11024 S. Bell Avenue
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Reflection September 24, 2017
Healing Unhealthy God-images by Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
Is God God for everyone? The answer to this question may seem obvious but there are times when most of us get confused in our answer. We all - every one of us - want to make God our own. God belongs to our race, our ethnic group, our religion, our denomination, our nation.
This “making God our own,“ becomes very evident in war. When we go to war, we assume God is on our side. Our enemies are God’s enemies. God will “grant” us victory. As I mentioned in last Sunday’s sermon, the victorious side always proclaims that God has given them victory.
In the same way, the ancient Israelites believed God was leading them into battle, helping them slay the enemy. Losing in battle could only be the result of sin and God’s displeasure.
We Americans often believe that God is an firm advocate of the “American Way.” God wants us to be victorious over any and all enemies. God loves us more than “those people.”
Whenever any religion portrays God as being on the side of its adherents, then that religion has serious sickness hiding within it. The degree of sickness depends on the degree God is seen as favoring certain peoples.
Wanting God on “our” side is a natural reaction, but one which gets in the way of a healing and healthy faith. It’s akin to asking a father or a mother which of their children they love most. A parent may very well have “favorites,” but God loves us all equally.
God’s love may well become more evident in certain people, but that doesn’t mean God loves them more than anyone else. As I’ve preached many times, God loves the greatest saint and the greatest sinner the same. The significant difference is that the saint knows he or she is loved by God; the saint is not so sure of that divine love.
Yet we all want to be “favorites.” My twin brother, Jack, was - to my child’s mind - my mother’s “favorite” when we were young. I “took over” that position later in life. But God does not act according to human norms.
Yet whether it’s in trying to win a special place with our parents or in fashioning a special niche with our religion, we all strive to stand out from the crowd. But if our religion gives us the impression of being “above” our fellow humans, then our religion must be deemed “dangerous.”
The ancient Israelites believed they were special. God had especially chosen them. They were able to destroy their enemies and conquer the “Promised Land.” God was decidedly on their side. But consider the story of Jonah, one of the most important stories of the Old Testament. (It’s very short - only 4 chapters long. Perhaps now would be a good time to re/read it!) Jonah, by the way, is a fable not a history lesson.
Jonah is commanded by God to go to the great city of Nineveh. God has decided to destroy them unless they repent. Jonah is to go and proclaim this divine threat - along with a timetable. But Jonah wants nothing to do with this task.
He flees and winds up in the belly of a great fish. Why does Jonah flee? Because he hates the people of Nineveh. He wants them destroyed. They are one of the traditional enemies of Israel. If Jonah doesn’t preach to them, they cannot repent and God will have to wipe them out.
After his time in the belly of the great fish, he takes the hint and goes to Nineveh. He preaches to the people: “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” Jonah then waits for God to destroy the people as promised.
But all the people, including the king, fast from all food and water and cover themselves (including the animals) with sackcloth and ashes. God relents. “When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.” (Jonah 3:10)
Jonah is all angry with God and demands that God kill him. In a most telling response to Jonah’s complaints, God answers: “And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?” (Thus ends the Book of Jonah.)
The message of Jonah: God is God not only for the Israelites but for their enemies as well. This is a critical message to all of us and for all religious peoples everywhere. We forget the truth of Jonah to our peril!
Often we make our enemies “godless.” We fight against people who are not Christian and assume God will be on our side. Human history is filled with such thinking and the destruction unleashed because of it. Moslems, Hindus, Christians, and so on, have all misused God in this way.
How could we possibly believe in a God who takes sides in war? Do we petition God to kill God’s own sons and daughters? Yet how could we love and worship a Father-God who would murder his own children? God seen as a divine executioner repudiates much of the “Good News“ of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.
We all try to make God “our own.” God is ours. God is not yours. And because God is “ours” - we’re better than you. We are more loved by God than you. Protestants are more loved than Catholics. Catholics are more loved than Protestants. Christians are more loved than non-Christians. Believers are more loved than non-believers. It goes on and on. Graveyards are full of the tragic results of the violence that accompanies such misguided thoughts. God keep us safe from all claiming to have God on their side!
Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Interim Pastor
Rev. Millie Myren, Support Minister