Sowing seeds for an angry God
The seeds of an Angry God theology were sown early in my life and they came in the form of cartoons — the infamous gospel tracts by J.T. Chick. With titles like This Was Your Life, Somebody Goofed, The Awful Truth, and Are Roman Catholics Christians?, Chick tracts usually end with everyone but fundamentalist Christians being hurled into what looks like the fires of Mount Doom by a merciless God depicted as a faceless white giant.
A well-meaning but unhelpful Sunday School teacher gave me a Chick tract when I was twelve and those garish images with their ludicrous theology burned their way into my adolescent imagination. I had met the Angry God! And I was afraid of this God. Who wouldn’t be? Think about it. In the Gospel According to J.T. Chick, if you don’t believe just right, an omnipotent giant will consign you to eternal torture!
Fortunately I could believe in Jesus and be saved from his Father — the Angry God. But then I heard a revival preacher ask a disturbing question: “Do you believe in Jesus in your heart or just in your head?” He went on to say that if we believed in Jesus in our head but not our heart we would miss heaven by eighteen inches and wind up in hell forever! More anxiety-inducing theology! Now I had to decide if I had faith in my heart or if I was on my way to hell because I only believed in Jesus with my head. That’s a lot of pressure for a twelve-year-old…or anyone.
I had grown up believing in Jesus, but now I had to decide if I was believing with my head or my heart. My eternal destiny was at stake. If I got it wrong I would be tortured forever. But how could I know? How could I be sure? I thought I believed in Jesus with my heart, but that thought was in my head, so…let the madness begin!
What I did know was that I liked Jesus. I liked Jesus, but I was really scared of his Dad — the faceless white giant with obvious anger issues who hurled Catholics and others who didn’t believe just right into the fires of Mount Doom. And presumably some of those hapless souls thrown into hell were Baptist kids who tried to believe in Jesus with their heart but really only believed in Jesus in their head. This kind of theology is a prescription for religious psychosis!
The image of the Angry God haunted my adolescence. Did the specter of the Angry God help me toe the line? Maybe. Maybe not. But that’s not the question. The real question isn’t, does it scare kids straight, but is it true? The real question isn’t, does it motivate people to pray a sinners’ prayer, but is it faithful to the God revealed in Jesus? Is God accurately represented when depicted as a remorseless, faceless white giant?
God has a face and he looks like Jesus. God has a disposition toward sinners and it’s the spirit of Jesus. This is the beautiful gospel. God is not the faceless white giant of a Chick tract. God is like Jesus. God has always been like Jesus. There has never been a time when God was not like Jesus; we haven’t always known this, but now we do. God is like Jesus! God is not a sadistic monster who, according to Jonathan Edward’s infamous sermon, abhors sinners and dangles them over a fiery pit. God is exactly how Jesus depicted him in his most famous parable — a father who runs to receive, embrace, and restore a prodigal son.
It’s not a Chick tract or a Puritan sermon that perfectly reveals the nature of God, but Jesus! This is why I deeply reject the horrid distortion of God given to us in the Angry God motifs. I understand how this image of God can be justified. I understand we can use the Bible as our palette to paint a monstrous portrait of God; but when we’re finished, if the image doesn’t look like Jesus, we have got it wrong! It’s a false and distorted portrait. Having seen the face of God in Jesus Christ, I cannot abide J.T. Chick’s faceless giant or Jonathan Edwards’ Angry God. Neither could the great George MacDonald.
George MacDonald was a 19th century Scottish novelist, poet, preacher, lecturer, mystic, and theologian. His influence on seminal thinkers and writers seems to exceed his fame among the general public. G.K. Chesterton, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Lewis Carroll were all enormously influenced by George MacDonald. C.S. Lewis said of him, “I have never concealed the fact that I regarded him as my master; indeed I fancy I have never written a book in which I did not quote him.” Regarding the portrait of God found in Jonathan Edwards’ “Angry God” sermon, George MacDonald said this,
“I desire to wake no dispute, will myself dispute with no man, but for the sake of those whom certain believers trouble, I have spoken my mind. I love the one God seen in the face of Jesus Christ. From all copies of Jonathan Edwards’s portrait of God, however faded by time, however softened by the use of less glaring pigments, I turn with loathing. Not such a God is he concerning whom was the message John heard from Jesus, that he is light, and in him is no darkness at all.”
George MacDonald is right, just as the Apostle John is right. No one has ever seen God until they see Jesus. Every other portrait of God — from whatever source — is subordinate to the revelation of God given to us in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Word of God, the Logos of God, the Logic of God in the form of human flesh. Christians are to believe in the perfect, infallible, inerrant Word of God — and his name is Jesus.
Jesus is the icon of the invisible God. So whether it’s Jonathan Edwards’ Puritan sermon or J.T. Chick’s fundamentalist tract, we have to ask, does this portrait of God look like Jesus? Does the faceless white giant or the sadistic merciless monster look like Jesus? Of course not! So we are free to reject these libelous caricatures of God. We must reject them! And I have.
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