“Good morning Jesus. Yesterday you said it was as hot as Palestine, today the forecast says it’ll be a hot as hell….“
“Maybe you shouldn’t make jokes about hell…..”
“Eh? Oh, I forgot, the four gospels show you were pretty keen on the bad fires and the weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. I’ve always thought these bits were maybe added by your followers…“
“What made you think that?”
“…….. well……. OK, you have to admit that sometimes your followers put words in your mouth, yes? And some of these additions are in the four gospels, yes?
“Yes. But why are you so sure the words about God’s punishment are not my own?”
“Because so much of your message was about God’s love that the words about punishment seem spurious.”
“Have you ever known love without anger? Love makes us vulnerable and open to anger, so how can we imagine God’s love while denying his anger?”
“But surely even the language of love is just a way of using human emotions to describe God. We mustn’t take it literally.
“If we’re using picture language to describe God, then of course we should take it literally. Do you imagine God is never angry?
“I guess I imagined that he was beyond anger.”
“Do you think I was beyond anger?”
“But you were human…”
“I’m still human. But don’t you see me as a revelation of God?”
“ A revelation apart from my anger?”
“Let’s take a concrete example. How about my story of the sheep and the goats?”
“Yes, that’s where you send the goats off to the ‘eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels’ You want to defend that language?”
“Yes. Let’s begin by remembering that it’s a story about God’s great King and the judgement he makes on human nations. Some have cared for the least important people in society, while others have neglected them. The King reveals the terrible truth that he identifies with the least important.
“So one lot, the sheep, are rewarded and the other lot, the goats, go off to the bad fire.”
Now let me ask you the key question: there’s a line that divides the sheep from the goats, where does that line run? “
“Between those who care for the least important and those who don’t.”
“And who are they?”
“I don’t understand, what are you getting at?”
“OK, let me be specific, which group do you belong to, honestly now?”
Eh…. Mmnn….. I’d like to say the sheep, but being honest, probably the goats… but then again, there’s a bit of the sheep in me, no?
“Now we’re getting somewhere. Could we say that the line between the sheep and the goats runs through the middle of every person? So the sheep stand for the justice kindness and care in every person and society, and the goats for the injustice cruelty and neglect in every person and society…”
“Yeah, that makes sense.”
“So listen up. Do you want to hold on to the goaty bit of you?”
“No, I hate it, I reject it, I want rid of it, but it sticks to me.”
“My story tells you what God is doing with your goaty bit. In his blessed anger he is burning it out of you and one day it will have gone. Do you suppose that process will be painless?”
“Probably not, for I’ll try to hold on to it, even though I’ll be delighted to be rid of it.”
“But meantime, in his blessed kindness God is rewarding and cherishing your sheep bit; all your justice, kindness and care are being affirmed and given new scope.”
“I never thought of it that way.”
“Can you sum up what you’ve learned?”
“No, not yet anyway.”
“Let me start you off. ‘ God’s anger is not the opposite of God’s love but…”
“An essential part of it’”