A Revisionist’s Take on the Wrath of God

god

Years ago I sat in a bar with a friend who had been raised in a conservative Evangelical home, who now questioned everything, attempting to transcend the cultural views of Christianity and religion that had become so stifiling and irrelevant to his life.

“I don’t believe in an angry God” he said. “God is love.” His statement made me uncomfortable. At the time I was a dyed-in-the-wool, conservative Evangelical, with quick answers and little patience for people that didn’t believe as I did. I had a rare moment of respect for his process, stirred my drink, and let him talk.

He was bucking up against the idea of a “vengeful God,” one who spends most of His time angry, meteing out retribution and punishment to the unfaithful hordes of our world. I agree – that’s a horrible view of God, but the idea of God never getting angry is what made me uncomfortable. God might not be angry all the time, but I have a hard time believing that He doesn’t lose His shit every now and again.

For example, a group of people, who aren’t like other people, decided long ago to march across a bridge in Selma, Alabama, in a peaceful attempt to assert their rights as humans, and got the holy hell beat out of them for it. That makes me angry. I think it would make God angry too.

Or let’s say, hypothetically of course, that there are some kids who are dying from hunger on the other side of our world – a lot of kids. Imagine there’s this huge country, full of people who claim to be “God’s people,” who could wipe out global poverty in one very quick swipe. But it never happens. Another funeral.

Refugees, child abuse, dirty politicians, racism. Injustice. I’m not saying our world’s all bad, but there’s plenty for us to get mad about. If we’re mad, imagine how mad God is – He sees a lot more than we do. He sees it all.  The idea of God being mad all the time makes sense to me.

But I also think that God gets mad at things that might not make us mad. If there truly is this thing living somewhere that’s beyond our ability to comprehend, who can make the cosmos, do whatever He wants, etc., He knows more about this place than we do. We’re like kids to Him, we don’t have the full picture. If God exists, and if He’s just, He will, by definition, get mad in ways that seem unjust to us.

Jesus, who seemed to think He was God, got so angry that He cleared out the temple with a whip. Some say He didn’t actually hit anyone, the idea of God getting that angry doesn’t settle well with us (unless it’s a story in the Old Testament, then it’s OK).  There’s no way to clear out that many people, some of whom were there to make money, without causing some pain. On another occasion He issued a threat. “If you make it difficult for people to come to me, it would be better for you that someone tie a huge millstone around your neck (a rock so big that only a donkey can move it), and be thrown into the sea”  (Oops.  Hope that doesn’t apply today).

Jesus’ anger is fascinating to me. He didn’t get angry like the God of the Old Testament got angry, but He also did’t seem to have any issues with the Old testament, or the stories of God therein. He was a Jewish man living in the first century, the scriptures were just as central to His life as they were to everyone else’s.  He didn’t get angry with all the people who were sinning their brains out. He had some things to say on a few occasions, but his followers were less-than-model-citizens at best. The people He did get angry with were the ilk who believed they were “in” with God – so righteous, so moral, so obedient, always looking down their noses at the “sinners.” Oops.

The God of the Old Testament revealed Himself to be someone who has rules that don’t always make sense to us, and, on occasion, punished people for breaking them. Then God pays us a visit in the New Testament, everyone expecting Him to be like the God of the Old Testament. But He’s not – peace and grace for the “sinners,” wrath for the “righteous.” So the righteous returned the favor, removed His clothing, beat the holy hell out of him, then put his dying body on public display saying, in a nutshell, “If you were God, you wouldn’t allow this.”  But He did. His followers and authors of the New Testament claim that His death is the reason why sinners now get an unprecedented break, and why “come to God” is now the most important thing to God. He get’s really mad at people who don’t understand this, especially the people who read their Bibles “religiously.”

Come to me all you who are weary, and I will give you rest ~ Jesus

Are you a “sinner?” Are you someone who has a lifestyle that the “righteous,” religious people frown upon? Go to God, He’s waiting. He’s not mad at you.  He knows more about what you want than you do.  He’s on your side.  Good. News. Are you a religious person who thinks morality is the most important thing, always telling people, first and foremost to get their shit together, doing things in God’s name that He would never do? Has morality become more important than God Himself?  Oops.

…You don’t love me anymore. Remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did when you loved me; or else I am coming to you and will punish you ~ Jesus

I surrendered my life to Him years ago – I made Him the boss. Sure, I’ve changed some things, embraced some aspects of morality that I wouldn’t have otherwise. It’s so ironic that I still sin my brains out.  I can be an outright jackass on occasion, ask anyone in my family.  And God, who should be heating up the lightening bolts, instead walks beside me, speaks to me. Heals me. I have yet to meet anyone who drank the Jesus Cool-Aide who regrets it.

I do however know tons of “righteous,” “It’s all about morality,” “Sin management” people who are truly and utterly miserable, who seem to love doing things that, according to their own Bible, make God really angry.

25 thoughts on “A Revisionist’s Take on the Wrath of God

  • Noticed you mentioned Jesus’ death paved the way for God’s grace – I know I am playing wordsmith with your post – but just in case someone is reading it and does not understand completely, if there was no resurrection than His death was of no consequence – hence salvation comes from believing He died, was buried and rose from the dead … hope that’s relevant.

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  • I’ve often pondered on the very same things. Imho, I am far from righteous who can have a real truck driver like mouth. I see so many hypocrites yet i have no right to judge anyone. I still sin everyday. When do we learn from our mistakes? Your article reminded me of “Footprints in the Sand”. How very true…….thanks for the article:)

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  • The picture of God above is pretty scary no one has seen God because He is pure light. My faith has lead me to believe that God is love, Jesus came from God, God and jesus are one. Jesus has been elevated to God/Lord because He has God’s DNA.
    God didn’t inflict the crucifixion on Jesus. We did, our sins did, not God. God does not interfere with our free will. Jesus chose the cross because after the fall satan ruled the world. Jesus won the battle and he took His place as the king of the universe. Jesus walks this earth waiting on people to call on Him to save them from the enemy. This life is full of battles. Threats to our faith are always present and, as Christians, our fight is against the powers of this world that call us away from God. The good news is that we have every weapon we need at our disposal and remember that Jesus goes with us, we can face down every enemy and rest assured that we will come out victorious.( For more info… Ephesians 6:12 , then go to link see Healing (www.fathergodlovesyou.com) God bless.

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  • I wish I could believe in God, have him fill the void. I believed for a long time throughout my childhood and most of my teens but it just hurt too much. I suffer from quite the few fun mental kicks, and I never once felt at peace, always empty, always feeling like things weren’t quite right, things never sitting with my moral or logical code but I thought that Jesus knew best and I’d learn the answers. I remember one night on the brink of comitting suicide sitting at the edge of my local waterfalls, because I felt like God didn’t love me, I’d prayed and hoped and listened and waited for years without relief. The next day I gave up. I’m sorry I can’t fit the bill of a fulfilled Christian.

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    • I’m not sure there is such a thing as a “fulfilled Christian.” The Bible is filled with stories of people who endured endless hardship. Even Joseph, who had the promise of these amazing dreams that he believed in, was sold into slavery, imprisoned, and had far from a “fulfilling” life for a good bit of it. All this to say, I guess, you’re not alone. It’s ok if you have given up, but I don’t believe God will ever give up on you. 🙂 (Sorry if that sounds too preachy or wishy washy.)

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  • I love, love, love that you are taking the chance to talk about the very real ager that God has and how even Jesus got angry just in a different way. This is something I struggled with for a long time myself. I have always focused on the anger God has and was trying to make that make sense with the idea of God being “perfect” and anger always being a sin. It’s the actions that come from anger that are sinful. God has many examples of where he is angry but he uses his anger to give his children new chances to turn to him. This was a great read! Thank you!

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  • Hi Mark,

    What comes to mind while reading this one, is what Jesus said to some: “go away from me, for I never knew you”. What if what Jesus meant was along the lines of “you were never real with me – you were always pretentious with me and everyone else – hiding your real self behind a mask of outward piety” or the like. I can sure see that possibility. And where Jesus also spoke of those who did their religious works for the praise of men and said they’d already gotten their reward, what then of a religious person’s (false) pious conduct, is that not also a show for the accolades of men, at least, where it’s ingenuine? I can see Jesus rationale as something like “you wanted people to respect, even fear (revere) you for your piety, and they did – so you got what you wanted – but in so doing, you didn’t lift a finger to help others with their burdens (of self), you condemned them by your actions and attitude and made more than a few of them into sons of hell … so off with you to where you so proudly sent others …”

    Scary stuff indeed! Thanks for this one Mark! Be blessed!

    Jack

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  • In Tibetan Buddhism, there is a distinction made between aggression and what is seen as an enlightened manifestation of wrathful energy. There are beings called Protectors, which are manifestations or representations of this wrathful force. They are pictured as terrifying, carrying weapons and surrounded by flames, but they serve a vital purpose: to protect the integrity and purity of the teachings and the practice.

    As a psychotherapist, I meet a lot of people who feel that they need to “get rid of” their anger. They believe that anger is destructive and they want to learn to be “peaceful.” What they don’t realize is that anger is a necessary part of human make-up. We need it to protect ourselves, to set boundaries, to right wrongs.

    If we are truly made in God’s image, then it would make sense that what exists in us is a manifestation of some force that exists within God as well. I tend to believe that it is the same force that causes thunderstorms and earthquakes, from which volcanoes erupt, etc. In the human/divine form of Jesus, it makes sense that this would address the very human issue of how we worship, how we contact the divine. Just as the Buddhist Protectors protect the purity of that tradition, Jesus was declaring unequivocally that a place of worship should, or rather demands to, remain pure.

    This applies to us as individuals as well. I think I am agreeing with you, Mark, when I say this: if God does in fact “get angry” with us, it is for the ways in which we (try to) block or distort His will, or turn it to our own purposes. When we actively seek God, that same wrathful energy serves to clear our path.

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  • This post came at a good time because I’m reading a book with a group at church called “The Good and Beautiful God” that discusses this difficult understanding of being generous/merciful and being just. The author took the stance that God’s anger is not like ours often is: strongly emotional and reactive. Instead, it is very logical and unchanging. It’s almost hard to think of an example where people are angry but not emotional because it is not the “anger” we typically experience.

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  • I was raised Catholic, and experienced my share of fire and brimstone from the nuns. One day, though, in Sunday School, the concept of Hell came up. And one of the nuns told us that she didn’t think God’s goal was to punish us by sending us to Hell – because “God is very loving.”

    Changed my viewpoint entirely.

    One of the reasons the hubs is anti-religion is because of the fire-and-brimstone teachings. And I agree with your post about God’s ability to be angry. But I just wish more of society focused on the love that is there.

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  • Love this post. We don’t want to speak of God’s anger in the ‘made for TV’ religious culture of our day. It seems many just want a motivational speech telling us whatever we’re doing (or not doing) is all right and God is sure to bless us. I too, am a sinner saved by grace. Every time I think I’ve got my sin closet close to swept clean-another hidden corner comes into view. But what I pray is working in my favor is a constant authentic desire to be Christlike. And each day He allows me to take another step. It’s up to me as to whether it’s in His direction or mine. And I love what Hosea 6:6 says- that God prefers mercy over sacrifice and the knowledge of God over burnt offerings. Clearly we throw the baby out with the bath water. It is relationship that God is seeking. It is relationship with God for which we were made. And the laws and the rituals alone are meaningless without this relationship. Yet God is clear- if we don’t want a relationship-He won’t force one. Regardless, As a Father looks onto an unruly child, He still loves us and longs for us to come to Him; and He still gets angry when our actions (and inactions) cause incredible harm. It is not for me to judge my brother- but I must judge myself.

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  • God never changed from the old testament to the new testament at all sir. Just ask Anannis and Saphira! (Acts 5) And as far as the “God is not angry” I think Psalms 7:11 would say different.”God judgeth the righteous, and God is angry with the wicked every day.”

    What did change is the grace that was provided through Jesus! The wrath of God is still kindled against all those who reject Jesus in this life. And stored up for those who form a righteousness of their own apart from repentance and faith in Christ!

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  • Mark, interesting post. Thanks for sharing and also for following my blog. I have a consistent them in my views as a Christian and that is one of inclusion. When any religion is inclusive, it is at its finest, when it excludes, it is at its worst. All are welcome, in my book. Yet, as we are human, we will disappoint God more often than we care to admit and I am sure make Him angry on occasion. That is where the forgiveness comes in. He wants us to be remorseful when we screw up and do the right thing to restore matters.

    I also think God is bigger than any country or political party, so we cannot claim ownership of the almighty or use His words to divide. To me this is arrogant and would disappoint Him. If we should ever doubt this, think of our terrible Civil War. Both sides were devoutly praying for victory. Yet, using the theme of your post, here is where we all disappointed God. The right prayer would have been for leaders to show wisdom and stop this carnage. That would have been a prayer worth answering.

    Thanks for your post and letting me offer my opinion. Best wishes, Keith

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  • I would read everything you write Mark. It’s always a nod and a smile and a sigh of relief that SOMEONE says what everyone else is thinking. It says in the bible we were formed form the image of God doesn’t it? Paraphrasing badly (I’m a bit rusty. I apologize). Well I always assumed that “image” didn’t mean “physical” appearance. If we were formed in a semblance of this higher being that I accredit all my anger and love and the PURE emotions I feel to THAT. God gave us free will; my guilt, shame, sin, anxiety and whatnot are because I’m an imperfect human. That was Adam and Eve’s fault, in my opinion. But the PURE emotions like what you described Mark, I believe we have them because God feels them too. This was an excellent “Well now THERE’s a thought” article. Keep writing. I love coming here for Truth and the average man’s honest opinions 🙂

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  • This post made me think about something Augustine wrote, in which he takes an experiential approach to the notions of goodness and justice: “Thus when he [God] regrets something he is not changed, but he brings about a change. When he is angry he is not moved, but he does justice. When he is merciful he does not sorrow, but he sets free [those who are sorrowing]. And when he burns with love he is not aflame, but he inflames [others]… He is ineffable” (Contra Adversarium Legis et Prophetarum, 1.20.40-41). I think there’s a tendency to dichotomize goodness and justice, when we should simply realize that goodness is just, and the just is good.

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  • I seldom read a post on a blog I’ve just found, and say “wow” out loud….but I just did that. I am wrestling with much of this currently, after leaving a very conservative church and lifestyle. I look forward to reading more of your blog. 🙂

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  • Here is the shortened version……I became a Christian at age 26 (18 yrs ago), as did my husband shortly there after. Due to my passionate nature, I gave it my all. What went wrong in a nutshell, was that I gave up too much too quickly, because that’s what I thought I had to do. I watched fellow Christians and followed their lead. As years passed it didn’t feel right to me and I wondered if we were being too legalistic. Unfortunately, my husband became extremely conservative, and wanting to please him, (because that is what good Christian woman do…so I was told), I followed suit. I slowly drifted away from him and from friends because I constantly felt “different.” I didn’t want to wear long skirts and never have a drink. I would come to understand later, that neither did these other women. I felt like I was in a cult. I’m trying to keep this short, sorry. In the end, my husband and I are now on the brink of divorce. I am afraid of religion – not my faith, but religion. He needs it in his life and I understand that. He has asked forgiveness and sees how wrong the situation was. But it changed us. It changed me. It led to a lot of soul searching, and well….just lots of stuff. God knows me. He knows my sinful heart. He made me the way I am. Being surrounded by “self righteous” people nearly destroyed my relationship with God. It certainly stole some years of my life. Now I am learning to keep my relationship with Him alive, while still being myself….the way He designed me.

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