Love of God and Wrath of God though the Filter of Human Experience

by Treasure Noel Tatum

photo by Treasure Noel Tatum

Putting the Wrath of God in Perspective Part 4

We should never be afraid to confront the most difficult questions or statements. Truth is truth, and God and truth must necessarily be harmonious. Richard Dawkins says,

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”
― Richard DawkinsThe God Delusion

The angry God of the Old Testament problem is often a line of first defense (or is it offense?) for those who do not believe in God, or at least do not believe in “the God of the bible”. It is a problem that believers wrestle with too.

The sermon in church today was on the book of Ezra. Ezra 8:22 reads,

“The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him.”

This is the kind of thing that people like Richard Dawkins criticize. Keep in mind these are people who do not understand the Old Testament or the New Testament, and they do not want to understand it. They have already reached conclusions in their minds and are as dogmatic in holding to those conclusions as anyone of religious bent.

Most people who make these statements, in my experience, have not read through the Bible. They have read only passages, and they have only read the passages that they find “problematic” for the purpose of proving their conclusions that they have already reached. For the most part people are quoting or alluding to passages that are quoted or referenced by others and have not even read them themselves.

The issue of God’s wrath has both historical context and eternal context. Neither can be understood without understanding the Bible as a whole.

As I was sitting listening to the sermon today, I began thinking about some things that have occurred to me before. These thoughts go a little “off the reservation” and should not be considered doctrinal. At the same time, I do not think these thoughts are inconsistent with most accepted doctrine.

The Bible purports to be the Word of God spoken through men (and women). We like to put labels on what that means, like “inerrancy” or “literal” or “inspired”. Labels can be helpful, but can also be limiting and, if we hold too fast to them, rigidly dogmatic. Jesus showed us what He thinks about rigid dogmatism in the way he addressed the Pharisees. We should always keep that in mind.

While God “spoke” the Ten Commandments by etching them in rock (begging the question whether they were etched by God or Moses), the vast majority of the time He spoke through people. There is a danger, of course, that those people may have gotten it wrong. If God is God, however, it seems He could preserve the integrity of His communication, even if filtered through the minds of men.

This distinction about the Bible stands in contrast to other writings claimed to be the Word of God, or Allah as the case may be. Mohammad claims that he was nothing but a scribe who took down what God said, word for word. Joseph Smith claimed the same thing of the Book of Mormon.

For the reason that they are claimed to be God’s exact word, verbatim, it seems to me that those claims are suspect on their face, given the frailties of men. Indeed, the internal and external conflicts on those purported Scriptures belie the claims that they are the word of God.

The Bible is not like that. The Bible does not make such an extreme claim. There is no attempt to hide or explain away the fact that these words are received by and filtered through the minds of the people receiving them in a particular time and under particular circumstances in historical time. Yet, we see in them universal and timeless application.

When Ezra speaks of the gracious hand of God on those who look to God and God’s great anger against those who forsake Him, Ezra is speaking through his human understanding. The believer sees no disharmony in that. Though filtered through human mind, these are the words of God.

We should be mindful, however, that God’s words are filtered through human minds. This is where some might say I am going off the reservation, but I do not think so, at least not in disharmony with the clear truths the Bible reveals: God is love; God is sovereign; God is the Maker of time, space and matter.

From a human standpoint, we see people experiencing grace and mercy who submit to God, and we see people experiencing condemnation, anger and opposition to God who reject God and oppose Him. How we experience things causes us to put them in human terms that reflect a human perspective.

On the one hand, what we see may be exactly what is going on. God may be angry. God is God, and who are we to question or judge God. God can morally do whatever He wants, because He is the moral standard. We are not.

But maybe something else is going on. What looks like wrath from the human perspective may be something else.

Again, this flows, I think, from the fundamental truths expressed elsewhere in the Bible. We know that God does not change His mind. He keeps His promises. He does not fluctuate. He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. God also is life, and apart from God there is no life. God is love, and apart from Him there is no love.

If we draw near to God, we will naturally experience His love and His grace. Even though we may be unworthy, and certainly may feel unworthy, we also feel God’s welcoming love when we move toward Him and, as a result, experience His grace towards us.

If we set ourselves against God, or remain distant, the unworthiness we feel translates to condemnation because we do not feel God’s love or grace. God seems to withhold love and grace, which appears to us as condemnation. If God is the Source and Giver of life, but we remain aloof, we feel the death and annihilation that is the experience of life outside the presence of God. We experience what feels like anger or wrath.

This may also explain, to some extent, why some people see God as an angry tyrant in the Old Testament, while others see Him as a loving Father. God does not change, but our relation to Him changes, and our relation to Him, which is largely our own attitude and posture towards God, colors our perspective of Him.

The fact that God’s Word is filtered through men in the Old Testament is also an explanation for why God appears to angry, jealous and tyrannical compared to the New Testament. In the New Testament we hear the voice of God through God, Himself, in the form of the man Jesus. His Word is made flesh in Jesus, and Jesus gives us an unfiltered view of God. Through Jesus we not only see God on our level; we hear God in God’s own voice. We have a direct, unfiltered view of God who loves us enough to empty Himself for our sake and die for us so that we might live.

Even in the New Testament, people stood opposed to God. In fact, Jesus was such that one could not remain neutral. He was either embraced or shunned. In shunning Jesus, what we call the wrath and condemnation of God results. Jesus even spoke in those words. The truth is, however, that we cannot experience the love and grace of God if we stand opposed to Him or do not receive Him. While He leaves us the choice, the failure to choose God feels like wrath, condemnation and death because apart from God there is no life, no love, no grace.

See Putting up with the Wrath of God Part 5

Explore posts in the same categories: Bible, Faith, grace

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4 Comments on “Love of God and Wrath of God though the Filter of Human Experience”

  1. Very nicely said and a blessing for me to read. God does give us a choice and I agree if you draw near to God you will feel his love, mercy and grace. He keeps his promises and for this I am forever grateful.;)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sue in Aqaba Says:

    Reblogged this on The Lamb's Servant and commented:
    One of the best and most thoughtful articles I’ve read in a long time!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. […] See Putting the Wrath of God in Perspective Part 4 […]


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