What if God isn’t as angry as some think?
Several weeks ago, some friends invited me to go with them to church. It is a really nice building with really great people. It was going along swimmingly until the sermon. There I was, minding my own business, when some Scriptures jumped out at me and demanded my full attention.
Have you ever had that happen to you? You know, you are sitting in your seat minding your business, maybe writing a couple of shopping lists, or returning some text message when WHAM! God shows up and starts messing with your theology.
This guy was reading from Romans 12.19-21. Paul writes, “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
There have been people who have treated me horribly. People have hurt me. It has always been a comforting verse to remember that God will repay them for what they did to me. Comforting to the point of actually smiling when I thought about their encounter with Vengeful God of Wrath.
But not today. Not one person came to mind. What came to mind was me, Little ol’ me. I have done people wrong. I have used people, hurt people, lied about people, lied to people, cheated, gossiped, and other various forms or no good. What did I get from God? Love.
I did not get treated as my sins deserved. I was forgiven. I was reconciled. I was given life instead of death. God overcame my evil with love, forgiveness, grace, mercy.
This all got me thinking about how God does things and how I interpret those things. For example, Jesus is hailed as a King but he doesn’t act like a king. Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place” John 18.36. In Matthew 26.53, when Peter tries to defend Jesus by drawing his sword, Jesus says, “Don’t you realize that I could ask my Father for thousands of angels to protect us, and he would send them instantly?” New Living Translation
Jesus doesn’t do what Kings and kingdoms of this earth do. Our Kings go to war. Jesus did not.
When a man with a shriveled hand was brought to Jesus in Mark 3.4 he asks, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” They don’t say a word. Then the writer describes Jesus and says, “[Jesus] looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts.”
What happens when Jesus gets angry and deeply distressed? The man’s hand was healed. Jesus anger heals. My anger breaks things.
So what if God’s wrath and vengeance have nothing to do with how we understand wrath and vengeance? I know there will be ultimate justice and all things will be set right, but what will that look like when it happens?
I am forced to ask myself what God’s wrath and vengeance look like to those I consider my enemies?
I know we need courts and laws. There are law breakers and society needs protecting. But ultimately, will God’s wrath and vengeance treat anyone as they deserve?
If this makes you a bit uncomfortable with Jesus and God, welcome to my world. Sometimes I really understand why he upset the religious leaders as much as he did.
What is really crystal clear to me is that Jesus was not overcome by the evil done to him on the cross. He overcame evil with good.
I’m having to rethink God’s wrath and vengeance. What about you?