At the National Prayer Breakfast on February 5, President Obama urged humility about “a sinful tendency that can pervert and distort our faith” to the point where we commit atrocities, like slavery and Jim Crow, in the name of Christ. Critics quickly denounced Obama’s comments as un-American, while supporters defended their accuracy. But few have asked why Obama did not also link Christian conviction to the campaign against slavery and racial injustice.
Recently in these pages I made the following claim: "A God of most radical grace must be a God of wrath—not the kind of wrath that burns against evildoers until they prove worthy of being loved, but the kind that resists evildoers because they are unconditionally loved" ("Washing away, washing up," Aug. 25-Sept. 1). A reader was puzzled.
The rabbi put the question to my friend directly: Do Christians believe that God is holy?" My friend was initially taken aback; she thought of the popularity of the hymn "Holy, Holy, Holy," and of her love of passages in Exodus, Isaiah and Revelation that emphasize the holiness of God. She recalled the passage in the Lord's Prayer where we indicate that God's name is hallowed.
Affection is the most instinctive, in that sense the most animal, of the loves; its jealousy is proportionately fierce. It snarls and bares its teeth like a dog whose food has been snatched away.” Thus writes C. S. Lewis in that modern classic, The Four Loves.
It turns out that the center of the Milky Way may smell like rum and taste a bit like raspberries. Ethyl formate, one of the molecules that gives raspberries their flavor and rum its smell, has been found in space. In a way this is hardly remarkable. After all, it’s no surprise that we are made of the same stuff as the stars.
Looking back to history to find yet another approach to atonement will not solve the problem, but a reconsideration of the physical or mystical theory of how Christ saves us might contribute to more fruitful and civil conversation.
Have you not known? Have you not heard? asks Isaiah. Those with ears to hear, let them hear, says Jesus. Day to day pours forth speech, says the psalmist, but God’s speech is pitched in such a register that many cannot distinguish it from silence.
I have always been fascinated by the phrase “the Lord make his face shine upon you.” God’s blessing, God’s protection, God’s peace, God’s grace—all part of that same benediction—are great goods, and if I had to choose between them and God’s shining face, I might well opt for them. But God’s shining face outdoes them all.
We employ human terms to communicate who God is to one another. But God uses not only words, pictures and images, but Jesus, the Word become flesh and dwelling among us. We look for ways to express who God is, and here God is among us in Jesus Christ, feeding, forgiving, healing and reconciling.
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