You will say in that day: I will give thanks to you, O LORD, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, and you comforted me. (Isaiah 12:1, NRSV)
In place of a Psalm this week, we get Isaiah 12, and it starts with a very uncomfortable image of God, at least for me. After all, when life is tumbling down all around a person, she hopes God might provide a little comfort and probably does not prefer the vision of a God who gets angry and then gets un-angry and offers comfort.
It sounds a little abusive, if I dare say it.
And I'm reminded that all these prophetic words are filtered through the understanding of people. People have been trying, forever, really, to figure out why it seems like God must be angry with them some times; isn't that the best explanation for the times everything is just so messed up we don't know what to do? It's almost better than an absent God, because at least that means there is a sense of presence.
Of course, in this opening section of Isaiah, the message is that God is pretty ticked off at Israel.
And let's remember that. It's a collective story about a community, not just a story about one guy or one gal who messed up and got forgiven eventually, like a little kid who knocks over something breakable his mother treasures, is shocked by her moment of absolute hysterical rage, and then relieved when she pulls him close and assures him children matter more than things.
(Yes, I did this once, when #1 Son broke an angel my mother loved, quite by accident. Fortunately, I'm not God.)
The trouble with a verse like the one above is that it arrives in the lectionary as the first in a passage without the context of what comes before, and it just sounds awful, because it sounds first-person.
Any good Congregationalist knows we are all in this together.
The chapter goes on to praise God with joy and so forth, which is a good thing to do. I find I've been able to do that despite all the travails of recent months, and to feel happy about it, which is a blessing. There have been plenty of times in my life that was not true, times that the kind of verse that begins this chapter would sound like it was meant for me, that God had been enraged with me and that must be why whatever happened, happened.
But seriously, I need God to be less like an angry mama, which is to say me, or a short-tempered daddy, and more like…God. Otherwise God is too small. Too human. Too limited.