Friday, January 8, 2010

An Angry God

One of the Devil’s most prized strategies to keep us from trying to get to know our God, is to portray Him as angry, vengeful, and just looking for an excuse to wipe us off the map. After all wasn’t that whole thing with Noah, just a precursor to a future hell? And what about Christ’s ‘little rant’ in the temple to cleanse it, whips and overturned tables are imagery more associated with anger than with peace and love. Is God mad? How often? Does He get mad at me?

The problem seems amplified when we look at each other and our relationships and realize how often in fact we DO get mad at each other (no matter how much we really love each other underneath). Could it be that way with God? I hope not. The idea that God sits around mad, just waiting for us to screw up so He can rightly punish us, has its origins in the evil one. This was the concept of God he tried to sell the rest of the Universe upon being cast out of heaven. Fortunately no-one was buying it, except us of course. God being perpetually angry is different though from God getting angry from time to time.

Does God ever get mad? Yes. Christ’s ‘tirade’ in the temple was an excellent example of what really gets under God’s skin. Here we had a situation of supposedly righteous religious leaders who were systemically abusing the poor, overcharging them for sacrifices they had to make in order to fulfill their religious commitments. The priests also sold the meat from these sacrifices at the local butchery, so you might say they made money coming and going with the enterprise. Add to this, cheating on the exchange rate for currency, and the temple of God had become a den of thieves. The perverting of a religious system designed to teach the mercy of God, by making only greed and an apparent payment-for-forgiveness-system visible was more than Christ could take. He was filled with righteous anger, and as his eyes met those of the guilty, they realized His divinity for a brief second and fled in terror. As Christ moved through the temple he overturned the tables and spilled the ill-gotten-gains out on the floor. He makes His point clear to all who remain watching – my house shall be a house of prayer, not commerce. God’s mercy cannot be purchased.

It is also interesting to note that immediately after this so called ‘loss of temper’ Christ begins teaching the children and the poor, and those who remained behind. Now think about this for a second. Have you ever seen someone burst into a room, screaming, yelling, and cracking a whip around – if so, you can imagine the first people to exit the scene would be the children in terror stricken mode. Why did they not run? The poor who already feel condemned by their lack of funds to make an appropriate sacrifice also remained – why? Could it be that the blazing eyes, and whip cracking we attribute to Christ might be over-exaggerated? Could it be that as he gazed into the eyes of the guilty they ‘knew’ their own guilt, they recognized ‘who’ was looking into the deepest recesses of their souls, and ‘who’ was condemning their actions – and they fled from His presence. The poor, and the children only witnessed Christ ‘cleaning’ His own house. They saw the benevolence of what He did for them, on their behalf, and they met no divinely condemning gaze, but one of only love and forgiveness – the very things they sought at this special place.

Which means, if Christ was never really out-of-control angry when He cleansed the temple, was He really that mad during the flood. The Bible says when He looked at the wickedness in the world He was sorry (i.e. He repented) that He had made man in the first place. Ouch! Our forefathers were so evil in mind and deed, they actually made God sorry He created us. And we seem doomed to repeat these exact same mistakes. However sorry is not angry. But for Noah who found grace in the eyes of the Lord, we might well be a footnote in the annuls of heavenly history. Was God venting his anger with sin at us during the flood, or was He making a statement to the witnessing Universe, and captive Satan (bound here during this entire incident), of how much He hates what evil does, and where it results.

If God had truly ‘lost his temper’ with man, why preserve Noah (the drunk), and his family with all three sons and their wives. One of those sons would immediately pursue evil upon exiting the ark after the flood. God knew this in advance. Why save them all? Why preserve the son who would pursue evil? Was it merely for Noah’s sake? No, God was not out of control, He knew what He was doing, and maintained this little craft while the entire rest of the world was completely and utterly destroyed. But for God’s mercy this boat would have quickly been broken and sunk. The inhabitants of the ark never really saw the level of destruction that was occurring outside their boat. They knew it was bad, but only really saw the changes afterwards. So even if you believe God was angry, the lesson of the level of violence in the earth would have been lost on the people inside the ark. The lesson was for the witnessing Universe.

Consider the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, twin cities in the time of Abraham that were completely obliterated by God. The imagery of fire descending from heaven conjured up in the mind, don’t lend themselves to feelings of comfort and love. Was this another ‘anger’ episode? Actually No. In fact before any destruction was planned, Christ Himself with two other angels came to this earth to inspect the level of wickedness personally. Abraham stopped them along the way and tried to bargain for sparing these cities on the basis of only ten current followers of God and not of evil, but could not come up with that number. Had he been able to, ten followers of God, would have been responsible for saving hundreds or even thousands of others who were purely devoted to evil.

In our present times we seem more than willing to sacrifice the lives of ten innocent people just to get one guilty one (think Saddam Hussein, or Osama Bin Laden). But our God values life the other way around. He would spare two cities full of evil doers for the sake of ten followers of His. And we all know those ten people would not have been perfect, just ten who chose to serve God like you and me. My question is why bother? Couldn’t they simply move to another town and let God go ahead and destroy the evil people they left behind? If God was in a hurry to wipe us all out when we do bad, why not just ask the ten followers to move out? But God is not in a hurry to see anyone die. And perhaps the witness of just ten people who follow God might have been enough to turn back the tide of evil that plagued those two cities. Perhaps ten followers of God could have made such an impact on Sodom, that the entire city might have repented and found our God. But alas there was not ten to be found among them.

Remember that the story of the destruction of these cities includes the sparing of Lot and his family despite there not being enough other righteous people to spare the entire place. The single family who followed our God was spared just like Noah when he was fully surrounded by those bent on doing evil. Lot and his family too were not to witness the destruction God had in mind, they were to flee without looking back. Lot’s wife could not resist just taking a brief glance backwards to the place of sin while it was being destroyed and as result was immediately transformed into a pillar of salt. While Lot and his family may have seen what happened to their wife and mother, they did not witness the destruction on the plains. And there were no survivors there, so who was the intended audience for this act of judgment against sin – Satan, his fallen comrades, and the remaining Universe. We are only witnesses to the after-effects of His judgment, not to a real-time feed of how lethal it may be.

There is a just side to God, and it can tolerate only so much evil that man inflicts on each other, before action must be taken. Sometimes it is to make a statement regarding the true nature of worship (like the cleansing of the Temple); sometimes it is to eliminate the abusive crimes of sexual rape against innocents (Sodom & Gomorrah); sometimes it is to stop man from playing God and creating new life from mixing DNA up between the species (the Flood); sometimes it was to get Israel to stop sacrificing children born of idolatry and orgies by throwing them into the fires of Molech (a heathen bloodthirsty idol); and someday it will be to end the reign of time evil has been granted to demonstrate its natural course. And for those who believe that evil will reign forever, just take a quick gander at these examples of God taking selective action to terminate evil. They are a fore-warning that evil itself is scheduled for termination. It will not last.

To believe God never gets angry is probably doing Him a disservice. But to believe He is vindictive, or just waiting to punish us, is completely misguided. Sometimes the actions of my child may make me angry, but my anger tends to be short-lived, and my feelings seem more to center on love than on any kind of disappointment. I believe it is more the same with God. My evil actions and choices may sometimes cause Him anger, as He considers the pain I cause others in this way, but I have found His forgiveness complete, His patience eternal, and His love overwhelming. I do not serve an angry God. And I thank Him for this as well …

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