Carolyn Arends, in an article on the film Evan Almighty notes that some Christians objected to the concept expressed in the film that the story of Noah’s Ark is a love story. She goes on in her article to reflect on this important question: “Is there any story about God that isn't a love story?” Upon reflection, she concludes that even the parts of the Bible that speak of God’s wrath and anger are really part of a love story.
Many Christians have grown up with two viewpoints about God that appear on the surface to be contradictory. God is a God of love. But God is also a holy wrathful God who hates sin. How do we keep these two viewpoints in tension? As Carolyn probed this question, she realized that she had always viewed God in a good cop bad cop routine, with the Holy Spirit acting as a sympathetic parole officer. While expressing that God was a God of love she concluded that there were limits to his love.
How does the concept of a vengeful God fit into a love story? As Carolyn wrestled with this, she found the following analogy helpful. If her young daughter started to dash out into the street into heavy traffic, grabbing her daughter, yanking her back from harm’s way and yelling “No!” would not be a sign of harsh anger, but of fierce love. She would even punish her daughter if it led to her future safety. She concludes that it is the same with God. His punishing us for sin is a sign of his fierce love, for he knows that the consequence of sin leads to ultimate destruction, an end he does not desire for us. .
We see this dynamic at work throughout the period of the Judges and in the writings of the Old Testament prophets. Each time God brings disaster upon or punishes his people it is for a purpose – to bring them back into a loving relationship with him. Nowhere is this message more clearly seen than in the book of Hosea. For most of the book Hosea talks about how God will punish Israel. But in the final chapter he reminds them that if they will repent, God will bless them and love them freely. The entire point of chastisement is so they will return to God and be in relationship with him. This is also the point of loving one’s enemies in order to heap coals of fire on their heads. St Augustine interprets Romans 12:20 to imply that one’s enemies, provoked by our kindness, will have their malice towards us burned away in repentance.
Christian parents discipline their children because they love them and desire them to live morally upright lives that are dedicated to God. Punishment stems from this love, with the goal that their children will understand that there are consequences to their actions and will live better lives as a result. In much the same way God disciplines us when we go astray, not because he is vindictive, but because he deeply loves us and wants what is best for us. At times he punishes us as a way to draw us back to a relationship with himself.
How often do we find ourselves, like Carolyn, trying to maintain a dual image of God? How often do we flit back and forth, between images of God as a God of love and as a wrathful God? How much do you really view the entire Bible as a love story?