This is he fifth segment of a series on Putting the Wrath of God in Perspective. I have previously written on the subject of the wrath of God several times. In my last blog, I considered how God is perceived through the filter of human experience: if a person sets his self against God, he experiences what feels like condemnation, anger and rejection; while the person who attempts to draw near to God experiences love, grace and acceptance.
God does not change in this exercise. We do. Where we stand in relation to God determines how we experience Him. If God is the source and giver of life, and if God is love, we should experience life and love when we draw near to Him; conversely, we experience something opposite the opposite of life and love when we reject God or withdraw from Him. We call experiences love or wrath, depending on where we stand.
Taking this a step further, if we love what God loves, we find fellowship with Him, but if we love what God does not love, we find that we are separated from Him by our love of things God does not love.
We don’t naturally love what God loves, so we naturally feel some tension with God. In order to know and understand God we need to get beyond this tension. There is no tension on God’s part; the tension is with us.
This is part 3 in the series of Putting God’s Wrath in Perspective. We started by considering the fact that God is God. We are not God and really have no say in who God is or what He does. He could be nothing but wrathful, but we discover that God is, ultimately, love.
From there we discover that God’s wrath in history is employed to achieve the ends God purposes to accomplish, beginning with meting out justice, but more importantly to accomplish His ultimate purposes. His ultimate purpose is to bless the entire world and to reconcile the world to God and to mete out justice as justice is due.
This can only make sense, really, in the context of eternity. If this world is all there is, a just God would have to accomplish justice within the parameters of time. He would have to accomplish justice for each person during the life span of each person. That would be impossible to accomplish in a world in which individuals have real choice.
We tend to think of justice in terms of our own experiences. We think of justice at first instance in terms of our own lives; then we look out to the world that we know in the time in which we live. Justice is lacking in our experience – both in our own lives and in the world in which we live. In fact, if we are honest, injustice seems to be the norm.
Yet, we have this insatiable ideal and longing for a just world.
Where exactly does that come from? If justice seems so elusive in this world, why are we not simply accepting of the “way it is”? This is all we know. Why do we long for – actually insist on – something different from the injustice that is our experience?
This is part 2 of the series, Putting God’s Wrath in Perspective. In part 1, we focused on the necessary fact that, if God exists, God is God; so who can question or judge Him if He is wrathful? We are in no position to change God or judge Him. But we are told, if God is wrathful, that is not all He is because we are told that God is love. (1 John 1:14)
With that in mind, I continue this series on the wrath of God by focusing on God in the history revealed in the Bible. I want to pick that history up from the point when God found a man in (Abraham) who was inclined to hear his voice.
Whether you believe that men have evolved from neanderthals to modern intellectuals or believe in Adam and Eve, we have a natural disconnect between us and the divine. This is to be expected based on the fact that we are the stuff of time, space and matter, and God necessarily is not. In that relationship, we need God to reveal Himself to us because we don’t have the tools in our toolbox to understand a timeless, spaceless immaterial God on our own accord.
The biblical story is the story of God reaching out to mankind through people inclined to hear his voice. Abraham was such a man, and God used Abraham to reveal His self in history to mankind. God chose this man, Abraham, to be the vehicle by which he would bless all people because Abraham was inclined to hear God and respond to him.
Through Abraham and one miraculously born son, Isaac, God promised to create a people that would be as many as the stars in the sky. The Old Testament is the story of God establishing these people, though these people were difficult to manage. They grumbled and complained a lot. They didn’t understand what God was doing. They were more inclined to go in a different direction and live differently than God wanted them to live, but God made his promise to Abraham, and He would keep it.
The wrath of God has long been a source of discomfort for believers and a stumbling block for unbelievers. The subject is one step away from the question, “How can a loving God allow evil to exist in the world?” The counter punch is, “I cannot believe in a God who kills people, who wipes out innocent men, women and children.”
I am going to tackle this prickly subject in a series of writings. I have already written on the subject a number of times because it is a perplexing one.
It seems clear to me that the “answers” one finds are largely determined by orientation. A person who wants to understand will seek resolution and understanding; a person who is not interested in resolution or understanding will camp on the questions and make them rhetorical. I am writing for the person who is seeking to understand.
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 Dawkins, The 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.”
Take a moment with me and consider: what if God was cruel? What if God was completely unpredictable and wholly uncaring towards us? What if God was arbitrary, uninterested and unkind?
Some might say that God seems to be that way… if there is a God… pointing to passages in the Old Testament that portray God as angry, wrathful, retributive and seemingly callous about human life and suffering. Some say that they cannot believe in a God like that.
But, hold on a second. Why should God be the way we think He should be? Why should God be the way we want Him to be?
If God is God, and there is no higher authority, who are we to demand God be anything other than whoever He is and wants to be?
Many people who have read the Bible (or say they have read the Bible) see only an angry, arbitrary and punishing God. Reading through the Old Testament can create that impression, but that would be a cursory reading that only scratches the surface. Most of us read things through the lens of our existing understanding. Our view of God depends not only on our understanding, but on where we stand.
People can be quick to criticize what they do not understand. We see that every day in comments about news events. People don’t know all the facts, but that doesn’t stop them from forming strong opinions and rushing to conclusions, and those conclusions are usually of the black and white variety. People who know all the facts, usually have a different, more nuanced view of those facts.
If you approach the Bible, or anything, with preconceived notions, there is little chance that you will come away with a different opinion than the one you have already formed. If you are willing to consider alternatives to those preconceived notions and open to understand them. Continue reading “Angry God/Loving God”→