An Angry God
‘…Never avenge yourselves but leave it to the wrath of God…’ (Romans 12, 19).
Sermons rarely are controversial. If so at the time, they are often soon forgotten. Yet one particular sermon delivered in the C18 has remained controversial to this day. On July 8th, 1741, in Enfield, Connecticut, Jonathan Edwards preached on the subject of, ‘Sinners in the hands of an angry God’…
“The bow of God's wrath is bent, and the arrow made ready on the string, and justice bends the arrow at your heart, and strains the bow, and it is nothing but the mere pleasure of God, and that of an angry God, without any promise or obligation at all, that keeps the arrow one moment from being made drunk with your blood.” (Jonathan Edwards, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God).
Would any of us admit to getting angry? I hope we all would because never to get angry about anything is the definition of indifference; the person who is never angry about anything is always indifferent to everything. We should regard anger as a vital component of the emotional make up of all of us. When we are confronted with that which is wrong, which we know is wrong, which we sense is wrong we should feel something sufficient to make us do what we can to put it right. We should get angry about it. If God is to remain faithful to the purpose of redemption – i.e. making all things good – then it is necessary that God get angry about all that is evil in the world, and moreover that those who have faith in God feel that anger within them. Just because God is love does not preclude the possibility of God being angry. Because God is love does mean that such anger is manifest in a particular way. God is angry at the way the world is, that anger demands of God a response, that response is love. If we let anger have free reign within us we will risk the probability of it spilling over into hatred, vindictiveness, even violent destruction. That is why Paul has to remind the Christians in Rome not to take out their anger – justifiable though it might be – on those who make them angry because he knew that if left unchecked such anger would merely fan into flame a conflagration of revenge that would very easily burn out of control. ‘Let the one who is without sin – the one who has done nothing deserving of the anger of another – cast the first stone’…Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love... Our aim must never be to defeat or humiliate the white man, but to win his friendship and understanding… The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy, instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate…Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."And so, says Paul, God’s injunction to us is to see to it that vengeanceis God’s prerogative. It is for God to deal with that which causes us to be angry, that which causes God to be angry. There will be reckoning, a judgement, a Divine judgement but that judgement can only ever be according to the prescription of God’s redemptive purpose. Our God is not a ‘hanging’ judge – our God is One who judges in love – ‘Who is a pardoning God like Thee, or who has grace, so rich and free.’ We may regard the language of hell fire, damnation and so on as curiosities, products of a bygone age, a lurid over simplification od that which is altogether far too complicated to explain concerning how God deals with evil, with sin, with the wrong that we do, but it has its place even if only as a powerful metaphor for helping us to appreciate the gravity of that which causes God to be angry. And so, let us hear this and as we listen sense what is the underlying truth that is being conveyed
…Since God is love, since love is the essence of the divine life, the consequence of loss of this life is loss of love...Though the damned do not love God, God loves them, and this is their torture. The very fires of Hell are made of the love of God! Love received by one who only wants to hate and fight thwarts his deepest want and is therefore torture. If God could stop loving the damned, Hell would cease to be pure torture. If the sun could stop shining, lovers of the dark would no longer be tortured by it. But the sun could sooner cease to shine than God cease to be God...The lovelessness of the damned blinds them to the light of glory in which they stand, the glory of God’s fire. God is in the fire that to them is Hell. God is in Hell ('If I make my bed in Hell, Thou art there' [Ps 139:8]) but the damned do not know Him.” (Peter Kreeft, Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Heaven-- But Never Dreamed of Asking).
Jesus died on the Cross. He could have come down from the Cross and cheated death, but in so doing would have cheated us of our salvation, would have denied the whole world its redemption. But He died on the Cross and in so doing took into Himself the anger of God, allowing Himself to be subject to the judgement of Divine love, and condemned accordingly, condemned to death and to hell that those who would otherwise inevitably find their way there might be set free. Because Jesus died, we can rejoice that Hell is empty. But because Jesus died God works unceasingly to deliver each and all form the hell of their own making. We ought to be thankful, and to rejoice that all of us are ‘sinners in the hands of an angry God’.