an angry God?

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Craig on Infinite Spaces said something that made me think
"I am repulsed by a God that will not judge the world, that looks at terrible sin but cannot say "That is evil". I would find such a God deeply revolting."
This statement gives a lot of insight into why some people are attracted to the idea of a God of wrath. They are attracted because they see that "angry" God as a God who is angry at evil just like they are, a God who will fight for them in an evil world.

Back when I was a painting major in college I did a painting I entitled "I don't like dogs". It was a picture of a combination rottweiler-German Sheppard, its fangs menacingly barred and blood spraying off its mouth. What was interesting was people's reactions to the painting. Lots of people reacted like I did, they found the painting intimidating and threatening. But several people saw it and said they thought it looked "sweet". Turns out that these people all had big dogs and saw in that painting of bloody fangs a picture of a dog who would protect them. (To interpret this analogy just take the word "dog" and reverse the letters).

I can relate to Craig's desire to have a God who fights evil. Indeed this is the central theme of Christus Victor. The problem I see in it is that from a Christian perspective we all are subject to God's wrath. That wrath is not just going to be unleashed on the "bad guys" over there but on us too because as Paul says in Romans says "we have all sinned". So we should not desire God's wrath or judgment because that same wrath will come back upon us. Instead we need to realize that we all are in need of mercy, and need to treat others with the same mercy we so desperately need ourselves.

This is all really basic "Christianity 101" stuff. So why is it that so many conservative Christians are advocates of judgment instead of mercy? I think again the answer can be found in something Craig says in the same blog entry:

"You are very concerned about God acting justly, but I wonder if your God is just. Say I see a teenage boy beat up a little girl and I do nothing to protect her. Is my inaction "just"? Is it righteous?

In your scheme, God cannot be judge. How do you have justice without judgment? I cannot understand that. Your God is deeply saddened by the world, but never angered by it. Your God looks at Auschwitz and the most He can say is "That is very sad." He cannot say "Those people did something wrong. They deserve to be punished."
Here we can see that mercy is being associated with inaction. a merciful God is sad and inactive, doing nothing in the face of evil. This comes from viewing both justice and mercy in the terms of the western legal system. In that paradigm, justice (punishing) is active while mercy is inactive. Mercy here means to be "lenient" and not act to punish. So in this scenario we have only two responses to evil and sin: either we demonstrate "justice" by punishing, or we show mercy by doing nothing. This however is not at all a biblical picture of mercy. Mercy in Scripture is active. Grace is an active transforming force. It is through grace that we are brought to repentance. Anyone who has experienced God's grace in their lives knows how experiencing the forgiveness of God, being loved when you don't deserve it, turns your whole world upsidedown.

As Christians who have been saved by grace, we are also called to grace. We need to trust in God that His way of grace is an active powerful force that will bring about justice and overcome evil. If you look around the internet you will see lots of anger. I think that anger is to a large degree a reaction to the evil we see in the world around us in our post 9/11 world and is understandable. Understandable yes, but self-defeating. As James says "Man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires" (James 1:20). Anger leads to more anger. Hatred breeds hatred. When we feel dehumanized by the awful things people do we in turn dehumanize them, making them into monsters and justifying our retaliating with more awful things. The way out is grace. Grace is how we can really fight evil in our world, how we can really transform situations and hearts.

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At 12:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think I would grant the point that God is angry about sin, probably even more angry than we are. How else would we understand the account of the flood, or the Last Judgment?

The part that's dangerous is that everyone always seeks an excuse to justify their own sin; and when we begin to use God to justify our hatred we're less than an inch from becoming the demon masquerading as an angel of light.

I don't think we "get" mercy until we really understand what you have said a few times: we ourselves are the evildoers, we ourselves are on the wrong side of things. If justice were the whole of the story, we ourselves would be beyond hope.

Justice is right. Redemption is better.


Say Sharky I've been meaning to mention I've been reading the book _Seventy Times Seven_ (author's last name is Arnold). If you haven't seen that yet I'd suggest looking through it. It has a lot of good material along your lines of interest for forgiveness and the creative application of love to a broken world.

At 4:12 AM, Blogger swills said...

thanks for this post...really helps to clear some things up for me.

also, it's great to see that you are in the blogosphere!

At 7:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

But what do the words 'grace' and mercy even mean if it is impossible for God to punish, to even want to punish? If it is inconcievable for you that God can even want to punish evil then what God is showing is not mercy, is not even unmerited favour, its an inability to care about evil,

At 8:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I'm not sure where you are getting the idea that I think God "cannot punish". If you read the post again you will see that I said "we all are subject to God's wrath".

You equate God punishing with "caring about evil", but do you want God to punish you for your evil?

I'm happy that God does not simply care about sin, but cares for sinners and thus goes beyond the consequences of breaking God's law (punishment) and breaks in with saving grace to take us out of the trap of our sin.

At 8:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Say Sharky I've been meaning to mention I've been reading the book _Seventy Times Seven"

thanks for the tip, I'll check that out. My all time favorite books on forgivness are "A Grace Disguised" and "Les Miserables"


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