Wednesday, April 24, 2013

GoodFellas, God, and Marcion

Not God
If I remember correctly it was back in 1990 when the movie GoodFellas was new. I heard Joe Pesci interviewed on the radio. He said that the key to playing his character was the realization that these guys walked around angry all the time.

There is a strain of Christianity that proclaims a GoodFellas God. They portray God as short-fused, pissed off, and wearing a permanent mad-on.

At the other extreme are Christians who depict God as all soft and fuzzy-wuzzy, a sort of teddy bear in the sky, incapable of anger.

Zack Hunt, on his American Jesus blog, has written a good piece about this under the title "An Angry God Vs. A God Who Gets Angry." The piece is worth reading. The distinction in the title deserves consideration.

Do you have an angry God?

Is your God capable of anger?

In the late first and early second centuries of the Common Era a bishop's son, a wealthy and charismatic man named Marcion, proclaimed a doctrine that the early orthodox Church condemned as heresy. Marcion had read the Hebrew Scriptures and decided that the creator God of the Old Testament was and unstable, violent, GoodFella's kind of God. The Jewish God, according to Marcion, was nothing like the fuzzy-wuzzy God whom Jesus called "Father." They were, he concluded, two different Gods.

Marcion of Sinope

As a result, Marcion's preaching had a distinctly anti-Jewish flavor. Marcion rejected the Hebrew Scriptures and developed his own authoritative canon. His Bible consisted of a redacted version of the Gospel of Luke and some of Paul's letters.

Martin Luther is supposed to have said that even dangerous heretics can serve the Kingdom of God. (Sorry, I can't source the quote). Marcion did the Church a service. He forced those early orthodox Christians to develop, however informally, their own canon of Scripture. Rather than reject the Hebrew Bible, they adopted it as their Old Testament.* Rather than one Gospel, orthodox Christianity recognized four distinct and sometimes incompatible Gospels as authoritative. Orthodoxy is a spectrum of belief. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John fall within the spectrum. Marcion fell outside of it. In addition to the letters of Paul, the New Testament canon came to include letters attributed to Peter and John, the books of Acts, Hebrews, Revelation, and more.

Modern Christians don't have the luxury that Marcion had. We cannot reject the Old Testament Scriptures. I would argue that this is a good. These Scriptures we have in common with the Jews give us a way forward in Jewish/Christian dialogues. Recognizing that which we have in common gives hope of progress in mending the historically hurtful and tendentious relationship of Church and Synagogue. Another value of having the Hebrew Scriptures in the Christian canon is the reminder that these books were Jesus' Bible. Jesus himself was a Jewish man of his times. The earliest Christian movement was made up of Jews.

Sometimes I meet Christians who are functional Marcionites. They don't like what they perceive to be the GoodFellas God of the Old Testament. They prefer what they think is the fuzzy-wuzzy** God of the New Testament. This is a profound misreading of both Testaments. We find God's grace and wrath in both divisions of the Christian Bible.

Also not God
I've been reading, and blogging about, the book of Numbers. God's wrath has been poured out pretty heavily on the Israelites in the last several chapters. The people have been disobedient, rebellious, and, most significantly, unfaithful. God is mad. There's no way around it.

Reading the full canon of Scripture gives a fuller picture of God's "personality." God is not just a teddy bear in the sky, much as I might sometimes like that. Neither is God a GoodFella.

I don't believe that God is only and always angry. I do, however, believe that God can get angry. Perhaps God gets angriest at the people whom God has chosen, those whom God loves. From those to whom much is given, much is expected. (Luke 12:48).

I believe that God gets angriest about injustice.

*Until the 16th century the additional deuterocanonical books of the Septuagint were also included in the Old Testament. Since the Reformation, the Protestant canon omits those additional books.

**I had to laugh at myself just now. I originally typed "fuzzy-wussy" but I caught and corrected it. Was it a typo or a Freudian slip?

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