God Is Not Angry
Published on 12 January 2020
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A humorous, yet oddly insightful parenting fail: The wrath of a child
I remember a day, a couple of years ago, when our family was grocery shopping in the local supermarket. Two of my sons, seeing a novelty shopping trolley—a two-seater car in the front with a steering wheel on each side— went over and stood by it, begging me to take it. My other son, realising that there was not enough room for three, very graciously allowed the other two to sit in the car while he himself sat up in the trolley. After a while in the store, the groceries began to crowd him out and I suggested that he could push the trolly instead. While he was still a little disappointed that he wasn’t actually in the car at the front, he agreed that this would be okay. He’s always been the reasonable sort.
It turned out that this arrangement was greatly enjoyed by all, much more so than when I’d been pushing. This was because the son who was pushing was never quite in control of the trolley and kept on bumping into things. There were giggles all around. I was nervous and stayed close, enjoying their fun but trying to make sure nothing got damaged. My hovering proved to be warranted.
When we got to the checkout line, I had to suddenly intervene because the one who was pushing, misjudging the momentum of the trolley and unaware of how far forward the front of it actually was, was clearly going to bump into the lady in front of us pretty hard. I grabbed the handle and stopped the trolley just in time, but in the process I accidentally pinched his arm, hurting him pretty badly. He was furious with me. The shock of pain was compounded by the injustice that he felt. Not only had I hurt him—he assumed intentionally—but I had intervened without reason, shattering his cherished perception of autonomy. In his mind, he had been in perfect control of the situation.
Despite my rapid apology, he impulsively did a perfectly natural thing. He lashed out and hit me. “Why did you hurt me?!” he yelled through his tears. Now I was in one of those classic awkward supermarket moments that every parent dreads.
There were a couple of complicating factors; first, I felt sorry for his pain. Second, a number of people had heard his question, which seemed perfectly reasonable because not a soul had witnessed the incident itself. Unsure what to do, I turned to him and said: “Did that make you feel better?” “Yes!” he said savagely. “Go on then,” I offered, “do it again.” And so he did, hitting me again and again until his frustration had subsided somewhat.
The Wrath of God
The above incident made me reflect on my parenting of course, but it also made me think about the wrath of God. Let me explain.
When we are hurt or sinned against, it is natural that we should feel the desire for justice, even revenge. While it isn’t necessarily right, it is a natural response. It is this instinct which underlies the basic principle of ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’ (Exodus 21:23, 24). If two fight and one loses an eye as a result, he has lost something that he can never regain. He has been robbed of sight in one eye and he can never get it back. And really, the only properly ‘just’ way to deal with this is to deprive the other man of an eye also. You don’t have to be a Christian to understand this— you only have to be human. In the same way, it's only human to want war criminals who have caused terrible suffering to others, for example, to be ‘brought to justice’— that is, to be made to suffer themselves.
On a human level, we get this. But what we don’t always realise is that every sin against another is also a sin against God. Every act of rebellion, defiance, disobedience, violence, deceit, or malice robs God of the perfect world that He created for us.
That is the thought, I believe, that underlies Paul’s discussion of the wrath of God in Romans:
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.
Here we learn that God’s wrath (God’s anger) is being revealed against godlessness, wickedness and suppression of the truth. God’s purpose was that the majesty of the Creator would be perfectly seen in His creation and that His own character and image would be perfectly displayed in humanity. That is why idolatry and sexual immorality, the two sins that are foremost in Romans 1, are linked. While the first sin degrades God by worshipping the things He’s created rather than the Creator Himself, the second defaces God’s Image that He has indelibly stamped upon mankind, by the misuse of the body in the pursuit of selfish pleasure at the expense of selfless, Godly love.
All that to say, God is justly, and rightly, angry with sin.
The Love of God
And yet, both the supermarket illustration above and the notion of God’s anger at His perfect world being destroyed, run the risk of portraying God as a petulant child, lashing out because His will has been violated.
That’s because there is a crucial piece of the puzzle that is missing; God is Love.
He is motivated by Love and He yearns for our good. The perfect world that He created was made that way so that it could be enjoyed to the utmost by us.
The reason God made people in His own image and likeness was so that they might love one another and thus be a blessing to each other—personifying real love as He is love.
So God is angry at sin, not just because it destroys His perfect world, but because that inherent destruction is ultimately harmful to the people He loves dearly. God is angry out of concern for us. And the fact that we can’t always see the direct connection between our sin and others’ pain—“why shouldn’t I? It’s not hurting anyone is it?”—doesn’t mean that God is petty, counting those seemingly ‘spiritual’ sins like idolatry as equal to the more obvious ones like murder, where the human victim is more readily identifiable. It just means that God is omniscient and sees the bigger picture that we do not.
To put it simply, God’s wrath is not in tension with God’s love. God’s wrath is the consequence of God’s love. And unless we can see that, we will never understand that this God, who is necessarily angry at human sin, is actually for us rather than against us.
(Check out this post; where we talk about God’s loving judgement of us!)
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