Is God Angry?
The billboard would have been hard to miss. It was strategically placed along a busy section of the Interstate. The white words popped out against a solid black background announcing, “God is not angry.” My first thought was, “Really?”
On one hand, I appreciated a creative attempt to counter the negative images of God that permeate a biblically illiterate culture with a surprising witness to God’s love and grace. The billboard wasn’t cheap. There was something downright Wesleyan about the evangelistic passion behind it. It reminded me of the way John Wesley said, “I submitted to be more vile and proclaimed in the highways the glad tidings of salvation.” We United Methodists could use some of that passion.
But my second response led to some hard questions.
- Is God the passionless “Unmoved Mover” of Aristotle’s metaphysics who looks on the world from a distance but is never engaged in or enraged by what goes on in it?
- Are they describing the disconnected Deism of “Nature’s God” in the Declaration of Independence who sets “Nature’s Laws” in motion but does not actively intervene in them?
- Are they affirming the weary idea that the Old Testament reveals a God of wrath while the New Testament reveals a God of love and grace? (That kind of rejection of the Old Testament was rejected as heresy in the teaching of Marcion in 140 AD.)
- Haven’t they read the Bible?
- Aren’t there things in this world about which we want God to be angry?
The God revealed in scripture loves this world so deeply and cares about it so passionately that God laughs at our human arrogance (Psalm 2:4), dances with us in our times of joy (Jeremiah 31:13), weeps with us beside the grave (John 11:35), cries over our inability to make peace (Luke 19:41), is angered by our acts of injustice (Luke 19:45-46) and is broken-hearted by the way we reject his love (Hosea 10:8).
The writer of the letter to the Hebrews pointed toward the passionate heart of God in saying, “Our God really is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29). He was reclaiming words from the Old Testament: “The Lord your God is an all-consuming fire. He is a passionate God.” (Deuteronomy 4:23-24)
I take it as good news that God is not a passive observer of the injustice, suffering and pain of a sin-infected, violence-addicted world. God cares passionately about this world. God hurts with the hungry. God is angry when children are abused or neglected. God is passionate about injustice. God is broken-hearted by our rebellion and sin.
I want a God who cares enough about an unarmed Black man who is killed in Ferguson to be angry about the often subtle forms of racial prejudice and injustice that continue to tear us part from our neighbors.
I want a God who weeps with families whose homes are destroyed and whose lives are uprooted by violence in Gaza, Ukraine, Iraq and Syria.
I want a God whose heart burns with the fire of infinite love for the helpless suffering of fellow Methodists in Liberia who are facing the Ebola epidemic.
I want the passionate God of the bible, not a nice, polite, convenient god who watches from a distance but is unengaged in the real, messy stuff of our messed up world.
To believe in the incarnation — that God became flesh in Jesus Christ – is to know that the infinite God has entered into the finite hurts and hopes, weakness and strength, light and the darkness, joy and the sorrow, sin and death that are a part of our lives in this broken and imperfect creation. That’s why the writer of Hebrews could say, “We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin.” (Hebrews 4:15, The Message) Praise God!
The challenge comes when I shout at God, “Why don’t you do something about this?” All too often, God answers by asking me the same question.
Where God Hangs Out in the Summer
We’re just back from Lake Junaluska in the mountains of North Carolina, the place were Methodists believe God hangs out in the summer. We reconnected with old friends and I had the opportunity to share in launching “A Disciple’s Path” as a congregation-wide emphasis at Long’s Chapel United Methodist Church. I continue to be amazed by the way the Spirit is using this resource to lead people to deeper and more energetic commitment to Christ. It continues to be Hyde Park’s gift to the whole church.
During the time away, I completed work on “A Disciple’s Heart.” It’s the follow-up resource that will lead people to the next step in their discipleship by focusing on John Wesley’s understanding of “Christian perfection,” the process by which the Holy Spirit continues to be at work in our lives all the way to Heaven. It will be released early next year.
Grace and peace,