WHY 74 TIMES?

In the book of Ezekiel we hear God saying “That you may/will know that I am Yahweh (Lord) ” 74 times (on my count—it may be a few more; I blink and lose count). Averaging it out the phrase occurs about three times in every two chapters.

I have little interest at this point in questions of etymology or the origin of YHWH (Yahweh); that’s for the scholars if they’re still interested in that question. Just so you know I’m following those who claim it’s linked to “I Am” and should be understood as, “I will be Who I will be,”  or “I will be Who I show Myself to be.”

But in the end a word or a phrase (whatever its origin) means what a writer/speaker means it to mean and current context is king. And we also learn what a word means* by the company it keeps and the setting in which it often occurs. You expect to see “gentleness and kindness” together—the one suggests the presence of the other in a person, doesn’t it?! You’d be surprised to hear someone say, “She is a woman of integrity and uncertainty.” Why would you not be surprised at, “A woman of integrity and honesty,”? They go together; they suggest one another’s presence don’t they!

The name Yahweh (Lord, LORD in the KJV) carries different messages depending on context. It speaks of sovereign power in some contexts, of covenant faithfulness in others, of in-comparability in others. The word (Yahweh) designates God who makes Himself known in many ways depending on the situation or the relationship under consideration.

It doesn’t matter how the “name” originated! It may well be as some older scholars suggested that God refused to give Moses a “name”.  He didn’t want to be “pigeon-holed”. Imagine Moses saying, “Who are you?” and God saying, “I AM WHO I AM.” Exodus 3:13-14. Other gods and goddesses may have names but in one sense or another: the “UNKNOWN God (Acts 17:22-29) is “The God without a Name.” (At least until He took the name of Jesus of Nazareth.)

Okay I’m done with that—I didn’t intend to write it but I see no benefit in deleting it.

74 times in Ezekiel and by far most often immediately linked with destructive judgment that God claims HE carries out and He claims He does it “that you/they may know that I am the LORD.“ (He also takes responsibility for blessing that “You may know that I am the LORD (Yahweh).” 34:27, 30, 31 illustrate

Ezekiel 28:20-23; 30:10-19; 35:1-4 illustrate the point that He makes His name known in devastating judgments on the nations.

If OT critics wish to expose a God who orders and carries out what they call “genocide” or “infanticide” or “murderous cruelty” they don’t have to use a fine-toothed comb through the OT seeking out verses here and there. The prophets are saturated with God’s taking responsibility for destructive wars, famines and the like Amos 3:6b and context illustrates. If that offends us, it isn’t some verses here and there that offend—it’s the recurring speech of the entire Holy Scriptures—Ezekiel only being a particularly clear showing of that.

If we should say that these books and chapters and verses were lies, written by pagan-hearted, vicious writers and compilers of the (allegedly) Holy Bible, then we should be ashamed to go behind a lectern or into a pulpit with such a Bible in our hands. If what these critics say is true they’re honoring a Bible that teaches in the name of God what is no less than demonic and satanic. What else can it be if it does what they say it does?

My own sense of it is that the vast majority of those who are part of the evangelical believers aren’t aware of what is being said by these Bible-carrying critics who undermine the very Bible they carry. They get in the pulpit or behind a lectern meaning to and demonizing the OT (the OT in particular, but not without the NT) which they say praises and vindicates genocide and murderous cruelty. Still, they often choose bits from the OT and preach fine things from the suitable parts. This masks where their heads and hearts really are.

Instead of looking for a hermeneutical strategy that honors the God of the OT and the OT that proclaims that God they follow the path that one writer took in saying , “The Old Testament is a mill-stone around the neck of Christianity.” Ranting atheist, Richard Dawkins, must love these people and yet despise them for what he would regard as hypocrisy.

I mean to continue this and suggest a interpretive strategy that doesn’t demonize the Holy Scriptures or the God presented in them if it appears it’s thought worthwhile and God enables me.

  • We use the word MEAN or MEANS in numerous ways don’t we! “This means war.” Or, “What do you mean I didn’t repay you; why I…” etc.

Why Did God say He Was Afraid?

The text says GOD said He was afraid! That’s DEUTERONOMY 32:27.
But everyone knows God is afraid of NOTHING!
Yes, yes, but let’s let God say what He wants to say, eh?!
Read many verses leading to 32:27 and many following it.
He “explains” what He was afraid of. Read it carefully!
He “explains” it and yet He doesn’t give the entire story.
What is it that the pagan armies with their gods and goddesses NOT do?
SPELL OUT what the idolatrous hordes did NOT do! SPELL IT OUT!

WHAT’S THE UNDERLYING MESSAGE?

EYES DON’T SEE THE EYES!

Not all Christians are individually called to suffer the way the slaves of 1 Peter 2:18-21 were called to suffer. But it’s important to remember that no Christian or group of Christians exists as an independent unit, as if they were not a part of the Community of Faith. This means that while only certain members of Christ’s body are called to some particular experience or path that it is nevertheless the Church as a single body that experiences this or walks that path. If a finger or eye is badly mangled the body suffers.

As a physical body has many parts and is yet one body so also is the Church (Romans 12:4-5 1 Corinthians 12:12). It’s true that the eyes don’t do the hearing and the nose doesn’t do the seeing; but it is not true that seeing and hearing and smelling are completely isolated and independent workers. Seeing is a function of the body and not merely the eyes!

The eyes don’t see through the eyes; it is the body that sees through the eyes! The ears don’t hear through the ears; it is not the nose that smells through the nose. Hearing and smelling is what the body as a single and undivided unit does and it does these things through the various parts of the body.

So it is with the Body of Christ. There are no isolated parts that function independently of the rest of the body. A hand in a body has no existence without the body. It can only be understood as a hand PRECISELY BECAUSE there is a body of which it is a part.

This remains true even though the hand is not the foot and the eye is not the ear. There is diversity within the parts of the body and the hand mustn’t abandon its function and lay the burden on the eye. Each one must bear his or her own specific burden and be held accountable in that regard. The church takes care of its children via its parents and it respects it parents via its children. The church serves its wives via its husbands and its husbands via its wives. Family members were instructed to take care of needy widows so that the “congregation” as a congregation should not be burdened (1 Timothy 5:16) and so be free to deal with other matters that specific individuals cannot handle.

The Bible and life has “a doctrine” of specificity of responsibility (for example, 1Timothy 5:8). But we’re not to allow that to mask the truth that when these specific responsibilities are being fulfilled by the various members (parts) that this is the Body at work; this is how the Body does its work!

When God calls specific people within the Body to a particular role we’re not to conclude that they are not functioning as the Body! Not everyone was called to patiently endure mistreatment at the hands of harsh masters but when God wills to allow it (1 Peter 3:17), because they are members of the Body it is the Body that is under attack by harsh masters. Christ told Paul in Acts 9 that when he persecuted the people of God he was persecuting their Lord. “Do it to me,” Jesus said, “You’re doing it to Me.” (Matthew 25)

It’s nonsense for us to think that any one of us exists independent of the rest of the People of God.

We are not “in Jesus Christ” independent of one another! The Spirit of Christ does NOT dwell in us independent of one another! We’re not “in the Body of Christ” independent of one another. We’re in this TOGETHER or not in it at all. By His grace and in faith I was Baptized into Jesus Christ and became part of a called out People, a Holy Nation, a Kingdom of Priests (Romans 6; 1 Peter 2), a part of the One Body (Ephesians 4).

To think of ourselves as independent, free-standing, individual Christians would be as foolish as an American thinking she/he is an American independent of America and the American nation.

[Holy Father, do deliver us from an unhealthy individualism! Deliver us too from a creeping “anarchy” that would dismiss all truth about “submission” and “authority”. Yes, and please deliver your People from those who would “lord it over” them. Cleanse and purify our hearts and minds so that our vision is clearer and so we will be more open to your teaching and more eager to happily, contentedly embrace and embody iit. This prayer in the Blessed Lord Jesus.]

 

“Twonstant Weeda Fwoed Up.”

Dorothy Parker a not-recent syndicated columnist with a razor-sharp tongue had a column under the name of “Constant Reader”. She read one of those syrupy romance books, the kind that simply drips with sugar and in reviewing it she wrote as if she had a lisp. “Twonstant weeda fwoed up.” Maybe it’s the wickedness in me, but I can’t help taking pleasure in that!

Of course, I’d hate to have been the author of that book she reviewed. Come to think of it, I have been the author of more than one book that’s been trashed by reviewers. My books just don’t sell. Still, if I could write as Dorothy Parker wrote I’d have no trouble.

Writers of all kinds offer themselves for target practice, don’t they? One poor poet wrote a two-liner and a critic remarked on it. “Quite good, but with long dry stretches.”

The Irish playwright and conversationalist Oscar Wilde had a go at no less a figure than Charles Dickens. Of Dickens’ telling of the death of Little Nell, Wilde said something like, “You would have to have a heart of stone not to laugh out loud at the death of little Nell.”

Pity the poor authors that take themselves too seriously.

But I think that’s one of the secrets of a happy life: to be able to make the best of and find pleasure in whatever the result is of…whatever. Now I don’t know how the people who live like that manage it but I’m pleased for them.

The most recent Time magazine offers a scientific guide on how to make yourself happy. What a load of banal claptrap. The scientific guide to making yourself happy is essentially: “Do the things that make you happy.” It reminds me of the man who went to a psychiatrist with his troubles. When the session timed out the psych doctor told him, “Go home and pull yourself together.” On his way out the door the distressed man said, “My thing that pulls myself together is busted.”

Rejection is a killer for so many of us—isn’t it? Wish I could be like Snoopy, my Peanuts hero, on his best days. He keeps sending manuscripts off to publishing editors (obviously a lot of them must went to the same editor) and he continues to get rejections. One rejection note he’s reading has to be read in a voice that rises to a crescendo. It had something like: “Will you stop sending me your useless manuscripts. I hate them, they’re a waste of time, I’m sick and tired looking at them. Stop sending them!” Snoopy walks off grinning with ear-to-ear pleasure and says, “I just love to hear editors beg.”

Atta boy, Snoopy!

Then there was that caustic book review I read that said, “Professor ‘X’ has written his book again.”

Ouch!

But there’s no accounting for taste, is there? What’s ambrosia to some is sawdust to others. What to some is like a bowl of strawberries and ice-cream is like licking carpet to others. Oh well.

I’m not at all thinking of those poor souls who live in “life-destroying” circumstances (Holy Father, the poor…….) when I say this:

Maybe if we can do it it’s better not to focus on “making yourself happy.”

Saving Us From the God Of the Old Testament

It seems like everyone wants to save us from the God of the Old Testament.

It is good to speak of “progressive revelation” as long as we do not mean, “Progress from lies or falsehoods to new truth.”

If we say, “What that text says is an outright falsehood” we can’t call it “revelation”. If in time we reject what that text says we haven’t rejected “revelation,” we’ve rejected falsehood and gained truth with aid of revelation.

It’s all right to have God revealing truth suited to a particular set of circumstances and occasion and then reveal further truth suited to a new situation. We can easily call that “progressive revelation”.

What we can’t do is say, “God spoke or taught falsehood and then later taught truth that contradicted what He said earlier.” Whatever that is it is not “progressive revelation.

It is true of course that humans have held false views and later learned truth that contradicted those falsehoods. But, again, it is not true that GOD taught them the falsehoods that humans left behind.

Of course, those who have no faith in God dismiss entirely the notion of “revelation.” They hold that all falsehood is the product of human ignorance or human moral frailty. But that’s another discussion and here we are dealing with those who believe GOD is and that He has “revealed” Himself and His purposes.

If that God reveals Himself in and as Jesus He doesn’t teach falsehood nor would He command people to do anything indisputably evil, immoral. But we are increasingly hearing that God has done that kind of thing! On the other hand there are [to borrow a phrase from strong feminist, Phyllis Trible,] “texts of terror” and texts “of cruelty” in the OT that God textually takes responsibility for. (I purpose to make some observations on those, God enabling me.) What are we to do then?

Many fine people, very sensitive people understandably are afraid to attribute cruelty and immoral behavior to God so they’re very relieved to hear from popular writers that the fault lies in the Old Testament, the entire Law and the Prophets. They’re told, “God wouldn’t do that kind of thing nor would He urge others to do it.” When berating the God of the OT for commanding very distressing things the critics don’t use weaker words like “kill” or “slay” or “put to death,” they insist on words like “massacre” or “genocide” (and on occasion I’ve heard “murder”); these words make it easier to put God in the dock and accuse Him of heinous crimes. The accusation isn’t, “God ordered His servants to put individuals and ethnic groups to death!” It’s “God ordered His servants to commit genocide or to massacre children and entire ethnic groups.” Yes, and some are calling it “murder”.  This shrewd choice of words frighten the sensitive and those inexperienced with regard to the Holy Scriptures.

The choice becomes razor-sharp. GOD is either a hideous and vicious Being or the Holy Scriptures flagrantly misrepresent Him. So it’s choose GOD and reject the Holy Bible (the OT in particular) or choose the Bible and reject the God it teaches us about. Fierce atheists  like Richard Dawkins or the late Mr. Hitchens don’t hesitate for a moment—they rage against both—a genocidal lunatic and the Book that calls us to trust and praise Him.

We sense that you can “kill” in war and somehow justify it but even in war to say an army committed “genocide” or “massacred” thousands makes even patriots cringe.

Still, even people who via their government order their fathers, sons and daughters to carpet-bomb and kill the enemy (including women, children and male non-combatants); these prayed for to God to help them accomplish it! And having sent their troops to kill, they know full well that hosts of old and young and non-combatants would be killed, a growing number of church-going believers put God in the dock and rail at Him for doing in ancient war situations what they have prayed for His help to do even now.

(I purpose to say more about God’s connection with the things that in this modern age we beg Him to empower us to do. We beg Him for that power in the name of Jesus Christ!)

Imagine this: a preacher or some sensitive soul says they’re afraid of an OT God who in a war situation would call for the death of the enemy combatants, their wives and innocent children but they’re not at all afraid to beg God to kill whoever and as many as it takes to preserve our freedom, our civil and CHRISTIAN freedom don’t you know. When He does it for us it’s a gracious answer to prayer and we thank Him for it in the name of Jesus, the OT coming “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6; Zechariah 9.9-10 & John 18:36). When He does it for others (ancient Israel for example, in their situation and for the same reasons we call it intolerable and unforgivable genocide or massacre.

Imagine such people putting God in the dock and treating Him as a genocidal tyrant, a cruel despot “drunk on punishment” as one still prominent post-modernist spoke of him several years back. Imagine those and then imagine them being upset with God for not answering their prayers for victory that destroyed the enemy as well as the innocents and created resultant years of poverty, disease and militarist oppression for countless innocents that might have survived.

I don’t wish at this point to introduce any proposals about WWII but we can always find good reason to speak of collateral damage. We hate it that innocent children and non-combatants die or are maimed or left destitute in ruins but we find good reasons to purposefully afflict these horrors on the powerless, the voiceless children, women and men. America’s bombs on Hiroshima & Nagasaki, Britain’s utter destruction of Dresden and the devastation of Hamburg are sufficient to make the point. Here I’m not denying the cogency of the reasons  offered for “why we had to do such things.” 

I only wish to say that we hang on to our profession to be followers of the Lord Jesus and justify our doing such things and then in Church we commit to Jesus as His followers. And in the same meetings preachers comb through the Old Testament, find some texts and rage against the God spoken of there as worthy of praise and nod approval as the speaker calls Him a genocidal and immoral wretch.

We who profess to have received “progressive revelation” still pray in the name of JESUS for death-dealing power while we condemn God for calling for the same thing! If we don’t condemn Him we condemn the Holy Bible that Jesus called the center of God’s call for love for all even in a world that has alienated itself from Him

The current way out for those who believe in God and don’t want to give Him bad press is to say, “I worship God and not the Bible.” (One hears it often said with a tone of moral superiority. As if all who disagree worship a book rather than the God and Father of the Lord Jesus and in His Holy Spirit. Isn’t it interesting what “a better view of God” can do to some people?) In any case, the Holy Scriptures, to which we go for our knowledge and understanding of God become a merely human production and the production of pagan and savage-minded humans.

“God wouldn’t do that or say that! He wouldn’t order the death of innocents. We cannot and will not worship a God like that, a God that orders genocide and infanticide!” By this we think we’re saving God but it’s at the expense of the Holy Bible (Romans 1:2)!

What would you think of the ‘Good Samaritan’ if he could with consummate ease have prevented or stopped the brutal beating of a man by a group of murderous thugs and did nothing about it?”

What would you think of a God who with consummate ease could prevent genocide, starvation and dreaded diseases and does nothing about it?

You think we have a problem with a God who in scattered verses calls for obedience in war that includes very distressing things? If we abuse Him for that, we need to know it’s the least of our worries.

If you’re of that mind, let me suggest that you throw away your Holy Bibles as many are urging you to do. You know no GOD apart from the one in the Holy Scriptures that culminate in the glory of the Blessed Lord Jesus Christ who read the same Old Testament as you do.

You don’t know any OT texts He doesn’t know well and here is how He summarized their moral/ethical teaching (Matt 22:37-40): “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart…and love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” This Jesus got from Deuteronomy, a book much maligned by OT critics. And the God He calls us to love is the God He and His contemporaries read about in the Old Testament. That’s the very God the gullible are quick to accuse of sadism and genocide. And do read Paul who follows His Master in Romans 13:8-10, quoting from Deuteronomy 5:1-22 and 8:4-5.

If you met Jesus today, not knowing who He was until He told you, and you told Him the Old Testament was woman-degrading, genocide approving and savagely pagan in its message, He would listen.

If you then told Him that the God presented in the Old Testament was a sadistic brute He would tell you, “No, those Holy Scriptures if you at all understood them and believed Me—they point to Me and have led millions to Me! And the God you would find there is My Father, I am His beloved Son, His perfect image, and He is greater than I am (John 14:28). Not even I or My glorious life is wonderful enough to reveal the depth and glory of His beauty and righteousness and generous faithfulness as He works to redeem a world that hasn’t wanted Him.”

Hold on to your Holy Bible and in particularly the Old Testament—Jesus did, He fed on it and quoted Deuteronomy when He met Satan alone in the wilderness. Jesus is not only sweet, strong, saving, righteous and just—

He’s the interpreter of the Old Testament that is being maligned by even the “wise” who have been carried away and are leading others away from God, the God of the Holy Scriptures that Jesus fed on, and from which Timothy and millions of others have learned of salvation through grace and faith (2 Tim 3:14-16).

(I purpose to say some more about this if it is thought useful. God bless.)

 

SANE DON QUIXOTES EVERYWHERE

We’ve been entrusted with a great Story and Mission

So we mustn’t be so self-conscious that we can’t rejoice when people respond to our telling about Him. It’s no matter that the teacher is highly praised, he or she knows in his or her heart that it isn’t about them—it’s about Him!
It’s impossible, I judge, to make someone as beautiful as He is to sound or appear ugly, someone as exciting as He is to sound or appear boring; it’s impossible to cry out about someone as graciously demanding as the LORD JESUS is who wants to transform us into sane Don Quixotes who live in a world saturated with “realistic” crudeness, cynicism, gloom and despair, a world content with this in part because they don’t know there is anything else on offer—It’s impossible to present Him as bland, as a sweet gentle lecturer on social ethics whose message is something like, “Let’s all be nice to one another,” as with a tolerant smile He made His gentle way to a permanent place in a waiting tomb like all the other wishful teachers whose words simply don’t work in the real world. A Don Quixote figure who wasn’t made for such a world as this.
But it’s Don Quixote, the one who is beaten, sneered and jeered at, mocked and known as the one who couldn’t see the world “as it is”—it was that one we admire, that one we want to be like; it’s that one whose vision is glorious that we smile at and it is the self-serving, crude, ‘realistic’ and brutish kind who see “the world as it is” that we look at and see the shabbiness of their sane way of life. Men and women who can’t see how a world could be, should be and one day by the gracious righteousness and sovereignty of the Lord Jesus will be.
All over the place we see faces of people stunned with glimpses, just glimpses, glimpses of Him as He walks past their eyes as if they’ve never seen Him before, though they’ve committed to Him years earlier. “This is who I…?” Sometimes, only now and then don’t you know, the wonder of Him fills our senses and we see a world as it could and should be rather than what it is. The emotional response lasts only a while and then we’re back on the ground but we’re never the same. There’s no going back. Once we’ve seen it we can’t unsee it! Myers in that long long poem called Paul phrased it marvelously with words he says about Paul and then puts in Paul’s mouth:
Ay, though thou then shouldst strike him from his glory
  Blind and tormented, madden’d and alone,
Even on the cross would he maintain his story,
  Yes, and in hell would whisper, I HAVE KNOWN!

 

The Offense of Mozart

I do know it’s more than this, but part of our trouble with the way God is running the world is that He’s too generous. That remark will infuriate all sensitive non-believers and many believers but I think it’s true nonetheless. In a world with millions as hungry and abused as there are “generosity” isn’t the first word that comes to our minds.

That makes sense but the sense it makes it in only part of the entire picture. If we knew—if we cared to know—what God is up to in a world that opposes His purposes and what He means to bring about we would still sense the “wrongness” of the world but we’d think noble things of God and we’d know it will all end in breathtaking joy and glory in a righteous judgment.

In the meantime we hate to see villains prosper and the righteous and innocent (babies and such) suffer. Sometimes we hate it that God is generous to the evil and thankless; they shouldn’t be blessed at all. Cf. Psalm 53, passim. There are those of us who talk a lot about His generosity who are still quick to say it should be limited to people like us. Well, we’re careful not to be that crass about it but we understandably link righteousness, kindness, compassion, generosity, gentleness, integrity and such with blessing. I’m not talking about earning! I have in mind the truth expressed in Psalm 1 (though that text needs developed and discussed at length).

Antonio Salieri had that problem. Salieri served Emperor Joseph II for thirty-six years at the court in Vienna as the master of the chapel, though he’d been around the court much longer. He was a great composer who produced thirty-nine operas, seven secular cantatas, eighty-six religious compositions and an assortment of other pieces. He remained friends with Franz Joseph Haydn and Ludwig Van Beethoven throughout his life and had given Beethoven lessons on counterpoint. Beethoven dedicated the three violin sonatas, Opus 12, to Salieri.

When he was a teenager Salieri dedicated himself to God. Ignoring its serious distortions of fact at times in favor of drama the movie Amadeus tells the story this way: one day Salieri prayed, “Lord, make me a great composer. Let me celebrate your glory through music. Make me famous, dear God; make me immortal. After I die, let people forever speak my name with love for what I wrote. In return, I will give you my chastity, my industry, my deepest humility, every hour of my life.” He thoroughly believed that God gave him his giftedness!

He became the toast of Europe, and on the 16th of June, 1816, he celebrated the golden anniversary of his debut in Vienna. Everyone who mattered was there and some of his famous students, including Franz Schubert, played pieces in his honor. Life couldn’t have been better for him. Invitations flooded in from everywhere, his opinion was sought and the praise never ceased and he was a part of every tribunal of consequence; but one thing troubled him deeply and his life soured and shriveled.

But look, twenty-five hundred years before Salieri, to another musician and composer called Asaph. When David brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, Asaph was one of the lead singers. He was (perhaps) the “master of the chapel” and prophet for the most revered king in Israelite history (1 Chronicles 16:4-5, 37; 2 Chronicles 29:30). Today, three thousand years after he wrote them, the songs Asaph composed are still being sung and read in the presence of millions. Twelve psalms bear his name to the glory of God.

What did Salieri and Asaph have in common? Both were troubled by God’s generosity, though they probably didn’t realize that that was the case.

Both were troubled not by bad things happening to good people but by good things happening to bad people!

In Psalm 73:1-16 Asaph said he almost lost his footing in faith when he saw what was happening in the lives of the flagrantly wicked. They prospered and people sang their praises and even asked them the secret of their success. What kind of a sick world is it when they behead a Paul and a Nero rules the world?

In the movie, the success of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart nearly unhinged Salieri. Mozart is regarded as “the most sheerly musical composer who ever lived” and the famous Goethe saw him as “the human incarnation of a divine force of creation.” Mozart began composing at the age of four and he continued furiously with hardly a breath until he died at thirty-five.

It isn’t surprising that Salieri would be jealous, even though the Viennese public preferred one or two of his works. On the whole, people were thrilled by Salieri but they were dumbfounded by Mozart whose name was never off their lips and whose music left them speechless with pleasure. Not only did Mozart write more than Salieri, the movie has his scores written perfectly the first time—he never revised!

As the movie tells it, Salieri described Mozart as “a boastful, lustful, smutty, infantile boy!” Every time he heard the name of Mozart he became incensed and every time he heard him praised it drove him nearer to madness. Finally, obsessed by his envy and after looking at some of Mozart’s perfectly written scores, he throws a crucifix into the fire, saying to God, “We are enemies you and I, because you are unjust, unfair, unkind. I will hinder and harm your creature on earth as far as I am able.”

God—unjust and unkind? Because He was generous to the happy pagan? God is unjust because He is generous? (Compare Matthew 20:1-15.) Darkness closed in on Salieri; he shriveled and died long before they put his body into the ground. In spite of his still making the rounds, receiving respectful nods from the aristocracy, despite being recognized and praised he was the shell of a man—a cancer called envy had eaten his soul.

If we weren’t troubled by jealousy, if we didn’t know the pangs of envy when we heard someone praised—someone we knew some dark secret about—if we weren’t profoundly unsettled by the good things that happen to bad people maybe all the above would be of fervent dramatic interest, but no more. If we weren’t inclined to stand in for God as judge of all who should receive good in this life then the dramatized Salieri would be just another tragic figure. But like the composer we can burn in a fever and everyone loses.

Salieri offered no help to Mozart to lift him to a moral life that matched the generosity of God in M’s creativity. It didn’t matter to him that Mozart and his young wife would waltz on bare floorboards in their freezing apartment just to keep warm (which is true to fact).

When we’re in the fever of jealousy no beauty or depth or honor of giftedness of our enemy makes a difference. No, that’s untrue—these things make matters even worse; their presence only increases our bitterness for then we realize others have reason to praise the one we view with hate-filled envy. Others are lifted nearer to God and to the higher life by the one we choose as an enemy—others but not us! We’re too consumed without correct views of his/her shortcomings, too filled with bile because we’re aware of his/her sinfulness and too busy dissecting him/her to be uplifted by the gift God is offering us through him/her.

So even God loses!

We become so sour that everything in life—every gift from God in life—is lost on us or if not completely lost, at least cheapened. I need hardly rehearse the bah humbug approach to life that marked out Ebenezer Scrooge. (What a name for Scrooge. “Ebenezer”. “God has helped me to get this far,” but Dickens knew what he was doing.) Scrooge was miserly but when he was transformed he became not just fair, he became generous and the name that once condemned him came to his glory He came to be

generous like God who gives riches to the evil and thankless; who spreads His generosity around through people who have no time for Him and who wants His children to be generous as He is generous (Matthew 5:44-48).

O God, will we ever learn?

[I’ve borrowed this and adapted it by permission from my little book Celebrating the Wrath of God. Permission from Waterbrook Press (a division of Random House),]