Saturday, 18 July 2015

The Flexibility of God's Wrath

People who don't really understand faith frequently compare it to science unfavourably, as if they are the same kind of thing and in competition. And those of us with reasonable science backgrounds and faith are accused of having "compartmentalised" minds.

Whereas I generally consider people who think this and wonder how their brain can work with so few dimensions to play in. Do they watch Or read Game of Thrones and complain that dragons don't know exist? Do they read Wordsworth and object to the concept of daffodils "dancing" as if by their own volition when we are pretty sure that, excluding the one in the "Gerald the Gorilla" sketch , they aren't that bright? Would  they object that actually daffodils are pretty bright - bright yellow - and I am unthinkingly and ambiguously using "bright" as a metaphor when the word "intelligent" would be more accurate? Would they complain that in saying daffodils are bright yellow, I have taken the flower to be the sum of the plant and missed their occasionally quite dull, and later dried and brown leaves, not to mention the bulb, out of the story completely? Do they complain that the Lark Ascending doesn't sound much like a lark, which notoriously don't have the virtuosity to lay violins?

So I like this piece from Andrew Brown on a priest who used God's threats to the People of Israel, completely out of context, to say what God would do to us because of environmental damage. There is the irony that Andrew hints at, that other priests these days would ascribe exactly the same threats to us for tolerating same-sex marriage or Hebden Bridge. God's wrath, it seems, is highly flexible.

This is why apocalyptic, in particular, is so enduring. The symbols it give us are so powerful, so apparently precise and yet, through history, so capable of re-purposing. The Beast, down through the ages, has been the Roman Empire, the Roman Catholics, Capitalism, Islam, the European Union, the Soviet Union. God's threat hangs, flexibly and infinitely redefine-able, in the air.

The Bible as a whole is such a collection of books, in different situations, different times, for different purposes - encouraging a conquered people, defining moral and ritual purity, staking a claim against the gods of Babylon, telling the story of an unexpected Messiah - it's no wonder that almost anything can be derived from its pages and proclaimed, in holy certainty, to be the word of God.

And maybe that's why it still feeds our imagination. Across the world we are still looking for a right pattern of behaviour; dealing with compete unfairness; wondering about the use of money and property; wondering what happens when we die. None of today's certainties will necessarily be tomorrow's: the Synod debate on the ecology came on the very day that many papers promised us a new Ice Age (while others debunked it). In 100 years' time, almost any change in views on sexuality, or the right running of society, could be imagined. But faith will still fund hopes, despair, dreams and explanations.

The wrath of God is utterly flexible. But God's promises are, too. And the language God gives us is powerful - more powerful than death itself.

1 comment :

  1. Whereas I generally consider people who think this and wonder how their brain can work with so few dimensions to play in.

    Autism, maybe? A preference for an accurate understanding of one dimension rather than wet-finger-in-the-air guesswork about several?


Drop a thoughtful pebble in the comments bowl