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

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.

by Treasure Noel Tatum
photo by Treasure Noel Tatum

This is the fourth segment in the series, Putting the Wrath of God in Perspective.

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, but they do so without any understanding (and likely no desire to understand) what they are criticizing. Continue reading “Love of God and Wrath of God though the Filter of Human Experience”

Putting the Anger of God in Perspective: Part 2

Sun in the CloudsSpeaking of God’s anger, we experience things that we perceive to be God’s wrath, but they are not. When tragedy strikes – a natural disaster, a terrible accident, cancer – we feel that God is being angry or cruel.

We wonder how He could do those things to people, especially if it affects me!

In reality, God has created a neutral universe in which things happen, good and bad, from our perspective. It is the perfect soil for the exercise of free will. As a general rule, the universe is a neutral ground where favorable and unfavorable things happen all the time (the rain falls on both the righteous and the unrighteous), and the important thing is our reaction to those things.

We see the world from a finite, limited perspective. In fact, we tend to think or act as if this world is all there is. Just as the universe had a beginning, it will have an ending. The end of each of us will surely come before the world ends, but end it will. When life as we know it is stripped away, and the universe as we know it comes to an end, there will remain only eternity with God or eternity without God.

We tend to feel that the bad things that happen to us in our lives are expressions of God’s anger toward us. In fact, God’s wrath is not yet revealed. The wrath of God is coming. Colossians 3:6 The day of judgment is still to come (2 Peter 2:9), and, we are told that day will “come like a thief in the night.” 1 Thessalonians 5:2

If we are in opposition to God, with stubborn and unrepentant hearts, God’s wrath is stored up for us “for the day of God’s wrath,” (Romans 2:5) but, that day has not yet come.

In the meantime, we experience God’s forbearance, patience and kindness, allowing us time to turn around and align with Him. Romans 2:4 As the writer of Hebrews exhorted, if you hear His voice today, do not harden your hearts! There is still time to change.

The world we live in is the soil in which we grow toward the life that is yet to come. Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” John 18:36 Indeed, none of us get out of this world alive. We have the opportunity, while we still live, to plant ourselves in God’s soil, to die to ourselves and to live for God.

The ways we respond to the happenings in our lives guides our growth in the soil of this world. We are either growing toward Him or away from Him. The end of our days is not this world, but the next. Jesus told us that we should not be storing up treasures on earth where things rot and rust; we should store our treasures up in heaven.

Peter reminds us we look forward to a new heavens and a new earth. 2 Peter 3:13 He exhorts us, “So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.” 2 Peter 3:14-15

 The Lord’s patience means salvation. 2 Peter 3:16 Bad experiences remind us we are not immortal, that there is an end to this life, that we should be considering where our treasures are.

Putting the Anger of God in Perspective: Part 1

Lightning on Land Over Ocean - CopyThe anger of God in the Bible, especially in the Old Testament, is inescapable. In fact, God’s anger and wrath is mentioned more times in the Bible than His love and mercy. We can not side step it.

I find myself, as I read through the Old Testament, tempted to want to explain God’s anger and wrath away. The accounts of God’s anger make me uncomfortable and long to get back to the New Testament.

Even in the New Testament, however, we find passages like this:

“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” John 3:36

“Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.'” Romans 12:17-19

I have spoken with people who do not believe in God or who do not accept the Bible as true because of the statements and stories about God’s anger and jealousy. It strikes me that God, the Creator of the Universe, is no less God if we do not believe in Him or do not acknowledge Him as He is. It also seems the height of folly to submit God to our judgment, which is essentially what people do who reject Him for being angry or jealous or fail to believe the Bible because it reveals a God who displays anger and jealousy. Who are we to submit God to our judgment?

At the same time, I have long played with the thought, which I acknowledge is just my thinking and may be way off, that what we see as anger is really something very different. We experience it or receive it as anger in a moral and emotional sense, but comes from a different source.

God is God and cannot be anything other than who He is. We are the ones out of sync. When we are out of sync, we are like the opposite pole of a magnet facing God. We sense that tension, and we do not like it. If we are to approach God in that state (opposed to Him), we would likely perceive the tension as anger from Him – a sense of repulsion (and being repelled). We can not stand in His presence when we are opposed to Him. We can hardly stand in His presence when we are in right relation to Him! Moses had to hide His face. Isaiah cried out that was” undone” and “ruined” in God’s presence.

What we perceive as God’s judgment, a moral stance, is really just God’s character. He is who He is. God is the standard by which everything is measured. We can no more divine God to be something other than who He is than turn off gravity, and our judgment of Him is like the ant claiming the ground underneath the elephant’s foot.

The Bible reveals that God wants no one to perish, but He cannot be other than Himself.

As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways…. Ezekiel 33:11

It is we who need to change and come into alignment with Him. He provided the way in Jesus and his atoning death on the cross. Through Jesus we are aligned with God and can stand before Him and experience His love. We when we confess our sins, die to ourselves, accept the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross and receive and submit to God, we are turned around and aligned with Him.

I dare say that we should not gloss over the anger and wrath of God. “Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom….” Proverbs 9:10 If we let the knowledge that God is an angry, jealous God creep into our consciousness, we have motivation to want to make things right with Him. We can not change Him. “He is not a tame Lion,” as C.S. Lewis says. He can not be other than who He is. We must approach God on His terms. What we find, when we do is that God is Love.