Thursday, June 29, 2017

God's Wrath

The daily readings were interrupted by the special feast today commemorating St. Peter and St. Paul. However, my practice is to pray over the weekly reading cycle regardless, so I read 1 Samuel 8. I'm glad I did as it matched well with our Bible study today.

Samuel the little boy with the vision of chapter 3 is old (3:19 "Samuel grew up," very little narrative about growing up). He names his sons as judges, but as is often the case, the son is incapable of living up to the father. His sons are interested in personal wealth and gain. Like his mentor, Samuel is a failed father. The elders of Israel come to him and describe the situation. "You are old and your sons are not suitable, so we want a king, so we can be like everyone else." Samuel is deeply hurt and upset, going to the Lord in prayer. God tells him, "They did not reject you, they reject me." So God tells Samuel to go along with their request and give them what they ask. However, He does tell Samuel to explain what being like every else will mean. Samuel enumerates the various demands a monarchy makes on people. The verb "to take" occurs over and over. Kings take much more than they give. God says that He will allow the people to choose, but He will not save them from the choice. In my mind, this is the wrath of God.

We live in a culture which is ruled by personal wants and desires. Companies are learning to market and produce to individuals. Custom made products designed and created based on personal preferences and choices. In fact, the power to decide has dramatically impacted many of our social institutions and has even changed how people determined their own identities. Self-identification ("I am what I decide that I am!") is very much the spirit of the age.

I would argue that the wrath of God is best understood as the Divine decision to say, "okay, have it your way." Israel wants to be like everyone else. They want access to a visible, human king. They reject the invisible God. God provides but Israel doubts. All sin springs forth from a seed of doubt ("Can God be trusted?") and a choice of willfulness ("I will decide"). We want what we want they declare, ignoring all advice to the contrary.

The book of kings ends in exile. The king the people wanted has been dethroned by an enemy. Israel is just like her neighbors. The Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of men and women are different. We are seduced by the world. We are seduced by the desire to call the shots. We are seduced by the power God gives us to reject Him and have it our way. You and I also can choose. Will it be God or do we want to be like everyone else? God's wrath is His willingness to let us choose.

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