of Israel, as though we should merely mark this part of the story as an interesting historical relic, yet conclude that it has nothing noteworthy to reveal about who God is. On the contrary, it tells us something crucial about how God relates to us. When God threatens to destroy Israel, he offers Moses a promise: and I will make of thee a great nation. In other words, the Lord suggests to Moses that he could begin again, forming descendents of Abraham not from the many sons and daughters of Israel, but through the last remnant of Moses himself. The suggestion, that is, is that Moses consider as a response to sin in the world merely starting over, abandoning those who have strayed and finding new people to serve the Lord.

In Moses' refusal of this offer, and in the Lord's pleasure with Moses' response, we can see that the Lord, however deeply angry with Israel, is even more concerned what responsibility we take for the sins of others. Do we, in the face of those Christians who give the faith a bad name, who rebel against the authoritative teaching of the Church, who abuse the lives of the innocents placed in her care, whose silence in the face of dehumanizing rhetoric or law scandalizes the faithful and empowers the wicked — do we in these cases want God to sweep the floor clean and start again? Or, like Moses, are we willing to embrace the whole of God's people, compromised though they may be by sins, even sins scarlet with blood or black as night? Are we convinced that the answer to rebellion against God is not our siding with God against the rebels, as though this would be pleasing to him, but in holding fast to God's honor by taking responsibility for the waywardness of his people? Will we have the courage to be identified with, and share the lot with, those who have brought shame to the name of the Gospel, and in taking on that shame, reveal to them and to ourselves, that the burning wrath we had seen before is nothing other than the blazing charity which set fire to the world from the Cross of Jesus Christ?

No comments: