Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The wrath of God

I don't know why more Unitarian Universalists and freethinkers don't become Orthodox Christians (in fact I have never known any of them to), unless it's because deep down they can't stand the thought of a God who is One yet not a monad, because in that mysterious Church of the East the wrath of God is so abundantly appeased by poetical words of divine Love going in both directions—God to man, man back to God—that the average Christian there feels too at home with the God of heaven to even consider that ‘the wrath of God’ could be anything but a metaphor for our own peevishness, which God's grace will most assuredly evaporate! ‘Well,’ says Yiayia, ‘if snow’s white, it’s white; if it’s black, it’s black, and even God can’t change that!’ which is her way of saying that the strangest things are sometimes true (d’après Joice NanKivell, Again Christophilos, p.5).

Stranger still than that we should overlook God’s wrath as revealed in the letters of the holy apostles, we (perhaps maybe better said, I) daily read and pray the divine Psalms where nearly every one of them repeats and reinforces the notion that God loves virtue and the virtuous, in the Tehillim, the ‘tzaddiqim,’ but detests, even hates, sin and the wicked, the ‘resha‘im’: as Psalm 1 has it, ‘Yahweh takes care of the way the virtuous go, but the way of the wicked is doomed.’ In the Hebrew the last few words have such a sound of finality, ‘v’dérekh resha‘ím tovéd.’ Yes, ‘tovéd’, doomed, the word is loaded with every bit as much threat in Hebrew as in English, even the sound of it as it is pronounced is an audible ikon of ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels’ (Matthew 25:41).

It’s a good thing to keep in mind the wrath of God, even if we don’t understand exactly what it means, because what it does mean in the rough and tumble, aside from all intellectual or poetic skirting of the issue, is that there can be no play acting, no fooling God, even if we can fool others and ourselves: Love can heal all men of all dis-eases, even of death, but only if our hatred we are willing to lay down.

Lay down, lay down, lay it all down
Let your white birds smile up
At the ones who stand and frown

We were so close, there was no room
We bled inside each other’s wounds
We all had caught the same disease
And we all sang the songs of peace

So raise the candles high, ’cause if you don't
We could stay black against the night
Oh, raise them higher again, and if you do
We could stay dry against the rain

Some came to sing, some came to pray
Some came to keep the dark away…

—Melanie Safka, Candles in the Rain, sung at Woodstock

I love this song, have loved it since I first heard it, but now forty-four years later I wonder how we could have been so naïve, how we could have missed its real meaning, how Melanie Safka its author could have not known what it really meant while she composed it, sang it, how we could have been so blind to our own self-centered and childish rebelliousness. How self-righteous we were! How confident, but of all the wrong things! All the wrong things except one. Our need for love, to receive it, yes, but also to give it. And how ignorant we were, and how ungrateful, unaware that the very muddy soil on which we camped ourselves in huddled tents was the very stuff of which we were made, and that rain, that which made us pliable enough to be fashioned into images to be brought to Life only by the inbreathing of the God who wanted us into being.

The wrath of God, the flip side of His love? Or does holy and divine Scripture speak to us as does a mother to her little child, using baby talk? Through the words of our mother is the will of our heavenly Father intimated to us in a way that will warn but not crush us, warm but not burn us? The holy, unearthly, divine Triad, who alone is the One God, yet who chose not to be alone eternally, but unsplit and undivided from before all ages is, was, and will be Three, opening narrow a cleft in the Rock into which He places us so that we can see, Him passing by and showing us only His back, so that we can follow, hearing His name called out to us, our new names receive.

Yes, the wrath of God, what is left to us when we do not look upon Him whom we have pierced by our sins, our sin, our willful disobedience, when we do not mourn over Him as over an Only son, what is left to us when we have pushed away the Other, so that we can be alone with ourselves. If the wrath of God is a metaphor for anything, it is a metaphor for ourselves, it is we, it is I, when I choose to be everything that I was not created to be, when I want and work for at all costs that which never could have existed in this or any world. Yes, the wrath of God: ‘Is it I, Lord, is it I?’

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