How Julian understood God
Julian knew well that “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8). In her mystical theology, she will carry that truth to its fullest implication: God cannot stop loving us because that’s who God is. Unlike the anthropomorphic image of a highly volatile God—loving us when we are obedient, then becoming “wroth” and punishing us when we disobey, then relenting and taking pity on us—Julian’s understanding of divine love is that it is eternally constant; it does not change. It is we humans who are changeable. We accept or reject or simply ignore God’s love. But God never ceases loving and protecting us, even in our misdeeds.
How We View God
The way we view God is really up to us. If we are open and receptive to divine love and willing to share that love with each other, then we will surely recognize God as the wellspring and fulfillment of every love. If, on the other hand, we fail to love God and each other, if we are unjust, unkind, unforgiving, and unfaithful, eventually we become guilt-ridden. Then what do we do? We get angry with ourselves and project that anger onto God: “God must be angry with me. God is a wrathful God.” What a terrible injustice to God. It may take a long time for us to outgrow our age-old projections of God as changeable, vindictive, and wrathful. Those of us who were terrified as children by the threat of God’s punishment may still be struggling to do so. Julian’s Revelations will help us. In fact, she sees that Christ scorns Satan’s evil designs on us, utterly deriding their (lack of) power. Christ wants us to do the same. This realization was so liberating for Julian, it made her laugh out loud.
Nevertheless, as a devout Christian, Julian could not discount the gravity of sin and the necessity of punishment for wrong deeds, whether by suffering here on earth or after death, in purgatory or in hell. She readily acknowledges that she was never tempted to give up the teachings of the church on sin and restitution; in fact, she “had teaching to love it and like it." She freely admits “that we are sinners and do many evils that we ought to leave, and leave many good deeds undone that we ought to do, wherefore we deserve pain, blame, and wrath." Nevertheless, Julian could not deny the truth of her revelation that God is “never wroth” and assigns “no manner of blame” to sinners.
And notwithstanding all this, I saw truthfully that our lord was never wroth nor never shall be. For he is God, he is good, he is truth, he is love, he is peace. And his might, his wisdom, his charity, and his unity do not permit him to be wroth. For I saw truly that it is against the property of his might to be wroth, and against the property of his wisdom, and against the property of his goodness. God is that goodness that may not be wroth, for God is nothing but goodness."
While Julian admits our common experience of changeability, frailty, and ignorance in this life, she knows that it is not the full picture because it does not take into account “the great desire that the soul hath to see God." This, in turn, leads her to reflect on the divine work of mercy that the Holy Spirit is forever accomplishing in us, dwelling in our soul, securely keeping us, bringing us to a greater peace, making us more obedient, more pliant, and reconciling us to God whenever we become angry.
For I saw no wrath but on humanity’s part, and that God forgives in us. For wrath is nothing else but a rebelliousness and a contrariousness to peace and to love. And either it comes from failure of strength, or from failure of wisdom, or from failure of goodness, which failing is not in God but is on our own part. For we by sin and wretchedness have in us a wrath and a continuing contrariousness to peace and to love, and that he shewed very often in his loving expression of compassion and pity."
PLEASE NOTE: The excerpts above are from An Explorer’s Guide to Julian of Norwich (InterVarsity Academic Press, June, 2018). Copyright © 2018 by Veronica Mary Rolf. All rights reserved. This article may not be copied or reprinted without the express permission of the author.
All text copyrighted © 2013-2018 by Veronica Mary Rolf. All rights reserved. No copying or reprints allowed without the express permission of the Author.