Total Pageviews

29 January 2015

Our God: Not a God of Wrath, but a God "Long of Nose".

Imagine that you’re a teenager again. One day you come home from school and your Mom, instead of saying, "How was school?", gives you that baleful look all mothers have down pat, and says, “You just wait until your father gets home!”

You get that "sinking" feeling in your stomach as you realize your Mom has found the most recent report card that you so carefully hid because it's one of the worst you have ever received. It has no A's, B's or C's whatsoever, only plenty of D's and F’s ..

I don't know how it worked in your home, but in our house Mom's ominous words would mean that soon after my Dad arrived home there would be a "discussion" for me ... and, in a case like that report card, I knew that I'd be put over Dad's knee.

Since children form their early images of God based on their parents, there is the expectation that God would get angry with his misbehaving children ... So when God gets angry, what's that like?

There are two extreme approaches preachers have taken to answer that question: One camp preaches that God is an angry God, period, that anger is a fundamental quality of who God is. The other camp preaches that God can simply never be angry, because God is love.

-An example of the first camp is British Colonial Christian theologian Jonathan Edwards who, some time around 1740, preached a famous sermon to his congregation in Northampton, Massachusetts, under the title, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God". Edwards's aim was to teach his listeners about the horrors of hell, the dangers of sin and the terrors of being lost. He told his listeners that no one was safe from God's wrath unless they returned to God.

Rev. Edwards said, "The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked. His wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else but to be cast into the fire."

-An example of the second camp is Joel Osteen, senior pastor of the 40,000-member Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas. For Osteen and other preachers promoting the "prosperity gospel", God never seems to be angry about anything as he is apparently too busy making his children financially successful.

Rev. Osteen stated, “God didn’t make us all robots. We all have choices and some people choose to do bad things to people. Lots of people grew up seeing God angry - God is waiting to see what mistakes I made ... That’s not the image I have of God.”

The first camp believes that it's God's nature to be angry. An angry God becomes the dominant narrative of faith, and anger becomes the core characteristic of God’s nature. The second camp believes that because God is love, God does not get angry. The dominant narrative of faith is the anger-less God, and the core characteristic of God's nature is his desire to see us happy and prosperous.

... So, is that it? Is God either a tyrannical taskmaster in the sky, or a wishy-washy wimp who couldn't care less? If that was so, we'd be in big trouble: A community who worships an abusively angry God is likely to perpetuate abuse, and a community that worships an anger-less God is likely to perpetuate neglect.

The thing is, God doesn’t exactly fit either one of those two perspectives.

From what I can see in Scripture, I don't believe that God is an angry God; I believe, however, that God gets angry at times, and that that anger is real and discernible.

10 Listen to the Lord's word, you leaders of Sodom! Pay attention to our God's rebuke, people of Gomorrah! 11 “Of what importance to me are your many sacrifices?” says the Lord. “I am stuffed with burnt sacrifices of rams and the fat from steers. The blood of bulls, lambs, and goatsI do not want. 12 When you enter my presence, do you actually think I want this - animals trampling on my courtyards?  13 Do not bring any more meaningless offerings; I consider your incense detestable! You observe new moon festivals, Sabbaths, and convocations, but I cannot tolerate sin-stained celebrations! 

Passages like this one by Isaiah (1:10-13) show us both what makes God angry and in so doing what God cares most about.

In Psalm 18:8, God is described with nostrils flaring at injustice:

Smoke ascended from his nose; fire devoured as it came from his mouth; he hurled down fiery coals. 

Scripture clearly shows that God gets angry wherever there's injustice ... Jesus' cleansing of the Jerusalem temple is a good New Testament example.

One more thing. In Exodus 34:6 we read that God is "slow to anger". The Gospel Acclamation for Lent in the Lutheran Book of Worship quotes the verse almost to the letter: "Return to the Lord, our God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love."

“Slow to anger” is a common translation of the original Hebrew phrase אֶ֥רֶךְ אַפַּ֖יִם ... but literally translated the phrase means “long of nostril” or “long nostrils”. What a metaphor! The Hebrew word for "slow to anger" is literally "long of nose." Anger shows in flared nostrils and snorting, like enraged people with reddened noses. But God is "long of nose," meaning that it takes much longer for God's anger to surface.

The same concept (but without the fun metaphor) appears in the New Testament in the Greek word μακροθυμία (from makrós, "long" and thymós, "passion, anger" – thus, technically, "long-passion") and it conveys exactly the same idea as the Old Testament expression.

The bottom line is this: It is not God's nature to be angry. Rather, it is God's nature to be long-suffering.

I'll end with a few lines from a favorite hymn.

Christian friends, why will you scatter
like a crowd of frightened sheep?
Foolish hearts! Why will you wander
from a love so true and deep?
It is God: God's love looks mighty
and yet is more than it seems.
God our parent shows us daily
fondness far beyond our dreams.

But we make God's love too narrow
by false limits of our own
and we magnify God's strictness
with a zeal God will not own.
There has never been a shepherd
both so gentle and so sweet
as the Savior who would have us
come and gather as his feet.

No comments:

Post a Comment