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Meagerness In My Soul

Psalm 106

14 In the desert they gave way to insatiable greed;

in the wastelands they put God to the test.

15 He gave them what they wanted

but sent meagerness into their souls. 

2 Kings 21:1-18

14 I will abandon the remnant of my heritage, delivering them into the power of their enemies — they will become prey and plunder for all their enemies;  15 because they have done what is evil from my perspective and have provoked me to anger from the day their ancestors came out of Egypt to this very day.’”

1 Corinthians 10:14-11:1

You say, “Why should my freedom be determined by someone else’s conscience?  30 If I participate with thankfulness, why am I criticized over something for which I myself bless God?”  31 Well, whatever you do, whether it’s eating or drinking or anything else, do it all so as to bring glory to God.  32 Do not be an obstacle to anyone — not to Jews, not to Gentiles, and not to God’s Messianic Community.

Matthew 8:28-34

33 The swineherds fled, went off to the town and told the whole story, including what had happened to the demonized men.  34 At this, the whole town came out to meet Yeshua. When they saw him, they begged him to leave their district. 

Resonant phrases:

“Sent meagerness into their souls.”

“Thus provoking him to anger.”

“Do not be an obstacle to anyone.”

“They begged him to leave their district.”

Everyone is troubled nowadays by the notion of God’s anger. I’m not sure why this should be, except that in today’s world, there are no examples of trustworthy anger. Angry people are dangerous, unpredictable, abusive, selfish, and liable to hurt you because their anger pushes them out of control. I have a friend whose adoptive nephew killed his own baby in a fit of rage, punching it to death.

Even the abbess of my own order struggles with the idea of God’s anger, debating with herself if the image of God as a violent defender, meting out punishment, is “an acceptable image.”

What troubles me is the idea that we should understand God by comparing God to us, that is, to human beings. I think a better understanding might be more accessible if we simply ‘reverse the polarity’ and ask ourselves how our anger might be comparable to God’s, rather than flinching at our conception of how God’s anger is like ours.

Psalm 7 says God is ‘angry every day’.  “12 (11) God is a righteous judge, a God whose anger is present every day.” I found that phrase while I was delving into Hebrew and rabbinical sources looking for the words for God’s anger. Many of the words led to trivial but interesting information, such as the Hebrews believed that the seat of anger was in the nose, and that the heat of anger was like the heat in your body that you feel after you have been bitten by a poisonous snake. I decided that those tidbits were not particularly useful to me, but what did strike me was one source talking about God’s anger being held back, and that the key to understanding the nature of God’s anger was in that withholding. “Is there wrath before God? Yes, "God is angry every day" (Ps. vii. 12, Heb.)—that is, for a brief moment imperceptible to any creature: "For his anger endureth but a moment; in his favor is life" (Ps. xxx. 6), or, again, "Hide thyself for a little moment until the wrath [A. V. "indignation"] is passed" (Isa. xxvi. 20).” Also the same commentator said this: “This withholding of wrath by God is the "righteousness" or mercies spoken of in Micah, vi. 5.”

So, I tried to think of times when I was certain that the anger I felt was justified, but I withheld it, not reacting according to my outrage, but acting instead in accordance with a commonly held concept of justice. Two occasions immediately sprang to mind, both from my experience as a police officer. The first was during an investigation that led to the recapture of a female escapee from the ankle monitor program. We were able to locate and arrest her because she was using social media to pimp her own mother to get money for drugs. Think about that for a minute—selling her own mother’s services as a prostitute, and taking the money to buy drugs for her own use! The other was my arrest of a man who had shoplifted items from a grocery store by hiding them in his 8-year-old daughter’s coat pockets. I can still remember how badly I wanted to punch him in the face after I looked at that bewildered, tearful little girl, who wasn’t sure that she hadn’t done something wrong. I remember asking the grocery store manager to take her out of the office so she wouldn’t have to see and hear the whole process of her father getting a citation, and so that I could cut loose and give him “the sharp side of my tongue,” as my grandmother would say. Imagine it for a minute—you’re eight years old, and your father furtively puts things in the pockets of your puffy purple coat and tells you not to say anything when you go through the cash register!

I am certain that my anger was entirely righteous and justified both of those times. The whole point is that I wasn’t angry on my own behalf, I was angry on account of the harm done to another, and the blindly pernicious disregard of basic human decency shown by the culprits. Still, I didn’t put myself in charge of the punishment that should be meted out.

Well, who is ultimately in charge? God is Love, but how does Love act when justice is called for? God can’t look to a consensus, or a commonly agreed upon rule of law to which God is subject along with everyone else. As a police officer, my authority to arrest and charge people with crimes came from a mandate issued on behalf of the social contract. God’s authority doesn’t work like that.

I want to go back to the first phrase now, “sent meagerness into their souls.” I keep thinking of the phrase, “tough love.” Tough love is an interactive model which is meant to help friends and relatives to stop enabling a person to continue avoiding the consequences of their behavior. An example might be letting an alcoholic person stay passed out on the kitchen floor, instead of cleaning them up and putting them to bed. In this way, the person has to experience the consequences of their actions. Another example might be enforcing a harsh rule such as, “If you bring drugs into the house, you will have to move out and not live here anymore.”

(Just a note: we empathize, and understand why parents might choose to be that harsh and ‘unforgiving’, and how doing that might actually help a person to change for the better, but we can’t seem to understand it if God does the exact same thing….?)

 Wouldn’t it be amazing if, even while letting someone do what they want; letting them keep going after things that are bad for them; keep right on doing drugs or getting drunk and passing out on the floor, if somehow we could take the flavor out of it for them? What if we could collapse their fantasy and break the feedback loop they are stuck in by letting them have what they want, but making it so they got no pleasure or satisfaction from it? What if we could, like God, send dissatisfaction (meagerness) into their souls? I would do it if I could!

So here’s a scary question—could it be that our trouble with the idea of an angry God comes from our desire to keep on doing what we want without having to bear the consequences? Could it be that we don’t want to accept that we all are in the same boat together, right along with the shoplifter hiding things in an innocent child’s pocket; with the daughter selling her mother’s sexual favors for money; with the young man who punched his baby to death? Could it be that we imagine God to be like us, instead of us being like God?

One more daunting thought—if God wasn’t ‘angry every day’, if God never “handed us over” to ourselves to suffer the consequences, where would we be then? I think we would be abandoned, bereft, hopeless, and utterly lost. Another source I found on the internet said something like this: ‘Everything we know about God’s love, mercy, justice and goodness needs to be poured into our understanding of God’s wrath.’ The same source said that God’s anger is not like our anger. So, God’s anger has to be a good thing!


Back to the readings: I think I’ve found the connecting thread. The warning is about the danger of seeing the world in terms of “us and them;” about thinking in terms of “God and us.” It’s about the danger of seeing others consciences as threats to our freedom, and about the implications of not wanting ‘do-gooders’ in our neighborhood.

So, taking hold of the thread and following it wherever it goes—

I follow the smell of dissatisfaction and it leads me to—things worth being angry about.

I take hold of the cost of my anger and it guides me to—learning how not to be an obstacle to anyone.

I edge past the blockade of my own opinions—and leave the neighborhood when I’m not welcome.

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