Esther O’Reilly…. I mean Bethel McGrew, as she is wont to be known now, writes in her Essay Preview: Missing God of Jordan Peterson’s interview with Sam Harris in which Harris prodded Peterson to commit to conclusions on his flirtation with God. Harris teased Peterson into grappling with the idea of a personal God, but Peterson characteristically sidestepped the invitation.
Jordan Peterson is far more popular, or notorious, a subject than my extraneous musings, but Peterson isn’t the focus of my thoughts today. It isn’t Sam Harris either, though I have written about him before. Rather, the trajectory of my own past flirtations with the idea of a less personal God now prods me forward.
McGrew observes in Harris’s questions that he unwittingly, if not then crassly, “makes the same point C. S. Lewis makes in his fictional Letters to Malcolm, writing on the problem with trying to depersonalize God’s anger. Lewis’s hypothetical young correspondent suggests that we might reframe our experience of this anger as ‘what inevitably happens to us if we behave inappropriately towards a reality of immense power.’ A live wire doesn’t feel angry when it shocks us, but we know we will be shocked if we brush up against it.”
Before getting to the point, I must confess that I have played with a similar analogy out of a similar desire, I suspect, to make God seem less unpopularly angry. A God who is not wont to anger (or wrath as the Bible unabashedly puts it) seems more palatable to the modern mind, and, perhaps, safer,
Only my analogy, which I have thought to be rather clever, is of two magnets. The magnet signifying God is of immense proportion, of course, compared to the little magnet the size of humans. It doesn’t matter the size of the magnets, though; if we are orientated opposite to God, we are repelled by God.
It’s science. Like the laws of nature. It has nothing to do with God being angry.
I have toyed with the same human affinity to depersonalize an angry God. I admit the temptation to subscribe to the idea that primitive, Bronze Age people are less sophisticated than us and got it wrong to think that a loving God might get angry.
I rather like my analogy, honestly. It neatly dodges the discomfort of “the God of the Old Testament” in our collective faces. Discounting God’s wrath as primitive imagery is, perhaps, convenient, if not a dead end as I now consider.
The temptation to gloss over biblical truths is no less compelling in our time than in Lewis’s time, and, perhaps, with the same unwitting results:
“But ‘My dear Malcolm,’ Lewis writes, ‘what do you suppose you have gained by substituting the image of a live wire for that of angered majesty? You have shut us all up in despair; for the angry can forgive, and electricity can’t.’”
On my analogy, a magnet cannot do other than to repel a magnet orientated with its same pole forward. Of course, a tiny magnet opposing a larger magnet can always reorient itself! Right?
Of course, analogies always break done at some point. Have you ever tried holding two magnets with their north poles facing each other? The lesser magnet tends to want to flip and go the other direction. If the magnet were a person, the “attraction” might be described as unstoppable.
But that doesn’t seem to be the way we operate in our orientation to God. We seem to have this sticky business of free will milling about within us, and a real tendency toward sin that requires us to choose God’s way over our ways (if we want to be orientated in God’s direction). We don’t naturally align with God.
It isn’t quite like science. It’s messier than we like to think of science (not that science doesn’t have its own messiness with sticky things like quantum entanglement and such). We can no more remove God’s personhood than our own from the “equation”.
I am a bit embarrassed that I have fixated on this tangent to McGrew’s point in writing about Jordan Peterson, but it’s what caught my attention and held it. It gave my a springboard for my own thoughts. I have taken her work afield, but it’s the path I am on, so I will continue.Continue reading “The Wrath of God: Between a Rock and a Hard Place”