Not angry enough

Posted: May 20, 2014 by J in General

Screen Shot 2014-05-20 at 1.12.37 PMWe Christians are too nice. Not like God. It’s a theological problem we have. We have this story in our heads about avoiding his wrath. So we never really take it seriously.

In the bible the God of Israel gets angry. Really angry. Here’s why:

How the faithful city
has become a whore!
She that was full of justice,
righteousness lodged in her—
but now murderers
Your silver has become dross,
your wine is mixed with water. 
Your princes are rebels
and companions of thieves.
Everyone loves a bribe
and runs after gifts.
They do not defend the orphan,
and the widow’s cause does not come before them.
Therefore says the Sovereign, the LORD of hosts, the Mighty One of Israel:
Ah, I will pour out my wrath on my enemies,
and avenge myself on my foes! 
I will turn my hand against you;

Isaiah 1:21-25

Israel’s God has no friendly words to speak to people who do these things. He is angry, and he’s going to take action. “I will pour out my wrath on these enemies”.

The prophets and psalm writers are very interested in this. Have you noticed how often they speak from the point of view of the afflicted and downtrodden?  Not many Psalms written from a place of comfort, are there. Effectively the prophets stand with the poor and the widows, and say, ‘Bring it on!’:

Pour out your indignation upon them,
and let your burning anger overtake them. 
May their camp be a desolation;
let no one live in their tents. 

Psalm 69:24-25

David is actually looking forward to God’s wrath arriving. These guys even internalise it, take it into their very hearts:

Prove me, O LORD, and try me;
test my heart and mind. 
I do not sit with the worthless,
nor do I consort with hypocrites; 
I hate the company of evildoers,
and will not sit with the wicked.

Psalm 26:2-4

These people are angry. Angry about what is being done in their country, under the cloak of religion, under the pretence of being God’s covenant people. Angry at the suffering inflicted on the helpless. Angry because they have felt the fire of Yahweh’s anger, and instead of avoiding it, they have taken that fire into their own bellies.

They will have no part in it. When wickedness is in power, oppressing the weak, the prophets will stand with the weak and suffer, rather than with the powerful in comfort. Because that is where Yahweh stands.

There is no idea here of avoiding God’s wrath. Quite the opposite: they are longing for it to come. Though they certainly hope to be on the right side  of it when it arrives.

We Christians today have a different story. Through Jesus we can avoid God’s wrath, and now that that issue is settled, we can relax and be thankful and happy. It’s a story that sets us free from worry. Unfortunately it also tends to set us free from caring. No need to be angry about anything. We can devote ourselves to maximising comfort. Our comfort. Wrath is a thing of the past!

This story doesn’t really give us many cues about how to view other people. Of course it would be good to share the good news with our neighbours, so they can avoid wrath too. But surely we can do that in nice places, among nice people – far away from the poor and the orphan?

Our story makes us very different from the prophets, and from the Old Testament Messiah, David the psalm-writer. We tend to feel a bit uncomfortable about psalms like 69. Can’t quite make them our own.

It makes us very different too from their God. You know, the angry one. Our story makes us – nice.

Come to think of it, our story turns out Christians who are quite different from our Messiah, Jesus, also. Now there was a man with fire in his belly. No pursuit of comfort in that  story.

A man was there who had a withered hand. The synagogue leaders were watching Jesus to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they could accuse him.  But Jesus said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” They were silent.  He looked around at them with hot anger, grieved over their hardness of heart. He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand …”

Mark 3:2-5

Jesus kept that fire alight throughout his life. It was a driving force in all his actions. Often it was hidden from view, smoldering under the surface. With the weak he was as gentle as a lamb. But now and then the fire would flare up, and people would feel its heat. The wrath of God, coming near to bring justice and right wrongs. Jesus embodies it.

By comparison with this Bible-pattern, we modern Christians are too peaceful and comfortable. Too timid and inward looking. Too preoccupied with our little pleasures and troubles. Not angry enough.

Clearly we’ve screwed up pretty badly on our theology of God’s wrath. Isn’t it time we stopped dreaming of avoiding it? Isn’t it time we stopped being so nice, and got some fire in our bellies also? Something that might drive us out of ourselves, to live lives that matter?

  1. richardrglover says:

    You’ve hinted at this, but I feel compelled to voice it myself: we’re not angry enough because we don’t know anyone with anything to be angry about. We evangelicals are, in the West at any rate, mostly the upper-middle class and über-rich, and our friends are upper-middle class and über-rich. We aren’t friends with people who are poor, in pain, or suffering gross injustice. It’s no wonder we’re not angry.

    But what if we deliberately went out and became friends to those people? What if we took the persecution of the global church seriously? What if we took seriously the 200+ million professing Christians who live on less that US$1.25 a day? If we did, we’d be angry.

    Marana tha!

    • J says:

      Thanks for voicing, Richard! You’re comment is quite true re. the narrow socio-economic stratum we evangelicals occupy.

      And yes, I guess it is hard to be angry about injustice in the abstract. What gets my goat is mainly the way my neighbours around here get treated. They’re not the world’s biggest sufferers – but they’re the ones I know.

      You’re sounding a little bit frustrated about this ‘rich Christians’ situation. Are you perhaps in danger of becoming…angry?

      I know a pill you can take for that.


      • richardrglover says:

        Oh, I’m well and truly angry 😉 I’ve just been socialised to keep it mainly to myself…

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