Any parents out there reading this article? Any teachers out there with students that they love and care for doing “naughty” things that are interfering with their soundness of character and speed of learning? Any leader of any group that has gathered for any reason whatsoever where the brightest light in your “togetherliness” is playing about with the integrity of the purpose for which you are together? If you fit the bill of any of these criteria, follow me while I ask a burning question. At least it is burning to me. Promise me you won’t argue amongst yourselves as I present an aspect of God’s character and experience with mankind that is brushed over by the vastmajority of Christians and especially Theologians.
To introduce my issue, let me tell a true story that occurred many years ago when my son was in his early teens. I cannot remember ever getting really annoyed with him in his development as he was, generally, an incredibly well-behaved lad, naturally and happily gregarious and intensely socially and neighbourly minded, giving his parents no need at all to shout or confront him because of bad behaviour.
Except one time. And this is what I want to talk with my readers about.
The police rang me at home one day. They checked my name and address and confirmed who I was before telling me that my son was in Police custody. “Could you please come down to the Station, sir, and take your son home?” What?
It turned out that my son and one of his male school friends had climbed onto the roof of a building in the middle of Derby in the UK, and were playing music and/or dancing, and generally making a noise disturbing the entire vicinity of the City centre and even shaking the roof, which I was told was not totally stable. From what the Police explained the noise was such that it created in me the image of that last concert of the Beatles that was on a roof-top that disturbed the area to such a degree that they were asked to stop. It was the roof above a Snooker Club and had quite a few electronic and physical deterrents stopping anybody from gaining access to the top of the building. Quite a few of the locals had contacted the Police about the “noise nuisance” – the nuisance that was my son. It seems that it took the Police longer to get up there than it took the two young teenagers, and the noise they were making was so loud that when the Police shouted to them they were simply not heard.
That is how I remember it. If you ever meet my son and ask him, any variations in the account of this episode is up for grabs, because the Police told me stuff about it all that, it would seem, they did not tell him. By the way, my son, who was 13-14 when this incident took place, is nearly 40 years old now.
Here we are, twenty-five years or so later and I am offering a wry smile to my reflections as I read my words back to myself on my computer screen. It is a memory entrenched within my heart. In one way it is a bad recall, in another sense it is a blessed one. And, I hasten to say, it isa precious one.
At the time, as I drove down to the Police Station I was angry. I had the proverbial imaginary steam puffing from my brain and out of my ears. The Police Station was only ten minutes away – but ten minutes was all the heating time I needed for my liquid emotions to reach boiling point as I entered the Station. My son had ink on the tips of his fingers. His finger prints were now “forever” enshrined on Police records.
As I remember, I was so – so angry that I quite literally could not speak. The Police told me privately that they could see that the two boys were decent sort of, “well brought up” kids. The Police said that, not me. The two officers I spoke to told me they did all they could to frighten the daylights out of the boys in a “means justifying the ends” action of finger prints and even showing them the jail cells.
For about ten to fifteen minutes or so I was silent in my anger and demeanour. That was the scariest thing I think I ever did with my son. Whenever we were together we would talk for England. Happy, open, revealing conversation was our entire lifestyle. My silence was like violent parental abuse to him at that time.
I remember, however my profound personal inner conflict. I was remarkably, profoundly angry with my son; yes! In my anger I knew that, as a good father, I needed to severely discipline him to make sure he was aware of the repercussions of his actions. But … I love my son and would die for him. And when my anger had subsided, all I did was embrace him. I think, if I remember correctly, we both shed a few tears. He apologised with emotion, I said, “Just make sure you never do anything like that ever again, son.” And then I made a cup of tea and the issue was closed, and has been ever since.
O.K! So, what is my issue?
My issue is to look for a name, a title or some criteria to my actions here. Was I in conflict? Was I in turmoil? Was I under emotional pressure? Was I being manipulated by my own intense affection for my son? Was I revealing a complexity of deep character behaviour? Was my response sound? Intelligent? Mature? Or what? What label would you give me in all that? Was I right? Was I wrong? Was my final response helpful or unhelpful? What exactly was going on inside my son’s father?
While I am brainstorming you with this issue, your thought processes are easy to handle because of what I am. I am a man. I err sometimes. I am a fallen human being. Whatever label you want to put on me I can accept. But after you have thought through all this, I have a huge question to extrapolate from my puny issue; an issue that years later I can laugh about and even trivialize when I talk about it with my son.
My huge, mountainous – nay – galactic cum cosmic size question is this: What do we say about God’s character when He gets angry, makes the most horrendous threats – and then says, “No! I can’t do that! I love my children too much to do it.” Just what nouns, verbs and general language does one use to accurately describe the Almighty’s emotional situation. What adjectives do we use? What name do we give such conduct? Surely, we need to analyse the facts before we diagnose and make a pronouncement.
This incident happened just once in my life. But exactly the same thing happened quite a few times with Almighty Yahweh. Don’t be afraid to think through this. It is quite concerning when the scripture, kind of, invites the reader to make an analysis of Divine behaviour. It is like the wet soggy clay on the potter’s wheel, analyzing the potter who labours to make something positively purposeful on the wheel, but bashes the clay in to make the project again. Let me show you some of the incidents the incidents that I have in my mind. One today, and more in the days to come. You may even find other occasions that I have missed.
Seriously, the Hebrew Bible is full of these examples.
Exodus 32:1- 14 gives us a startling narrative (The quote is from the NIV):
“When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.” 2 Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” 3 So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. 4 He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” 5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord.” 6 So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.
7 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. 8 They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’ 9 “I have seen these people,” the Lord said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. 10 Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.” 11 But Moses sought the favour of the Lord his God. “Lord,” he said, “why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people.13 Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.’” 14 Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.”
Aha! One would not be illogical with this account to say that it very much seems that Moses loved Israel more than Yahweh. Blasphemy? Look deeply into the heart of God and observe where He is. “Angry,” is an understatement.
Yahweh would not say anything that He did not mean, would He? If He asked Moses to leave Him alone while He expended His righteous, sinless, perfectly correct anger on the idolaters of Israel, there would not be any joke or game play in the character of God would there?
God had made His mind up about what He was going to do – and said so. Moses, however, was in no mind to leave God alone. Moses speaks with a heart, an understanding, a knowledge, an assurance and a confidence of the character of God that is beyond sermonisation or lecture. This is the ultimate in height of intimacy with God and the definitive statement in depth of identification with Israel.
This could not have been a prepared speech to present before the Master. It was as spontaneous to Moses inter-action with Yahweh as was Yahweh’s cry of the idolatry that was taking place at the foot of the mountain on which God was standing at that moment.
God was conflicted in His own heart. In Exodus 34:6- 7, when revealing Himself to Moses, He declared Himself to be;
6“The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.” (italics and bold face font mine)
Wonderful! I have heard may a preacher discuss these lines of scripture, but I have never heard so much as a sound byte as to the how, the what and the why, about the people who have received His abounding love – people who must have been guilty of sin at some point in their lives – and those who will not be allowed to continue forever unpunished.
God’s clear-cut purpose and plan for humanity is to lavish his love, and yet to judge the guilty. But we are all guilty, aren’t we? There is the issue of faith and obedience in the Gospel message and the heart of God. However, at this very moment of time, the people of Israel at the foot of Sinai were neither repentant, in faith, looking to God for His goodness and grace or anything that was even vaguely righteous. The anger of God was deeply aroused, and Moses’ prayer calmed the heart of God.
I say that because of the evil, sinful conduct of Israel Yahweh Himself was conflicted. To Judge or to bless? To save or to damn? To accept or to reject? These are the foundations of deep, profound agonizing inner conflict in the Divine heart. That’s my opinion. What is yours?