Thinking Anglicans


‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel’,
which means, ‘God is with us.’ (Matthew 1:23)

To speak of God being with us might be good news, or bad news, depending on what we believe God’s character is like.

When Nazi troops marched into Paris in 1940, their regulation belt buckle bore the legend ‘Gott mit Uns’, God with us, and I wonder how the French felt about what that God was visiting on them? The badge of the English Defence League bears a cross, below which the Latin inscriptions translates: ‘In this sign you will conquer‘ invoking the militant power of an Anglo-Saxon warrior God.

Even people who do not espouse a political or military cause find themselves readily imagining a vengeful God. When someone encounters personal tragedy or misfortune, I find them looking for what they might have done wrong, for which this devastation is punishment, a retribution for a past sin. Or they may simply see their pain as a sign that God has brutally inflicted a tragedy or, at the very least, been asleep on the job allowing catastrophe to befall them.

The ‘Son of God’ in the world of the Christmas stories is a title for Caesar, presiding over the brutal imperial army occupying Jesus’s homeland. The Roman God-with-us means domination by brute force — a fearful God-with-us.

The stories of Christmas were written to challenge and subvert this dark idea of God’s character. Matthew’s God-with-us is hunted by a king, one who has to leave his country. Luke’s God-with-us is visited by the poorest in the neighbourhood. This is not a brutal God, this is a God alongside people who are powerless, people who have been done to, people who feel forgotten. This is the character of the God of the Christian Gospels.

Andrew Spurr is Vicar of Evesham with Norton and Lenchwick in the diocese of Worcester.

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Rosemary Hannah
Rosemary Hannah
6 years ago

Spot on

6 years ago

The recent discussion on another thread at TA about the creeds prompted me to think of the Creed of St Athanasius and the words therein: “The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible.” These words point to the depth of our unknowing and yet we discern clearly God’s love for us in our reading of scripture. It’s a love we can depend on through the darkest of days.

Tim Chesterton
6 years ago

Excellent. Personally I believe that ‘Emmanuel’ is the heart of the gospel, but as Andrew points out, that’s dependent on what we believe God to be like!

Father Ron Smith
6 years ago

There is way too much emphasis on the ‘vengeance’ of God. This can lead to an odd heretical understanding of disasters occurring in the natural world. New Zealand’s recent earthquakes were announced by the local N.Z. ‘Destiny Church’ as a sign of God’s displeasure with Same-Sex Marriage and the “sexual sins of the South Island people” (as though they were any more sinful than those in the north Island!)

This ‘cod-theology’ leads to people no longer believing in the God such churches espouse. What seems to have been forgotten is that “God SO LOVED the world”. He never hated it!

Interested Observer
Interested Observer
6 years ago

“When Nazi troops marched into Paris in 1940, their regulation belt buckle bore the legend ‘Gott mit Uns’, God with us, and I wonder how the French felt about what that God was visiting on them? “ In rather too many cases, “enthusiastic collaboration”. The Germans didn’t need to do the roundups and deportations ofJewish French citizens themselves, French police were happy to do it for them, and when the Germans asked for Jewish men, the French were happy to round up the women and children as well. The myth of the resistance is just that: as the mordant old… Read more »

6 years ago

“The stories of Christmas WERE WRITTEN to challenge and subvert this dark idea of God’s character.” (emphasis added)

That’s an amazingly bold assertion.

“Thou shalt not bear false witness” is one of the Ten Commandments. Whether one believes the Gospels are the Word of God or the work of faithful disciples, I see no reason to believe either would deliberately bear false witness to the life of Jesus Christ for propaganda purposes ie to portray God in a particular way.

Susannah Clark
6 years ago

Christianity is deeply subversive, from the Magnificat of Mary to the ‘unveiling of Empire’ in the Book of Revelation. The rulers are impugned. The gospel brings a profound message of God’s identification with the poor. “He has shewn strength with his arm, He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts, He has put down the mighty from their seat, and has exalted the humble and meek, He has filled the hungry with good things, And the rich he has sent empty away.” As Jesus said at the very outset of his ministry: “The Spirit of the Lord… Read more »

David Rowett
6 years ago

A soon as anyone mentions the Anglo-Saxons I respond like Pavlov’s mutt, and therefore share this passage from Benedicta Ward: ‘There is [in Bede, Gregory, Alfred] a key to the spirituality of the first English Christians. At first they were promised a new kingdom and tended to see God as the God of battle who would reward devotion with victory. But they learned another lesson with experience, and that was the priority of God in all circumstances…. They learned… the humility that regards God as the only pastor, using only damaged tools. In darkness, desolation and shame, there is the… Read more »

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