Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Is God Good or is He Angry?


The movement of self-contemplation alone could not satisfy (God’s) goodness, for good must be poured out and go forth beyond itself to the objects of its beneficence; this is essential to the highest goodness. (Orations, St Gregory Nazianzen, CA 365 AD)


A typical presentation of the gospel in today’s America explains to the hearer that God is good, and that he loves to bring good to all persons, yet, at the very same time, this good God is also one who is offended by sin, and is therefore very angry with them. This perspective is a legacy left to the western church by St. Augustine, who employed his Platonic logic to the scriptures and Christian theology.

It is inherently difficult, if not impossible to present God as both Good and as angry without having some major philosophical problems to overcome. However, it should be understood that this view has not always been the prevailing view in the church. Unlike Augustine, the basis of the gospel in the early church and in today’s Eastern Church has always been that God is good, and that he loves even those who deeply offend him. The basis for the gospel is what Gregory the theologian calls the essential to the highest goodness. And that which is essential is to pour out goodness and go forth beyond oneself to the objects of its beneficence. True goodness is good all the time, in every place, and in every way, to all. When Jesus describes what God is like to His hearers, and therefore what we are to be like, he says:

Mat 5: 43 "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

In this passage we are told that our Father in heaven is perfect, and this perfect One loves His enemies in the same way as His friends. This makes it quite difficult to explain how it is that God is angry with the one with whom the gospel is being shared. In fact, it seems to stand in direct contradiction to the gospel. The heart of the gospel is that God is not angry with his creatures, but instead He desires to share all the goodness that is His with them. He desires them to live in communion with them forever. The short version of the gospel is this: God desires to live in you and you in him, and has opened the way to that relationship by the incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of his beloved Son our Lord Jesus Christ; God is not angry with you, he wants you back as His own, will you enter into that life?

Without a doubt one can spend a great deal of time explaining the implications of the incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, but nevertheless, this is quite a different gospel than many in our day have heard.

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