Friday, October 20, 2006

Angry, Angry God

I will destroy you, O Israel; who can help you? Where now is your king, that he may save you? Where in all your cities are your rulers, of whom you said, "Give me a king and rulers"? I gave you a king in my anger, and I took him away in my wrath.

Ephraim's iniquity is bound up; his sin is kept in store. The pangs of childbirth come for him, but he is an unwise son; for at the proper time he does not present himself at the mouth of the womb.

Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol? Shall I redeem them from Death? O Death, where are your plagues? O Sheol, where is your destruction? Compassion is hidden from my eyes.

Although he may flourish among rushes, the east wind shall come, a blast from the LORD, rising from the wilderness; and his fountain shall dry up, his spring shall be parched. It shall strip his treasury of every precious thing. Samaria shall bear her guilt, because she has rebelled against her God; they shall fall by the sword, their little ones shall be dashed in pieces, and their pregnant women ripped open.

Hosea 13:9-16

I'm sitting at the breakfast table while Petra munches on Cheerios and checks her email. I have just looked at the daily lectionary texts and was so repelled by this one I thought I probably had to deal with it. We Christians claim the whole bible, not just the parts we love and connect with; therefore, passages like this screed from the 8th century B.C.E. prophet are ours, just as the beautiful parts about Jesus raising little girls to life. It's all ours.

Recently someone else posted a link to this Imperial History of the Middle East, a graphic that purports to show 5000 years of history in 90 seconds. The period of time we are talking about is just a few seconds into the movie: the Kingdom of Israel arises, a lovely purple wash, and almost as quickly as it rises, it is mostly obliterated by the Assyrian Empire. That period of obliteration is the one in which Hosea is writing.

So, just to be clear: the things Hosea is saying will happen, have happened. The treasury of the king has been stripped of its precious things; the people have fallen by the sword; atrocities have been committed against men and women and children alike. It is as if a prophet would arise in the US today and say, "Your great monuments to commerce shall be destroyed; your young men and women shall perish on alien soil; your leaders shall fumble and fail." Been there, done that.

There is a fantastic, truly prophetic series of Doonesbury comics this week by Gary Trudeau. In them, 'Fear Itself' is holding a press conference about the strategies being pulled out in advance of the midterm US elections on November 7. Fear, as Trudeau points out, encourages us to ascribe blame and come up with surefire solutions. Fear causes us to vilify our enemies, and describe as enemies those who question us. Fear obliterates the possibility of reasoned discussion. In today's strip, Fear describes the choice for Americans: you can either vote for Repulicans or for enemy combatants. This is how I read Hosea: a document of fear, filled with all the blaming and finger-pointing. "Israel, you whore," Hosea says, "You have done this." The image of prositution is an image of idolatry, bowing to other gods, while the true husband tears his hair out and exacts his revenge.

I don't doubt Hosea's description of the people's unfaithfulness to the God of Israel. But I think there are other explanations for war and death and empires falling as well. I have said it before: I don't think God exacts revenge here and now; I don't think God is keeping 6 billion scorecards and sending payback on accounts delinquent. I think we can look at the abysmal situation around us, and determine why it is happening with a long, hard look in the mirror. Sure, I think God is probably angry. But I think it is more likely God weeps and weeps and weeps.

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