“The Clash between Jesus and the powers of the world… was never simply about God having a bit more power than humans, so that he could manage to beat them at their own game. It isn’t that God has stronger bombs and tanks than anybody else. It is what people expect and often want today. (Why doesn’t God do something to stop wicked dictators killing people?)” – N.T. Wright, Simply Good news (43)
This quote kicked me in the gut. Like many great quotes, it made me want to write and respond. It made me want to embrace its truth and push it away. And so I started this blog post, and I was creating all these metaphors about war, about nations, I was thinking mostly about others. I was kind of running from my own baggage, pulling a bait-and-switch: looking like I was enlightened, fooling myself into thinking I was contemplating the full weight of all this. It’s so much fun to go after those splinters in other’s eyes while denying the beam in our own.
We all know those targets that it is so easy to feel superior to. Interpretation of Revelation that get turned into books and movies that boil down to God coming in with stronger bombs and tanks. I feel some sense of superiority because the big bombs and tanks I am waiting for are much more metaphorical.
For example, one of my favorite writers, an elder statesman of the emergent movement, has written extensively about the nature of judgement: what it would be like to suddenly carry the full weight and understanding of the hurt we have caused. If I am going to work at the beam in my own eye, here is the hard question I need to face, head-on:
Why do I relish this thought? What is so appealing about the idea that one of God’s children might suffer?
The question of what is actually going to happen, that is irrelevant, right now, to me. Maybe some of the events described in the last book of the bible are going to come to pass in the literalistic straight foreward manner imagined in those book/movie series. Maybe that terrible judgement imagined by the post-modern/emergent writer is going to happen. Maybe both. Maybe neither.
As is so often the case, the important thing is my heart and mind. It’s so easy to look down my nose at somebody excited by Jesus smiting the wrong-doers with a sword coming out of his mouth. It’s much more difficult to confess that somewhere in me there is this glee that the wrong-doers might suffer.
A mature and whole faith must embrace this: If it is Good (not just right, but capital “G” -good ) that they suffer, then God will see that they suffer.
It is telling, I think, what we do with the idea that vengeance belongs to the lord.
Just this morning I realized something: that we can go in two different directions with this idea, that vengeance belongs to the lord. The first? We can act like a grade school kid. “My dad can beat up your dad.”
Well, yes. Our dad– the maker of the universe– could indeed beat up “your” dad, whoever that is. But would he? Should he? When we hear that God says, “Vengence is mine.” Do we project our ideas and expectations onto this? Do we expect God to enact this vengeance?
We have an alternative. For me, it is not easier. But it is better.
I have an imagine in my mind. A wealthy and wise neighbor has a beautiful sports car, a convertible, parked in his yard. If I noticed it just sat there, I might say, “You shouldn’t just let that car sit there! You should roll the roll the top down, cruise down main street, speed down the freeway!”
“The Porsche” sayeth my neighbor “Is mine.”
And if I truly believe that it is his, I recognize that it doesn’t matter what I think of his decisions. If he wants to let it sit there and rust, and never, ever drive it… this is his prerogative. If he hires a group of biker dudes to smash it, this is none of my business.
If I believe that this neighbor is truly wise… If I know he is smarter than me, I ought to embrace the idea that perhaps I do not understand his decision because of my own ignorance.
I could pray for God to come in with bombs and tanks. Or I could just pray that his will be done, in his way. That is a hard thing.