5. God’s Anger

Reaching into the Psalms 1 to 4:  5. God’s Anger

Psa 2:4,5    The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them. He rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath

Approach: We noted previously the structure of this psalm, as four sets of three verses in our Bible:

v.1-3 The rebellion of the World

v.4-6 God’s sovereign response

v.7-9 His answer – His Son

v.10-12 Warning to the World

We further noted that this Psalm is all about God. In v.1-3 it is about the rebellion against God, v.4-6 are God’s attitude towards this rebellion, v.7-9 are God’s answer to this rebellion, and v.10-12 are about having a right attitude in respect of God.  Yesterday we considered the rebellion spoken about in v.1-3 so now let’s move on to see the first Part of God’s twofold Response.

Context: Before we get into these next three verses, it is important to remember that they are direct responses to what is going on in the first three verses, they are God’s specific responses to conspiring nations, people plotting (v.1), arrogant kings and rulers rising up specifically against God, banding together in their ungodly rebellion (v.2) and badly misrepresenting God (v.3), these are not responses to the ordinary God-seeking sinner. The context is important, and it is important that we understand also what is not in it.

Laughter: The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them.” (v.4) Psa 37:13 has, “the Lord laughs at the wicked, for he knows their day is coming.” We laugh at a funny situation. Really and truly this is a funny situation. Here is Almighty God, the all-powerful creator of the universe, the One who has only got to utter four words such as “Let there be light,” (Gen 1:3) and instantly we see, “and there was light,” the One who can bring death to thousands in an instant, this is Almighty God who fills all of Creation and He is being taunted by silly little humans who have only been in existence for decades, who have probably only held power for years, like a bunch of powerless little children pretending to be something they are not.

Our Deception: How foolish we members of the human race so often are, because we allow ourselves to be deceived by four things: first, by God’s grace that holds back His hand so that He allows mankind to ruin amok, second, in our lives, years and decades seem so long and so we think we are getting away with our folly because time passes and God appears to be doing nothing and, third, our vision is so limited we cannot see the invisible hand of God moving behind the scenes, so to speak, working to bring change, bring correction, and end our folly, and fourth, we fail to remember that our lives are finite and one day they will end here on earth and then will come a time of accounting. No wonder heaven laughs at our antics.

Anger and wrath? He rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath.” (v.5) Some versions insert the word, ‘then’, before this verse which would imply an order: first He laughs but then He allows His emotions to change to take in the fully reality of the stupidity of this scene, for it is truly stupid and it is only the blindness of Sin, that we allow to persist in our lives, that enables us to act in such stupid ways. Now our problem here is that we associate anger in the human context with emotion running out of control, but divine anger is an appropriate and just response to what is wrong, what runs contrary to the wonderful design of God as He originally made the world, what is the expression of sinful mankind. If we see injustice and are unmoved by it, that simply reveals our blindness to reality, our inability to see the world as it should be and as it now is and be moved by that.

A Complementary Example: I find that when I see examples of real goodness on TV, I am moved to tears. In a worship service we listened to the worship song, “I can only imagine” with the words, “I can only imagine what it will be like, when I walk by your side. I can only imagine what my eyes will see, when your face is before me, I can only imagine.”  As we sat with eyes closed just taking it in, I found myself with a picture of Jesus face, conveying utter goodness, and I found tears running again. It is natural, it is appropriate to have such responses.

Controlled Anger: And so God’s anger is the natural, appropriate and just response to evil, to wrong behaviour of silly, foolish despots who have lost all perspective (or perhaps have never had it) so they are moved to foolish words, foolish behaviour, behaviour that is not merely foolish but pure evil. In the face of the wonder of the perfect world that God created, this is terrible, this is awful, this is horrible and it should evoke within us anger, and the more we reflect on it a strong desire to cry out to God to do something (and of course He has and is), and linked in with all this is ‘wrath’. Wrath is not a word we usually come across, but it simply means extreme anger, very great anger, anger that evokes action. We can be angry, and it can be purely passive, it can remain emotion that goes nowhere, but then if it is godly anger it will lead somewhere, it will lead to action, but it probably has to build up such a head of steam before action can come that it needs to be called ‘wrath’.

God Speaks: Now there is something significant about godly anger that we should note here. It is not the anger itself which is frightening so much as what comes out of the anger. Because the Lord is angry with these foolish human beings who should know better, (and because He is God He sees the full extent of this folly which brings pain and injustice to His world, and that ‘full extent’ means He sees the ‘total’ extent of it, and it is that which builds this anger from mere emotion to full blown wrath that demands actions of Him) He does something: He speaks. It is as simple as that. “He rebukes them.” That involves speaking and in fact the verses ends with the word, ‘saying’ which leads on into the next verse, “I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain.” (v.6) THAT is what terrifies them and to understand that we will need to move into the next study.

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1.4 Love, Anger and Judgment

Meditating on the Judgments of God: 1.4  God’s Love and Anger and Judgment

Deut 9:18-20  I ate no bread and drank no water, because of all the sin you had committed, doing what was evil in the LORD’s sight and so provoking him to anger. I feared the anger and wrath of the LORD, for he was angry enough with you to destroy you. But again the LORD listened to me. And the LORD was angry enough with Aaron to destroy him, but at that time I prayed for Aaron too

While we are still in this first part laying down foundations of understanding God before we move into considering specific judgments, there is an aspect of the Lord that is vital to investigate. So often, it appears, God seems to be motivated by anger. The Bible often refers to the ‘wrath of God’ and wrath is just strong anger. So how does this fit with a God of love. I believe we need to understand here two things. First that love shows itself in a number of different ways, and then, second, how emotions and rational assessment of wrong are related.

Let’s try and understand how love is there but may be expressed in different ways. Let’s think about a loving human father. Some of us may be turned off because we haven’t experienced a loving father, but stay with me if you will as we consider how a loving father might express his love for his child or children. Here are a variety of ways, and they are ALL expressions of love:

i) Sacrificial Earner: He works long hours to earn money to provide for the needs of the family. It often means he is not there for them –  but it is an expression of the strong love he has for them

ii) Gentle listener and encourager: He sits with his children, reading to them and listening to them, and encouraging them. He is there for them and they feel secure with him there.

iii) Firm Limiter: When they ask for things that are harmful, he withholds them and gently says no. They don’t understand and think him mean, but it is an expression of his caring concern for their protection and wellbeing that makes him say no.

iv) Strong Corrector: From time to time he brings necessary correction for he can see destructive traits growing in his child and so he brings correction to try to encourage them to not go in that direction. Sometimes that correction appears hard and painful, but he only brings it when it has become obvious that his wilful child will respond to no other correction.

v) Shadows Watcher: Sometimes he stands back and simply watches his child from a distance. He has conveyed his wisdom but his child needs to learn it for himself or herself, sometimes by the hard way of failure. Yet he is always there in the shadows watching them, ready to come the moment he is called and always there for them.

Similarly we may see God doing things that perplex us, but we must realise that they will always be expressions of His love.

  • Sometimes He provides, and sometimes He seems to be there for us and encourages us, and those times seem good to us.
  • But then sometimes we ask for things and He either says no or remains silent, for He knows that either now is not the right time or there is something better He wants for us.
  • Sometimes bad things seem to come into our lives and for a time we can see no good reason for them. Yet in the fullness of time we see how they benefited us,  or what God was able to bring about and achieve through them.
  • Sometimes God seems distant and we wonder why, and it is only later that we come to realise that He was teaching us to stand on our own two feet, or to appreciate Him more.

In a whole variety of ways God’s love is expressed differently – but it is still love.

Now to move on to the second aspect, and that is of emotion versus rational assessment. When something wrong or very bad is done, it is right to be angry about it. At Lazarus’s tomb, when Jesus wept, there was also in the original Greek a sense of anger involved, anger at sin that had brought death, and anger at the grief it had caused. If we are complacent about wrongs, it means we have become hard hearted and callous and indifferent to injustice. Sometimes it needs something to strike close to home before we wake up and accept that strong emotions rightly arise when evil hits. Righteous anger is, as a dictionary puts it, “passionate displeasure”

Please distinguish angers from reactive hostility or revenge. Righteous anger is simply an objective emotion that responds rightly to wrong. What follows, when it is God, is a dispassionate objective assessment of what to do about it.

God’s judgement is His dispassionate objective assessment of what to do about the wrong which has been highlighted by His instinctive anger.

Our passionate displeasure rises up in the face of something awful, something wrong. If it is us, we react and may over-react and get it wrong but God, we saw, is perfect so He looks and He assesses what is the right thing to do, the perfect thing to do, the thing to be done in the light of ALL of the facts of both past, present and future. Only He can do this, for He knows all things and He knows how things could work out and how they can work out and how they will work out, and all the differences depend on His actions now. He chooses that which is perfect.  But all of that follows His anger which triggers this assessment, a righteous anger that highlights the awfulness of what is being observed. His anger leads to His judgement but that judgement is objective.

So when we look at His acts of judgment in the Bible, realise you don’t have all the facts, your emotions are stunted, you see imperfectly, but God has seen, God has assessed perfectly, and even though you cannot see it, know that what He has done has been The best, The only right thing to be done.  Bear ALL of this in mind when you think of the Judgment of God.  This may give us a great deal of fuel to ponder on WHY God brings a particular judgement and why having made a dispassionate objective assessment of what to do about it, God’s judgement is this particular thing – which, with all the facts and information available to Him, is faultless!

11. Judgement

Meditations in 1 Thessalonians

Part 2 :  11 :  Judgement

1 Thess 1:9,10   They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead–Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath

I said in the previous meditation that it is very easy to pass verses or words by with little thought – especially when we don’t like the word and ‘Idolatry’ was just such a word. “Wrath” is another of those words. It occurs here in verse 10 and it also appears later in respect of the unbelieving Jews: The wrath of God has come upon them at last,” (2:16) and then later more generally, “For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (5:9)

Now before we look at what it actually means, may I deal with our psychological or ethical hang-ups about this word. We’ll accept from the outset that it means righteous anger, but I want to remind you of a particular teaching that comes out again and again in the Bible – that God is perfect. Now be under no illusion that perfect means complete and faultless, and cannot be improved upon. Therefore whatever God thinks, says or does is perfect, is faultless and cannot be improved upon.

We need to let this truth sink in. Let’s see it as it crops up through the Bible: “He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.” (Deut 32:4 – song of Moses). “As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the LORD is flawless.” (2 Sam 22:31 – song of David). “From Zion, perfect in beauty, God shines forth.” (Psa 50:2 – song of Asaph).  “O LORD, you are my God; I will exalt you and praise your name, for in perfect faithfulness you have done marvelous things, things planned long ago.” (Isa 25:1 – Isaiah). “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48 – Jesus). “You will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Rom 12:2 – Paul). “Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Heb 5:8,9 – writer to the Hebrews)

There you have it: Jesus was begotten and was thus perfect because he was God.  God is perfect and everything He says or does is perfect – they cannot be improved upon!  Now start thinking about these difficult subjects from that angle or through that lens if you like. If God is angry about something then it is right, proper and appropriate to be angry and we can even go further and say it would be wrong not to be angry. We tolerate wrong and shrug our shoulders over it, but God sees it and sees it spoils the Creation that He made which was “very good” (Gen 1:31) and if God says something was “very good” you may take it that it was perfect. And now sin spoils it. The wonder and the beauty and the perfection has been spoiled and marred and desecrated. Imagine you were a master painter and you had spent months creating a most beautiful masterpiece and a teenager, say, comes in spits on it, writes on it in felt pen, throws paint on it and finally cuts it to pieces with a Stanley knife. Would you still be as calm and equitable about it as we so often are about wrongs in our world? No, we would be livid that this wonderful masterpiece with all its beauty has been utterly desecrated.

Why don’t we get angry? It’s all a matter of perspective. If we could see the whole picture with the completeness and perfection of God our emotions would be different. It is right to be angry, it is right to be upset and indeed, to go further, it is wrong not to be. Righteous anger is, as a dictionary puts it, “right and just passionate displeasure”. Please distinguish angers from hostility or revenge. Righteous anger is simply an objective emotion that responds rightly to wrong. What follows, when it is God, is a dispassionate assessment of what to do about it. God’s judgment is His dispassionate assessment of what to do about the wrong which has been highlighted by His anger. Anger is instinctive. Our passionate displeasure rises up in the face of something awful, something wrong. If it is us, we react and may over-react and get it wrong but God, we saw, is perfect so He looks and He assess what is the right thing to do, the perfect thing to do, the thing to be done in the light of ALL of the facts of both past, present and future, for only He can do this, for He knows all things and He knows how things could work out and how they can work out and how they will work out, and all the differences depend on His actions now. He chooses that which is perfect.

So when we look at His acts of judgement in the Bible, realise you don’t have all the facts, your emotions are stunted, you see imperfectly, but God has seen, God has assessed perfectly and even though you cannot see it, know that what He has done has been The best, The only right thing to be done.

Bear ALL of this in mind when you think of the Judgment of God.  This may give us a great deal of fuel to ponder on WHY God brings a particular judgement and why having made a dispassionate objective assessment of what to do about it, God’s judgement is this particular thing – which, with all the facts and information available to Him, is faultless!

So note again what Paul writes in this letter: Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath  (1:10) and God did not appoint us to suffer wrath (5:9). The Old Testament reveals a “day of the Lord” when He will come to judge all sin and unrighteousness. Rev 19 shows us Jesus coming again to bring in that ‘day’. But we, now as God’s people do not, as Paul says, have to suffer wrath for Jesus rescues us from it by his death on the Cross dealing with all our guilt and shame, so we no longer fear a punishment. The second reference to the Jews, The wrath of God has come upon them at last,” (2:16) can be rendered, “upon them to the uttermost,” or “on them entirely” or “on them fully”. It is suggested that this simply refers to them being rejected while they stay in unbelief. Scripture seems to indicate a possibility that before the end they will turn and believe and those will be saved, but salvation follows belief; wrath and judgement follows rejection and unbelief.

36. Anger

God in the Psalms No.36  – God of anger

Psa 21:9 In his wrath the LORD will swallow them up, and his fire will consume them.

There are some things about the Lord that make us do a double-take. Is the Lord really like this? On one hand we’re told that God is love (1 Jn 4:8), so how, we wonder can He also be a God of anger, a God of wrath who destroys people? This needs thinking about!

Let’s start with that incredible man of God, Moses: Then the LORD’s anger burned against Moses and he said, “What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he can speak well. He is already on his way to meet you, and his heart will be glad when he sees you. You shall speak to him and put words in his mouth; I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do.” (Ex 4:14,15).   This is where looking at the context is important, for this comes near the end of a long conversation where the Lord has answered all of Moses’ questions, explained what would happen, given two miraculous signs and still Moses says, send someone else to do it.” There is nothing more that God could say or do more than He has already done in this conversation. Moses’ response is now just selfish obtuseness and there is no excuse for it. God’s anger has been slow to come but anger is the only response to it.

So what is anger?  A Bible dictionary definition is, “a feeling of displeasure resulting from injury, mistreatment, opposition, etc.” It is a natural, right and just response in certain circumstances. We so often link anger or wrath with a quick, hasty and selfish response to an offence, but with God it is the exact opposite. It is a slow, measured and concerned response of justice. It is slow (Psa 103:8) because God doesn’t just react to people, He gives a fully measured, perfect response to the situation. The anger or wrath of the Lord is not a capricious self-concerned response, but a slow concerned response. We might nod at someone’s sin and excuse or ignore it  but God knows that unrestrained sin spreads and destroys so He first speaks against it, speaks and speaks again, and then acts against it. A willful ignoring of His calls is just that, a willful ignoring! It is an act of stupid rebellion; it is pure folly. Stop and think what emotions you could express: happiness at it. Well that is obviously stupid! Neutral and unfeeling?  How can you remain unfeeling about a gross crime?  Our problem sometimes is that we simply don’t feel enough, we don’t think enough about the crime. If you were a husband and father and your house was invaded by an armed gang and you were tied up and your wife and daughter raped in front of your eyes, what would you be feeling? Happiness? Don’t be silly!  Passive neutrality? You’ve got to be joking! It will be absolute, total, hostile anger. Everything in you will be blazing against them – and rightly so!

So why do we wonder, when perfect, beautiful God who calls out and calls out and calls out and has to watch increasing (because it is increasing before He acts) stupidity, eventually expresses anger?  The answer has to be because we simply are blind to the awfulness of the stupidity. Why does God judge and destroy?  To stop the spread of destructive sin. As someone has said, the incredible thing is not that God destroys one or two individuals, but that He doesn’t destroy all of us!  That is the wonder of the Cross! It is God’s means of diverting His righteous anger over sin. Why does He ever act against sinners then?  So save the situation getting worse, to save others from the spreading destructive nature of what this person or people do.

13. Past History

Ephesians Meditations No.13

13.  Our Past History

Eph  2:1-3 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.

We’ve seen so much already in this letter that perhaps we should have a recap here before we move on. After the initial greeting (1:1,2), Paul praised the Lord for all the blessing He has brought us through Christ (1:3) having chosen  and predestined us, given us redemption, the forgiveness of sins, and revealing the mystery of His will (1:4-10). He did all this so that we might be the cause of praise to God (1:11,12) and gave us His Holy Spirit as a seal and guarantee (1:13,14). This provoked in Paul prayers of thanks (1:15,16) and a request that God would allow them to ‘see’ the wonder of His work in them (1:17-19) and how He has made Christ head of all things for the church which is his body on the earth today (1:20-23).

Now, when we come to chapter 2, it seems as if Paul realises that he strayed from speaking about their salvation to speak about the wonders of Christ and now wants to come back to focus on Christian experience again as he starts, “As for you.” Having declared the great truths of calling, predestination and redemption, it is as if he now wants to go back to basics to remind us from where we’ve come in order to emphasise the wonder of where we now are as Christians. Hence these three verses are all about the way we lived before we came to Christ. In other words he is reminding us of the need that we had for salvation.

He starts out, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins.” Here is a fundamental truth. Before we came to Christ and before God placed His Holy Spirit in us, we were spiritually dead. Oh yes, we see people showing some signs of interest in spiritual things but that is only because they are responding to God’s promptings in the first place. Moreover, they seem to struggle in the dark. The Bible seems a dead book and God seems a million miles away. Oh yes, He prompts them but without them receiving His Holy Spirit, they are totally lifeless (dead) in respect of God. It even needs the Holy Spirit to convict them of the truth of their plight (Jn 16:8) for they cannot see it on their own. Before we came to Christ we were spiritually dead and our lives consisted of ‘transgressions’ and ‘sins’. We ‘transgress’ when we slip off the path. It describes our more casual drifting away from God while ‘sins’ are specific acts of wrong. Most of the time we didn’t think about the nature of what we thought, said and did, but these were all acts of self-centred godlessness.

Now this wasn’t just an occasional thing. Oh no, these were things, “in which you used to live.” It was our lifestyle; it was how we were! But because we hadn’t surrendered our lives to God it was, “when you followed the ways of this world.” Yes, the truth is that the whole world is in the grips of sin, ever since the Fall, and so it is a case of having to come back to God, and until we have done that, we are just going the same way as everyone else who have also not yet come back to God. What we didn’t realise though was that the godless world is under the control “of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” i.e. Satan. John ratifies this in his first letter: “We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.” (1 Jn 5;19). The world mocks the thought of Satan and demons and makes him a fun creature, not realising that they are blind to the truth that, because they have given themselves over to self-centred, godless living, they are open and vulnerable to Satan’s suggestions and directions as he seeks to reinforce that state and keep them from God.

Now, in our foolishness, we sometimes try to justify ourselves and pretend that we were never like that. Paul doesn’t let us get away with that! “All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts.” No, that included every one of us without exception. We had no idea of our true state. Paul spoke of Satan and our state when he said, “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Cor 4:4). The world doesn’t realise it, but submitting to Satan’s rule (his dominion – Col 1:13) means that people make Satan their god. How terrible was our plight, and we didn’t realise it!

But there was a further aspect of it: “Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.” ‘Wrath’ here simply means God’s controlled and unemotional anger against sin. If you had painted a wonderful work of art, and then someone came along and spoiled it by drawing on it with a pencil, you would be rightly angry that the wonderful beauty that you had created had been spoiled. It is a natural and good reaction which emphasizes the beauty of the work, and the evil of the wrong that spoiled it. This anger is directed against the sin, and then subsequently against the person who perpetrated it, until they say sorry. God’s controlled and unemotional anger is a simple determination to deal with the sin and the sinner unless they come to their senses, and He spends the whole of their lives calling to them. If they refuse to heed him up to the point of death, then they have purposefully declared their desire not to spend eternity with God and that declaration is honoured! The moment a person responds to that call of God and turns to Him, His Holy Spirit is able to show them their true state, and they are convicted and call out for forgiveness, and so the work of salvation is brought.

That’s what we were like before we came to Christ and the more we realise the truth of that state the more we realise the wonder of our salvation and the lives we now have. So, if you’ve been in a defensive self-justifying state about yourself, don’t worry; just come into the light of God’s truth and face what you really were like and then rejoice at the wonder of what He has now made you. Be blessed!