“The Heart of God

By Dorothy Ranaghan

If God is love, why are a lot of Catholics I know cowering before him and his pending wrath? I’ve pondered and puzzled this for some time now, and, as sincerely as that viewpoint is held, I feel it might be based partly on some biblical misunderstandings. Is there a coming reckoning? Surely. The day of final judgment will come to each of us. But if that is our focus, then our perception of reality— both of God and ourselves—is skewed and distorted.

We image God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as a community of persons, a community of love. God drew us into his very heart, his inner life of love, when we were baptized into his Son. In Jesus we have seen the Father. If we want to know what the heart of the Father is about, we would do well to reflect on this passage:

When Israel was a child, I loved him and called him out of Egypt as my son. But the more I called to him, the more he turned away from me…They refuse to return to me, and so they must return to Egypt. War will…destroy my people…They will cry out because of the yoke that is on them, but no one will lift it from them…How can I give you up, Israel? How can I abandon you? Could I ever destroy you…? My heart will not let me do it! My love for you is too strong. I will not punish you in my anger. I will not destroy Israel again. For I am God and not man. I, the Holy One, am with you. I will not come to you in anger. (Hosea 11:1-9)

In this fascinating text, God is really upset. He starts raging against the Israelites. “Back to Egypt with you! Be devoured by your enemies!” Then suddenly, almost mid-rant, God “changes” his mind. Even if Israel goes back on its liberation and election by God, God cannot. His “heart” recoils. As one translation words it, “my compassion kindles vehemently!” Vehement compassion defines God. He will not execute his fierce anger because he is God, not man. Found guilty, Israel is, nonetheless, set free; is not sentenced. Yet the sentence is demanded and must be paid. Israel could not keep her end of the bargain. What was God to do? Wipe out Israel? Israel could not love God. Jesus, the new Israel, the son he had “called out of Egypt,” did it for them. He fulfilled the covenant.

The Hebrew word hesed means the unconditional, everlasting, loyal, covenant love of God. In the New Testament, we find that God himself, in his Son, suffers the rejection that Israel was spared. God takes upon himself the punishment Israel deserved from a just God. God’s wrath is not greater than his love. He is his love.

Jesus is the incarnation of the love of God. The once popular devotion to the  Sacred Heart has all but disappeared in the modern church. I don’t necessarily recommend that we resurrect it. But with or without a specific form of devotion, we should try to enter more deeply into an understanding of the reality of the heart of God. It unlocks one of the secrets by which we are to act as Christ in the world today.

Every word of the gospel throbs with the boundless love of Christ for each human being, particularly those who are lowly or distressed. His heart is so passionately in love with us that (as artists have tried to suggest to us) it can no longer withhold the flames of that burning desire for us. The closer we get to the heat waves of love coming from the flaming furnace which is the heart of Jesus, the more our hearts will burn within us. Stay long enough, and like current flowing through a wire, you begin to find yourself in contact with the current of love that flows from him. You burn and become one with his incandescent love. You begin to be filled with a love of what he loves and to want to love those things too. The more on fire we become as each of us catches on fire from drawing near to his blazing love, the more we will go out and throw off sparks everywhere until the whole world is ablaze. The love that casts out fear sends us out, not with a message of imminent doom, but with new words of hope and joy on our lips—with the “good news.”

“A day is coming when people will sing,  ‘I praise you, Lord!’ You were angry with me, but now you comfort me and are angry no longer. Tell the nations what he has done! Tell them how great he is!” (Is. 12:1,4).We cannot afford to misunderstand the relationship between the mercy and anger of God. Jesus did not come to condemn us. He came to save us from our sin and from the Father’s wrath. That wrath is spent. The sword is no longer hanging over our heads. It has already pierced the side of Christ.

A writer and retreat director, Dorothy Ranaghan and her husband, Kevin, live in South Bend, Indiana, and are members of People of Praise Community. REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION FROM Pentecost Today's July/August/September 2003 Volume 28 Number 39