Thursday Scripture - Exodus 32:14 And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.
Is God, as portrayed in the First Testament, loving and forgiving, or angry and wrathful? Unfortunately, many Christians tend to understand the First Testament as portraying an angry and vengeful God and the New Testament correcting this error with the loving, merciful God incarnate in Jesus. But is that accurate?
Although I understand why it is that many have experienced the God of the First Testament as angry and vengeful, I think that this oversimplifies the way that God is portrayed. Israel's is a rich and complex testimony about the God they worship. It begins creatively. We are told that God lavishes Adam and Eve with a verdant and abundant garden, good for food and a delight to the eyes. Even when Adam and Eve sin by seeking total mastery over the Garden God has given, God clothes them, a sign of the victory of God's love over God's disappointment. The tension in the story of Jonah and the whale comes from Jonah's understanding that if he delivers God's message of warning to Ninevah, and the inhabitants heed the warning, God will have mercy on them. And Jonah does not want God to be merciful. Israel's testimony is consistent in its portrayal of a loving and merciful God.
Although we do not often enough hear them in our worship, the First Testament includes a number of feminine images of God and even refers to God's actions as like that of a mother. Isaiah, in particular, uses this metaphor. “For a long time I [God] have kept silent, I have been quiet and held myself back. But now, like a woman in childbirth, I cry out, I gasp and pant.” (Isa. 42:14) “As a mother comforts her child, so will I [God] comfort you; and you will be comforted over Jerusalem.” (Isa. 66:13) “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I [God] will not forget you!” (Isa. 49:15) In each, God is not angry or vengeful. In the first, God is described as a mother in the throes of birth. In the second, God is nurturing and comforting. In the third, God, compassionate.
But what of these prophets? After all, the prophets also contain strong, blunt, even shockingly destructive and angry images of God. Unfortunately what happens is that we get a small sample of the prophets and not the full picture. There is, no doubt the threat of an angry and wrathful God in the prophets. But, as Isaiah revealed above, there is also mercy and forgiveness
All of this to say that not only is idolatry the sin of putting our hope in trust in created things, in things we can control and manipulate. Also, idolatry includes the false images of God that we create. Israel's testimony about God was incredibly complex and at times complicated. It was even, as in today's story, confusing. Why is it that Israel tells this story of a God who moves from anger to mercy, to anger to mercy? I would suggest so that Israel did not ever grow too comfortable or complacent in its description of God. Once we as humans think we have God completely understood and totally described, we are worshiping a god of our own making. Instead of invoking fear, this should encourage us to nurture, humbly a deeper experience with God. What images of God do you identify with? What one's do you like the most? Creator, Mother, Father, Liberator? What images of God trouble you? Judge, Warrior, Angry Parent? Pray, ponder, journal about your favorite and least favorite images of God. What would be the weakness of only thinking of God in your favorite images? What could the positive side of the images you like the least?