This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news:
JAPAN: SOME TOWNS WILL NEVER BE REBUILT
Jeremiah 4:9-10, 23-28
9On that day, says the Lord, courage shall fail the king and the officials; the priests shall be appalled and the prophets astounded. 10Then I said, ‘Ah, Lord God, how utterly you have deceived this people and Jerusalem, saying, “It shall be well with you”, even while the sword is at the throat!’
23 I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void;
and to the heavens, and they had no light.
24 I looked on the mountains, and lo, they were quaking,
and all the hills moved to and fro.
25 I looked, and lo, there was no one at all,
and all the birds of the air had fled.
26 I looked, and lo, the fruitful land was a desert,
and all its cities were laid in ruins
before the Lord, before his fierce anger.
27 For thus says the Lord: The whole land shall be a desolation; yet I will not make a full end.
28 Because of this the earth shall mourn,
and the heavens above grow black;
for I have spoken, I have purposed;
I have not relented nor will I turn back.
The anger of God is a big theme in Jeremiah and all the prophets. This is always presented as the reaction of one who loves his people and has been rejected or betrayed by them. It is certainly the case that if God is to be presented as having emotion analogous to human emotion it doesn’t make sense to attribute love but not anger at the betrayal of love. That is not to say that the anger must be expressed destructively. Indeed this is a crux of faith. If we accept that God might decide to destroy his sinful people, we are attributing to him the kind of cold rage that brings rejected lovers to murder their unfaithful partners and sometimes even their children. “If I couldn’t have them,” one said, “No-one else was going to have them.” Would God send what sounds like a vast earthquake, as an angry warning to his people?
One answer would be that Jeremiah interprets natural and historical disasters as signs of God’s anger, which could be described as an absence of control over chaos and human destructiveness. Although we may not interpret this absence in the same way as Jeremiah, we do experience it. What is the Japanese disaster and the Libyan war if not this absence? Jeremiah would have interpreted both as signs of God’s anger. I would rather call them signs of the terrible impotence of God’s love which will not intervene to prevent natural or human destruction. To sum up, I think it’s wrong to believe that God destroys but right to believe in God’s anger.
19 Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. 20The Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing; and he will show him greater works than these, so that you will be astonished. 21Indeed, just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whomsoever he wishes. 22The Father judges no one but has given all judgement to the Son, 23so that all may honour the Son just as they honour the Father. Anyone who does not honour the Son does not honour the Father who sent him. 24Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgement, but has passed from death to life.
25 ‘Very truly, I tell you, the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. 26For just as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself; 27and he has given him authority to execute judgement, because he is the Son of Man. 28Do not be astonished at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice 29and will come out—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.
It is a person’s relationship to Christ that determines their eternal destiny. In the end he will be the saviour of those who have decided for him and for goodness, and the judge of those who have decided against him and for evil. Indeed those who have in life decided to belong to Jesus do not even come into judgement, Eternal life is already theirs.
Some modern theology encourages us to be vague about judgement. I certainly want to believe that the little ones of Jesus, those who lived by explicit trust in him or by a good conscience, are confirmed in sharing the life of God; and that the big brutes, the manipulators of power, wealth and violence will get theirs. I believe that some lives are so full of wilful death that God will let them die in the knowledge that this has been their choice.