Psalm 50: 22
"Mark this, then, you who forget God, or I will tear you apart, and there will be no one to save."
Reflection by Mary Luti
"God is good!" we announce, and everyone responds, "All the time!" All the time, that is, except all those times in the Bible when God threatens to tear people apart. Those threats were meant to move people to remorse, conversion, and awestruck adoration. And maybe that's the effect they had once upon a time, although it wouldn't surprise me if even in the olden days people who heard them simply lowered their heads—not to adore, but to avoid detection.
These days, many of us simply ignore biblical threats of divine mayhem. For one thing, they're aimed at the wicked, and we're pretty sure that's not us. Yes, God's nasty outbursts are "uncomfortable," but we think of them as metaphorical and tuck them away on the same shelf where we keep all sorts of other quaint but useless theological stuff, and where they can do no harm to anyone.
But how about viewing the Bible's ferocious God through another lens—the vast destructive scope of human sin? Is the picture of an outraged God any more repulsive than the picture of God's world today, abused, polluted, and despoiled? Is the fury of God scarier than the fury of our greed, warfare, and genocide? If Scripture says that sometimes God feels like tearing us apart, haven't we who hate one another already shown God just how it's done?
Besides, the God who threatens to tear us limb from limb is something of a boy who cried wolf, almost always relenting and saving us anyway, time after time. How often do our own threats of mayhem come up empty like that? Aren't we more in peril from each other than we are from God? Of whom should we really be afraid?
When it comes to injustice, make me furious too, O God; then make me as relentless in mercy as I am in anger. Like you are, all the time.
About the Author
Mary Luti is Visiting Professor of Worship and Preaching at Andover Newton Theological School.