God’s anger and God’s love
Long ago, C. S. Lewis noted that one of the best tools of the evil one is to get humans to take two polar opposite sides of an argument, and then to get us to dig in so deeply that we are more concerned about beating up on “the other side” than we are about the truth we are all supposed to be seeking.
Several statements in the third chapter of John’s gospel place themselves in tension with the following three prevalent attitudes concerning God and anger: (1) God is so loving God couldn’t be angry at us, (2) God is so angry at us that only Jesus’ pure life and love for us could “pay God off” so that God could love us again, and (3) God is passionless and couldn’t possibly be angry if “anger” means emotionally upset.
Here are some statements from John 3:
16“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him….36Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but must endure God’s wrath.”
Populations starve while powerful forces leave food to rot on the docks. A little girl or boy is being sexually abused by a relative (or, maybe a pastor or priest) who forces the child to pray with him before abusing the child. A wife is being beaten again. A small child is dying of an easily preventable and curable disease because we cannot agree on the best way to get health care to everyone, so we don’t provide the child any care at all. A driver is being pulled over because he is black or she is Latino. A church is naming the name of Jesus in every other breath while focusesing not on more of the Holy Spirit but on more dollars to prove that “Jesus Sells.” A member of congress—easily be from either political party—is taking a contribution/bribe and will vote for a bill that he/she knows is intended only to make the powerful more powerful at the expense of the disempowered.
IF GOD IS NOT ANGRY ABOUT REAL PEOPLE BEING TREATED LIKE THIS, GOD IS NEITHER GOOD NOR LOVING!
On the other hand, says the writer of John, God giving us Jesus—who was faithful to God and to us even at the cost of a horrible and unjust execution—is not an expression of God’s anger, but of God’s love for this broken world. God is not in the business of condemning us humans to brokenness; we do that plenty well on our own. God is in the business of trying to break through our “perishing” with light and love and truth.
Finally, though both those who want to reject a God who can be angry and those who revel in an angry God tend to read John 3:36 as a statement about “someday,” it seems to be a statement about right now. The wording in Greek, as in English, actually points to the present. Right now, in the middle of a very broken and bent world, God wants us to trust that he can give us the kind of life that only God can give.
And right now, our insistence on not living the “Jesus Way” of life that expresses God’s values leaves us as a part of a world that hurts a lot of people. As we hurt and destroy one another, God is rightfully angry. And God’s anger isn’t something we might have to deal with someday; right now we live in a world that makes God angry every day with its injustice, lies, and selfishness. But, God really doesn’t want to leave us to destroy ourselves and one another. God loves us and has better for us—now and in the future.
“For God so loved the world….”
Pastor Ron Simkins