The Wrath of God

Who considers the power of your anger? Your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you.  So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart. Turn, O LORD! How long? Have compassion on your servants! Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Make us glad as many days as you have afflicted us, and as many years as we have seen evil.

Psalm 90:11-15 NRS

Many people are troubled by the wrath of God. They ask how such anger, especially as seen in the Old Testament, can be consistent with the love of God. (At the outset, don’t dismiss this as some outdated Old Testament idea. The doctrine of Hell is a New Testament teaching, coming first from the mouth of Jesus [no less than 7 times in the Gospels]!)

There are several things we need to say at the outset. First of all, God is love but he gets angry. That is a vital distinction. His love is who he is, while his anger is a temporary emotion. Second, his anger is not primarily for himself and what has been done to him. His anger is over the violation of his creation standards and for what we are doing to ourselves in that violation. Third, God is a person, and if he can experience affection, as he does, he can also experience anger. They are two sides of the same coin. You can’t have one and not the other. But God’s love is not merely affection. It is the conscious and joyful choosing of the best for another person at whatever cost to oneself.

A man has a beautiful and intelligent teen-aged daughter. She is the light of his life. But she is hanging out with a bunch of low-lifes who are into alcohol, drugs, and group sex. And when he tries to tell her that she is ruining her life and headiing for an early grave, she says, “Dad, you don’t love me,” and flounces out. What is going to be his reaction? He’s going to be angry! Why? Because he doesn’t love her? No, precisely because he does!

It is the same with God. For a thousand years the Hebrew people, excellent examples of the rest of us, thumbed their noses at the God who had saved them from Egypt and given them the land of Canaan, choosing to live in defiance of his lifegiving covenant. And he is not supposed to get angry?

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