Wrong God, Wrong Pew

Today’s readings:

  • Isaiah 35:1-6A, 10
  • James 5:7-10
  • Matthew 11:2-11

In the Douay, the RSV, and the NABRE with other Mass texts

Confortamini, et nolite timere: ecce Deus vester ultionem adducet retributionis; Deus ipse veniet, et salvabit vos.
Take courage, and fear not: behold your God will bring the revenge of recompense: God himself will come and will save you.
Isaiah 35:4b

Behold your God!

I’ve got little clips of the Messiah running through my head at this time of year. Not unexpected, but constant.  This “Behold your God” is one of the places where the soloist can cut loose, embellishments happen, trills and runs, arpeggios and whatall, making a point of this prophetic utterance: BEHOLD YOUR GOD.  This God with vengeance and healing is going to be a baby laying in a pile of cow fodder, born in blood and filth. And he will need his mother’s milk to survive.

Behold your God.

There are some reasons not to like this guy – that whole vengeance part sounds scary, but verses 5 and 6 sound nice, “Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as a hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall be free: for waters are broken out in the desert, and streams in the wilderness.”

Isaiah, however, puts the “Behold” right before the vengeance. As if to say, “Yeah, this is going to, on the whole, sound so very good that I’ll need to put the tough bit first so you don’t miss it: VENGEANCE.” Gulp.

Maybe he means it for our enemies – like, all the people that beat up Israel will get punished.  No, that can’t be it: because most of the people that beat up on Israel God took the credit for. God was using them on us. Goodness. he means Vengeance on Us! Let’s skip that part when we write up the music.

We like to edit God to make him conform to our ideas. I’ve been thinking about a few common edits popular today. I’ve decided to reject them. Here’s why:

The first edited god I reject is the nearly-gnostic nudger.  This dud planted hints in all our mind/world and wants us to just sort of get along. At the end of the day it’s expected that this nudger will say, “Yeah, that wasn’t the important part. Welcome to the important part now! Everyone’s going to be there.”

Were I to arrive at the Big and Pearlies and meet this party, I’d want to go to the other place: because this god is mute and powerless. I’d say to him, “You’ve seen us down here flummoxing along for millennia and all you could give us was a vague sense of “be excellent to each other” and that you might be here? Satan at least had the balls to try something more direct.”

A wee bit further down the scale of desirable deities we find the Bipolar Holy Humbug: this one seems to have spoken once or twice, but not definitively. He has up days and down days. He’s seemingly told the Jews to kill all the pagans, and told the Christians not to kill anyone, and told the Muslims to kill everyone except the Christians and the Jews, unless some politics intervene. He’s told the Native Americans next to nothing, and together with all the pagans of Europe, they got bollox for not having a deity that could write.

Heaven for this guy will look like the Simpsons’ version, with different clouds for different people, all having been promised different heavenly enjoyments. He will have to point out where each path got the “primal tradition” wrong. We’ll all get heavenly treats, but we’ll discover all our demerits too. Were I to arrive at the Sorting Supper for this archipelago, I’d let everyone know that this god has no power. Evidently once humans heard the Real Message, he couldn’t stop us from making edits to the better passages. He left no authority and no teachers.

Finally, the Nihilistic Sociopathic Deity and Partier: the one that says “All are welcome, cross over! Everything is forgiven! Come to the banquet: the party is just starting! This deity has no rules and no one will get left out. He’s either powerless to reveal any rules, or else he’s made a lot of them (because we do have a lot of them) yet they are of no value at all. I might think sex is holy one way, but not another… this deity doesn’t care. You might think ideas of justice and peace are important, but this god doesn’t care. The liberal sort might imagine that they should be saving the world. This god doesn’t care. This god doesn’t care if you’re Donald Trump, Mother Teresa, Larry Flint, or you and me. There is no punishment. There is no justice.

Were I asked to belly up to this bully’s buffet, I’d throw the tray in his face: millennia of striving for various ideas of perfection (and, yes, some of them overlap, while some of them are mutually exclusive) when all we needed to do was kill, maim, grab all the bootie and the bootay and then we’d all get to heaven anyway. Yeah, this guy hates us. Totally hates us.

In the end, however, all three of these demonic delusions have one trap left to spring: you can’t say no to them. Unless they change their minds – they could you know. We could all end up in hell just because they were passive aggressive as well as bullies. Unless they do that though, you’re trapped with them though all eternity. They intend to save us all even if we don’t want them to: eternal damnation in heaven.

I’ll take a God who loves us so much as to give us the freedom to say no. I will follow a God who loves us so much that he gives us instructions for how to follow him and, from time to time, offers correctives when we step out of line. I will love a God who loves us so much that when we had fallen into sin and death he took sin and death upon himself to destroy them. I will dance with a God who says that my choices matter, my choices have consequences, and my choices might be good – or bad. Yet they are my choices to make, my consequences, my real life.

The God of Vengeance is the God who can do something. Anything less is a god it makes no point to follow. Yes to the idea of a God having wooed me without traps, having revealed himself to me with only a Baby and expected me to follow… yes. That’s a God I need: vulnerable and yet omnipotent, just and yet merciful, glorious and awesome, yet humble and meek. That’s a God I not only want to follow, but I want to emulate him.

Author: Huw Raphael

A Dominican Tertiary living in San Francisco, CA. He is almost 59. He feeds the homeless as a parochial almoner and is studying to be a Roman Catholic Deacon. He is learning modern Israeli Hebrew and enjoys cooking, keto, cats, long urban hikes, and SF Beer Week.

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