A few weeks ago, my good friend Bruce Sanguin wrote a piece entitled The Tender Wrath of God. He described it as an attempt to redeem the language of God’s wrath. I recommend reading his piece in full. I’ve been thinking about writing a piece or giving a sermon attempting to redeem the wrath of God for awhile now, but for some reason I always backed off doing it. Br. Bruce’s piece has inspired me to finally explore the matter.
I’m going to tack differently than Bruce did–I don’t think what I’m going to say is in opposition or critical of Bruce’s view. Just different.
First off, I’m going to change the word wrath for hatred. Some may feel this is an unfair exchange but I think hatred is a word we can relate to more viscerally than wrath (and I think the meanings are very close, if not nearly identical to make the substitution valid).
Could we then speak of The Hatred of God?
Right away I’m sure I’m setting off all kinds of alarm bells. At least I should be setting off such bells. The idea of God’s hatred is a weapon that has been used against countless beings. The formula of course is quite simple in it’s deadliness.
1. God Hates X group of people (fill in the X with aboriginals, gays and lesbians, Jews, atheists, “heretics”, “infidels,” etc.)
2, I speak for God and therefore I have to hate X as well (conveniently for me God and I always share the same point of view, how awesome is that?!!!)
3. I should therefore do any of the following to X:
Commit violence upon them unless they change.
1 + 2 = 3
The history of that ‘3’ is a history of terrible bloodshed, trauma, and destruction. Just as evil, that history is still present reality. So let’s put that giant warning label over everything that’s to follow. It may be as Bruce said in his piece, that redeeming the Wrath (Hatred) of God is not possible.
While holding all that horror in mind, can we still speak positively of the Hatred of God?
Before I jump further into that question, there’s one more prefatory comment I want to make.
One of the criticisms that I find emerges right away in any discussion like this one is that speaking of God being angry or hating or being full of wrath is too anthropomorphic–i.e. it makes God too much like a human being. I definitely appreciate that criticism coming from a place of great respect for the utter transcendence of The Divine–that God can’t be reduced to our human thoughts or feelings. Still, I think we should make God far more human. I think one of the major problems of most theology is that God isn’t nearly human enough. If we make God far more human, I think we would potentially connect far more deeply with our own humanity (and therefore our divinity). As St. Irenaeus said, “God became human so that humanity would become God.” Making God more anthropomorphic is actually about the divinization of humanity.
When we make God (as I think we should) more human, then I think we can talk about the Hatred of God. Please bear with me. I realize this is raw territory full of pain for many people.
Karla McLaren in her book The Language of Emotions: What Your Feelings Are Trying To Tell You, has a chapter on the emotion of hatred. (I mention her book frequently because for me it’s a lodestar). The subtitle of the hatred chapter is The Profound Mirror. The gifts of hatred (*properly held*) she describes as, “intense awareness, piercing vision, sudden evolution, shadow work.”
“Though humankind’s expression of hatred has created unrelieved suffering throughout history, hatred is actually a natural, healthy, and exceptional emotion. Hatred is a laser-focused form of rage and fury that arises when your boundary is devastated, not through an attack per se, but through a more intimate and interior hazard that you’re not yet able to confront on your own…Hatred is an intense flare of rage and fury, which means you’re dealing with boundary devastation and the near-complete loss of your equilibrium.” (The Language of Emotions, pp. 215-216)
For McLaren, the guiding question for properly working with hatred is: What has fallen into my shadow? What needs to be reintegrated?
The desire to be nice, kind, polite, even spiritual (or at least to be seen as such) blocks admitting we feel hatred. It’s a normal, healthy human emotion. I’m not surprised that we’re uncomfortable with our own hatred and therefore are also uncomfortable speaking of God’s hatred.
To make this clearer, let’s take a different emotion that we’re also really uncomfortable with: jealousy. Again I find McLaren’s understanding of that emotion really helpful. Jealousy she describes as “relational radar”, a mixture of fear and anger in response to a perceived threat to an intimate relationship.
Just so, The God of The Bible is described as “jealous”. “I am a jealous God” (Exodus 20: 5) God’s jealousy has to do with a threat of God’s intimate relationship with the people of Israel being broken or damaged. The Prophets of Israel repeatedly refer to worship of other gods as a form of adultery for just this reason. The relationship between God and the people is meant to be as close as that of spouses. Worship of other gods isn’t an abstract proposition but cheating on your divine lover.
One of the classic atheist critiques of religion is that humans have projected our emotional states onto a deity–it’s a form of supreme human arrogance. I actually think it’s the reverse. I think God is the only full human and we are less than humans and have to develop into full humanity (which turns out is one with divinity). So, as I said before, I think we should be anthropomorphizing God (*rightly*) much much more.
I think it’s deeply profound that the Biblical tradition speaks of a jealous God. I think it creates a point of connection between us and God. Even in jealousy (*rightly embraced*) we are not separate from God. I love that in the Bible God is variously depicted as sullen, heartbroken, wounded, grieving, and yes even at times resentful or hating. I think it’s much easier to create a nice theology of a serene, unmoved, contemplative God who sees everything as One. I’m not saying that style can’t be attributed to God but it leaves out all the messiness.* I think awakening (i.e. accepting and acting upon our godhood) is much harder, and therefore far more valuable, precisely when that enlightenment is expressed through anger, fear, sadness, grief, joy, jealousy. In the story of Noah and the Flood, God even feels remorse and sorrow (think about that one for a second…it’s a total theological mindf#@!).
So that brings us back to hatred, ours and God’s. If God hates and we humans do not, then we are not yet incarnate. If we hate and God does not, then our hatred is left unredeemed. In other words, I think I’m flipping Br. Bruce’s question. I’m not asking whether God’s Hatred can be redeemed but rather whether our hatred can.
“If we can channel hatred inside our own psyches, we can instantaneously reconstruct our boundaries, focus ourselves intently, and perform amazing feats of shadow-retrieval and evolution.” (p. 219)
Hatred, McLaren emphasizes repeatedly, is not mere dislike. It destabilizes the sense of self at a core level. She offers a beautiful practice of how to own one’s hatred within healthy boundaries rather than exploding out onto the one we hate (see her book for this practice).
But let’s look again at that last line, when hatred is channeled inside our own psyches, we can perform amazing feats of shadow-retrieval and evolution. This understanding of hatred raises a very interesting theological question (which I don’t have anywhere near the skill to take on)…if we talk of God’s hatred, do we talk of God having a shadow? If so, what’s in God’s shadow?
Whether God has a shadow or not, we certainly do. And hatred (rightly understood and embraced) has the power to call the shadow material from the depths, so that it might be redeemed and its light released.
Concerning the gift of shadow material brought forth through healthy hatred, McLaren writes,
“This won’t turn you into a brutal, ignorant, or selfish person; it will actually protect you because you’ll no longer be tormented or seduced by brutality, ignorance, or selfishness in shadowy ways. When you reintegrate your shadow material, you won’t suddenly enjoy brutality, ignorance, or selfishness, but you won’t be endangered by them either. You’ll be able to make healthy separations from people who live out those traits, instead of throwing yourself into twisted, hate-filled love affairs with them.” (p.225)
This understanding of healthy hatred and the ability to welcome it, I think opens up a very powerful way of understanding apocalyptic language and theology, of being able to reintegrate shadow, express hatred, and yet have healthy separation–as well as clear boundaries of holding the energy rather than unleashing it in hurtful thoughts or actions).
I think it’s time for a Theology of Hatred (*Rightly Embraced*). To make things a bit too simplistic, we’ve had a theology of unhealthy hatred in many forms of religion, particularly (but not exclusively) Christianity. This shows up as the puritanical, judgmental faith that has caused so many to be turned off by organized religion. We’ve had the reaction against unhealthy hatred in so-called liberal, mainline churches. There’s actually a huge amount of shadow hatred in those churches–particularly against the more conscious haters on the right. But formally hatred has no place in the softer, more gentler, more supposedly loving and forgiving liberal churches (as well as New Age spirituality).
Instead of that, I say let’s have some Healthy Hatred.
* As a theological sidenote, Christians have misunderstood their own scriptures for centuries. They often see The God of the Hebrew Bible (Adonai Elohim) as God the Father of the New Testament. This is wrong. Adonai Elohim, The Holy One of Israel, for Christians, is the character of Jesus in the New Testament. It took a literature scholar, Harold Bloom, to point out that obvious fact. Jesus evinces the same range of emotions as does The God of Israel. Jesus shows anger, grief, sorrow, ecstasy, contentment, and yes even hatred. cf, the work of Margaret Barker.