Fellow Passengers: This week’s Prophetic Passage* (Isaiah 66:10-16) transports me to the capital punishment-loving state of Texas, where politicians who brag about putting evildoers to death can expect a cheering response. It puts a new twist to the song All my “ex-es” (as in “executioners”) live in Texas. But interestingly enough, Texas doesn’t execute all of its evildoing murderers. All you have to do is go to the maximum security North Texas State Hospital in Vernon, Texas, to see evidence of their care and treatment for murderers deemed insane. A few years ago you could have visited this place where the mother’s milk of compassion had long soured for Andrea Yates and her roommate, Dena Schlosser. Both women were guilty of filicide, killing their children, and both were motivated by religious reasons, believing they were doing God’s will. Postpartum depression and rage were mixed in a deadly cocktail with a dangerous and vitriolic form of “Christian” preaching and teaching, and as a result six children’s lives, from the ages of 6 months to 7 years, were tragically snuffed out. Schlosser listened to the hymn He Touched Me while dismembering her infant child, and Yates had listened to the craziness of the itinerant street preacher, Michael Woroniecki, who convinced her that her children weren’t righteous and were stumbling because she was evil. The way I was raising them, she said, they could never be saved. They were doomed to perish in the fires of hell.
The juxtaposition of motherly love with violent rage is jolting, and it’s particularly jarring to find this connection in Isaiah’s final chapter, and even more of a jolt to see the juxtaposition applied to the image of God. Listen to the tenderness in God’s voice: Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the Gentiles like a flowing stream: then shall ye suck, ye shall be borne upon her sides, and be dandled upon her knees. As one whom his mother comforts, so will I comfort you. Then listen to the postpartum-like rage: For with fire and with his sword the LORD will execute judgment on all people, and many will be those slain by the LORD. It takes only a few short verses to travel from flowing glory to executing judgment, from ride a little horsey up and down to a horse drawn chariot coming down with fire and fury.
That image does give a troubling twist to He Touched Me. Children sing another song in church, about the whole world being in the hands of God. Given the maternal references here in Isaiah, they could easily sing, She’s got the whole world, in her hands. It’s supposed to be a comforting song. It was anything but comforting for the children of Andrea Yates and Dena Schlosser. And it’s not comforting for those the prophet labeled as evildoers, those whom Jonathon Edwards preached about in his famous sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. And it wasn’t comforting for Jesus, whom the the good news tells us suffered at God’s hands a similar fate, no, a far worse fate, than the Yates children and the Schlosser infant. It tells us God sent His only begotten Son to become sin, who knew no sin; Jesus was obedient to death on a cross where the good news tells us He became evil and wicked, who knew no evil or wickedness, so that we might become God’s righteousness. The implication of this story is that first person of the Trinity shared the fate of Yates and Schlosser, committing filicide, sending an only child to be tortured and die on a cross. And on that cross Jesus, the obedient Son, bore the full brunt of God’s wrath, so that the rest of humanity might only know God’s tenderness. He was on the receiving end of divine postpartum rage, so that the rest of us might receive the gift of post-resurrection peace, a peace that passes all understanding, a crazy peace by the world’s standards. Isaiah’s Mother God dandles us on her knees again, ride a little horsey, don’t fall down. The sour milk becomes sweet again, prompting us to sing with Charles Wesley, Jesus lover of my soul, let me to Thy bosom fly. And with Van Morrison, She give me love, love, love, love, crazy love.
How about you? Where does this Prophetic Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment.