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March 14

Living Lutheran Devotional

Lectionary for March 17, 2024

Fifth Sunday in Lent

Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51:1-12;

Hebrews 5:5-10; John 12:20-33

By Cory Driver

My central theological commitment is that God is a God of divine emotions, rather than the impassibility god of the philosophers (and frequently of systematic theologians). I side with Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel in arguing that God is the “most moved mover.” God’s rich emotional life as revealed in Scripture is not somehow anthropomorphizing, but rather some of the clearest and best insight into who God is. When we say, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,” we are describing how God’s emotions motivate God’s actions in the world. This week’s lectionary passages—again, like most of Scripture—point to God’s vibrant emotional life.

As the Kingdom of Judah was entering its last days before destruction and exile at the hands of the Babylonians, Jeremiah the prophet is overcome by God’s emotions at the senselessness of the tragedy and longing for something better. You can hear God’s nostalgia and deep hurt at betrayal while describing “the covenant which I made with their fathers on the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt: my covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them …” (Jeremiah 31:32; New American Standard Bible; emphasis added).

God took marginalized and enslaved people by the hand to bring them to Godself at Sinai, and there cut a wedding covenant so they would be God’s people and the Lord would be their god. Make no mistake, God’s dreams for the people have been crushed, and God feels that hurt and betrayal.

But God doesn’t give up hope. Instead, God promises to write a new covenant on the hearts of Israel and Judah. No longer carved on stones or inked on vellum, this law will be in the hearts of the people so they no longer even need to teach one another. This is, after all, a God who longs for intimacy with God’s people.

Jesus was emotional with his Father in prayer, knowing that God’s emotions, divine compassion and grace that leads to forgiveness all respond to human prayers and petitions.

The psalmist knows of the redemptive power of God’s love. In pleading for forgiveness for his heinous sins, David begins not with confession but with theology. David “took” Bathsheba (the Bible doesn’t record her consent, or lack thereof) and murdered her husband Uriah. David had become what he was raised up to replace: a wicked king who used his power to further his own desires.

David has no excuse, so he threw himself entirely on the mercy of God. He begged: “Be gracious to me, God, according to your faithfulness; according to the greatness of your compassion, wipe out my wrongdoings (Psalm 51:1 emphasis added). God’s character and emotion are central here. David’s actions won’t save the king from his own evil. Instead, God’s compassion for God’s friend is David’s only hope.

We see God’s rich emotional life in the person of Jesus as well. The author of Hebrews describes how Jesus offered up prayers and pleas with loud crying and tears (5:7). Jesus was emotional with his Father in prayer, knowing that God’s emotions, divine compassion and grace that leads to forgiveness all respond to human prayers and petitions. If you think about it, this is why we pray prayers of petition, asking God for help, healing or protection. We hope that God will respond in love to the requests of God’s children.

We serve an emotional God, driven by divine pathos.

Jesus openly modeled the full range of emotions with God in the Gospel reading from John. In responding to a request to see Jesus, the Messiah revealed what he was feeling: “My soul has become troubled; and what am I to say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name” (John 12:27-28).

Jesus experienced deep disquiet of soul and dread of the mockery, torture and execution he was about to face. He didn’t pretend that everything was OK with him or that reliance on God somehow prevents fear, anxiety or apprehension. Those who would turn “do not fear” or “do not be anxious” into a commandment instead of reassurances must think that Jesus sinned here and in the Garden of Gethsemane when he begged God to find some way to spare him from the horror to befall him in a few hours. Rather than sinning, I think Jesus is demonstrating the very best of what it means to be human (and divine)—allowing emotions to deepen the relationship between God and humans.

Rabbi Heschel, mentioned above, argued that the biblical prophets’ use of emotional language for God was not an attempt to anthropomorphize God. Instead, it was an attempt to “theomorphize” humans. What I experience as anger isn’t really anger in its truest sense unless it motivates me to redeem the enslaved, work against inequity, and free humans from the bondage of sin and death, as God’s anger does. What I experience as love isn’t love in its truest sense unless it motivates me to forgive those who have hurt me, embrace the suffering in compassion and expend myself on behalf of others. That’s what God’s love does! We serve an emotional God, driven by divine pathos, and thank God for that.

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