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Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Bubbling Under the Surface

Sometimes God gets angry. Sometimes his righteous and thoroughly justifiable anger is even directed at his servants:

“The Lord was angry with me because of you.”

“The Lord was so angry with Aaron that he was ready to destroy him.”

“The Lord was angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned away from the Lord.”

“He has cut down in fierce anger all the might of Israel; he has burned like a flaming fire in Jacob, consuming all around.”

But the consequences of God’s anger (not to mention its duration) are not always precisely the same.

Indignation and its Consequences

Moses lost the opportunity to enter Canaan, but God was with him subsequently and their fellowship was restored. Aaron was preserved by the prayer of his brother and continued in his priestly role despite making more than one terrible choice in the course of his service. In the case of Solomon’s sin, Israel suffered the loss of God’s protection for the first time in his glorious reign, but the king himself was personally untouched. And while many Israelites experienced the indignation of God by going into captivity, he held back his anger against generations who themselves had richly deserved every punishment that was later inflicted on their children and grandchildren.

God displays his anger differently, in ways that are situationally appropriate and consistent with his sovereign government. Sometimes his anger is not evident to mankind at all. But make no mistake, it is there, even if it’s bubbling under the surface.

Every Single Day

David tells us God’s righteous anger against the wicked is ongoing, even when the world is unaware:
“God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day.”
Unadulterated righteousness will do that. I don’t feel indignation every day, but then I’m sadly far off God’s standard in that department. I also don’t see every transgression that occurs. God does. Imagine that. I also have no personal or emotional investment in most of the people on this planet, though perhaps I should. God absolutely does. Further, when I do see people sinning, I often cannot distinguish between ignorance and rebellion. God can and does. “He who teaches man knowledge knows the thoughts of man.”

That’s a lot to be angry about.

Most Perfectly Expressed

Ah, but that’s the Old Testament God, some would argue. Jesus loved everybody.

Such a view tends to ignore the fact that Jesus Christ was the perfect expression of God in every way. Whatever God is, Jesus was, is and always will be, says the writer to the Hebrews. Or as the old hymnwriter put it:
“In thee most perfectly expressed the Father’s glories shine.
  Of the full deity possessed, eternally divine.”
It is unimaginable that Jesus Christ would have failed in any way to express one of the most basic characteristics of his Father.

Zeal for Your House

Such a view also ignores the plain statements of the gospel writers, who tell us in each and every account of the intensity of the Lord’s passion for his Father’s honor and how that zeal showed itself. (Hint: there was some violence involved.) On another occasion, Mark tells us that he “looked at [the Pharisees] with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart.” According to Mark, on at least one occasion the Lord was even indignant with his disciples. Earlier, we read of the Lord saying, “O faithless generation, how long am I to bear with you?” His indignation was evident, and the provocations of men were endless.

How can we reasonably doubt that, just like his Father, Jesus felt indignation every day of his life on earth?

Approximations and Metaphors

We are speaking of God, of course. I have no doubt that when the writers of scripture use the words “anger” or “indignation”, they are approximating to a certain extent. It can hardly be otherwise. When I experience anger, I always have at least a degree of difficulty reining in my emotions and doing the right thing. For me, anger is accompanied by temptation, to which I may or may not respond. So God, who is never tempted by evil, cannot be said to have quite the same emotional experience. In that sense, human indignation is more like a metaphor rather than a perfect description of God’s anger against sin.

That said, it would be equally erroneous to assert that God is merely mechanical in his response to human wickedness. The basic emotions with which he has blessed humanity surely had their origin in heaven, though in the Godhood they are perfectly appropriate in both intensity and expression, unlike the debased versions we find ourselves stuck with on account of the Fall. God is no robot.

The Objects of Indignation

It is easy to become flippant about sin, especially when we are surrounded by it and the world treats it as commonplace or even commendable. In fact, it’s possible for Christians to become far too casual about our own sin.

We shouldn’t. We have a God who feels indignation every day, and we are fools if we think for a moment that his anger will bubble away under the surface forever. One day God’s indignation will be expressed in full. What a shame to be its object.

And even today — very occasionally, one hopes — that indignation still finds its expression in order that God’s children might not forget what it means to be members of his household and heirs to his nature.

All of his nature. Not just the bits we like.

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