Letters - 03 May 2024

From Anger and mercy to Peace and justice

Anger and mercy

Elizabeth Coleman’s article of 12 April traced the development of the Israelites’ understanding of YHWH’s identity, and their purpose as his chosen people, commissioned to be ‘as a light to the world’.

Walter Bruggemann (theologian) suggests that the early focus on YHWH as a God of Anger/Justice, dispensing retribution and punishment on wrongdoers, helped the Israelites to build a dependable, predictable and socially stable structure. The introduction of YHWH as the God of Mercy/Compassion, however, meant uncertainty as to the outcome of wrongdoing, recognising that it could result in liberation from punishment with surprising and unsettling results for society.

This tension is powerfully displayed in the Book of Jonah where the prophet – who enjoys ‘success’ not attained by other prophets – wrestles with his desire for certainty and predictability in the face of the merciful action of YHWH to the city of Ninevah. His search for personal certainty/eternal protection is demonstrated by the references to Tarshish, the ship’s hold, the fish’s belly, the Temple and the booth – all of which are overthrown by YHWH, whose concluding dialogue asks for Jonah to turn away from his exclusive ways and sectarian mindset to learn a lesson about ‘Divine Pity’. Jonah seeks death (Jonah 4: 3,9) rather than live under a God who forgives enemies and whose actions of mercy reveal that his love is for all creation is universal in nature and not limited to a chosen people.

It is my understanding that for all other religions of the world that hold the idea of a supreme deity, mercy is always exercised at the expense of justice – that the penalties for a broken law are set aside.

With the current conflict between Israel and the Arab nations I find myself wondering how the Book of Jonah might ‘speak’ to the parties today – and how the question posed by YHWH to Jonah (4:4) ‘Have you a right to be angry?’ could/should be answered by all of us.

Heather Kent

Meeting for Worship

Gabriel Lester (19 April) asks that, while Meeting should be open for everyone. are there not some types of people that should not be allowed to join in? Our Meetings for Worship are public meetings, open to all. This allows us to register as places of worship and not pay business rates and so on. There are very limited grounds for excluding someone from a Meeting for Worship, mostly linked to serious safeguarding issues. Even then we should make every effort to enable someone to access our Quaker worship.

We say in Our Faith in the Future that our Meetings should be places where ‘all are heard, valued and supported both in our needs and our leadings… All are welcomed and included’.

George Fox tells us to answer that of God in everyone. And how many of us have had our own views changed through Meeting for Worship?

Who are these types of people that Gabriel thinks we should not let in? Are we just a cosy club for ‘nice’ people, people like us? I have a close relative with a serious mental health condition and I am only grateful that he has found a warm welcome at the local evangelical church, where all really are welcomed and included.

Ingrid Greenhow

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