Biblical descriptions about God’s anger abound throughout Scripture. As a matter of fact, the entirety of the prophetic works reflect Israel’s understanding of the wrath and judgment of the Holy One.
Sometimes we moderns hear the phrase “wrath of God” and assume that wrath is directed toward us personally.
- We make a mistake and we think God must be angry at us.
- We do something stupid and we feel God must hate us.
- We might actually imagine God as something like a cop lurking at a divine speed trap: out to get us.
We get this tendency honestly, I think. Our Western ways of thinking are highly individualistic and traditional Western theology sets us up for these kinds of guilt ridden responses.
When I was in seminary, I wrote papers on Martin Luther and John Calvin, both famous and influential theologians from the 1500’s. They both were really big on emphasizing God’s wrath, God’s anger because of human sinfulness.
“God loved us even as God hated us…,” one of them said.
“No description can deal adequately with the gravity of God’s vengeance against the wicked…” another insisted.
The Reformers thought this way not to foster a sense of hopelessness within us. But yes, they did want us to feel guilty.
When they emphasized the enormity of our estrangement from God, it was in order to demonstrate the immensity of the grace of God found in Jesus Christ.
They wanted us to see ourselves and our situation honestly so we can truly appreciate the proffered salvation: the healing and the wholeness God has accomplished on our behalf.
However we tend to misunderstand the Reformers. Instead of immersing ourselves in the grace, we wallow in the guilt. Instead of embracing God’s embrace, we focus on God’s judgment and punishment.
So which is it: is God for us or against us?
Yes! I say: God is for us!
But, also Yes! God is against wickedness, evil and death.
God opposes anything that is at work within us or around us to destroy this good creation.
Here is where the righteous anger comes in.
Righteous anger is God’s justified wrath for the creeping death that so easily deludes, diminishes and damages us humans. God would heal that living death within us.
God’s righteous anger would destroy that which destroys the beloved. God’s wrath would purge Creation of these deadly thorns and thistles so that Creator’s creation is finally restored to beauty, wholeness and shalom.
This is our eschatological hope.
But here, now, in the world we actually inhabit, we continue to see brokenness everywhere: self-righteousness, self-deception, hubris and apathy.
For Jesus, pathos and passion were aroused when he encountered the man with the damaged hand; he yearned to restore wholeness and to remove the disability that diminished him.
On the other hand, the self-righteous religious folks felt passion only for the rules, for the tradition of Sabbath. When they looked at the man and saw his need, they felt no empathy or sympathy; they showed only apathy.
So Jesus’ pathos/passion also extended to the religious leaders. But this time (in a brilliant Greek word play), Jesus’ “passion” = fury. The hardness of their hearts prompted his deep indignation; Jesus’ righteous anger.
Lack of love will always spark God’s wrath.
Over the next few weeks, we will continue to read the prophets. When we meet Zechariah we will see another prophet of God who challenges hardness of heart within the people and political leaders within Israel.
Thus says the LORD of hosts: Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another; do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor…
But they refused to listen; they turned a stubborn shoulder, they stopped their ears … They made their hearts [hard] …
Therefore great wrath came from the LORD of hosts.Zechariah 7
This indictment of the politics of their day makes me ponder the politics of our own time. These prophetic proclamations against religious leaders who subvert politics – and/or against polticial leaders who subvert religion – could be chronicled almost verbatim in our own day and age.
Why can’t our political leaders realize they are responsible to care for and to care about the widow, the orphan, the alien, the poor – our people who continually live one crisis away from disaster?
And why can’t the church hold our political leaders accountable to this kind of compassionate servant leadership?
Such brokenness within community demands righteous anger.
Such compassion within community requires soft hearts.
And make no mistake: tender hearts DO break.
- As the heart of Jesus broke in the presence of hard-hearted apathy.
- As the heart of God breaks for the pain of the world.
When we embrace this divine character of passionate compassion, it will destroy any lingering apathy within us and, instead, allow compassion and pathos to thrive.
And understand: we too may be called to be prophets.
We may be called to publically proclaim prophetic wrath for the creeping death that deludes, diminishes and damages our own society.
But make no mistake: such a calling will move us out of our comfort zones. Such a ministry surely will bring us into conflict with all the self-righteous fury of the status quo.
But we can do this: sometimes a little righteous anger is good for us.
Living in The Story readings for Week 41