In one scene in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, the character Alyosha is listening to a priest read the story of Jesus’ turning water into wine at a wedding. We hear his mental commentary: “I love that passage; it’s Cana of Galilee, the first miracle. . . . Ah, that miracle! Ah, that sweet miracle! It was not men’s grief, but their joy Christ visited, He worked His first miracle to help men’s gladness . . . He who loves men loves their gladness, too.”
I identify with Alyosha. I love that story. And the parables of finding lost sheep and coins, of prodigal sons who return home to find forgiveness.
But let’s face it: Jesus also tells parables where the king or master—seemingly representing God—is mean or arbitrary. One puzzling tale depicts a king who, after preparing a splendid wedding banquet and inviting everyone (“the good and the bad”), does this:
But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. He asked, “How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?” The man was speechless.
Then the king told the attendants, “Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt. 22:11–13)
I admit there’s a part of me that harbors the fear that this parable may get God exactly right: that he can be arbitrary and tempted to anger—and that my job is to appease him. I never say this in so many words. But I have a hard time shaking the idea that if I don’t behave myself, I will be the object of God’s anger or deep disappointment.
In talking with friends, ...
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