Much of modern life is driven by the pursuit of automation, speed, comfort, and convenience. And while there is nothing inherently wrong about it, it is also important to remember that there is so much in life, and what makes us human can’t be automated or transformed into a quick, efficient and comfortable experience.
Our faith, spiritual expectations and views are not an exception. We don’t need to search hard or far enough to discover entire galaxies of spiritual disciples where the Biblical truth and preaching are reduced to a level of spiritual entertainment with cheerful and uplifting messages that might sound good to our overloaded senses and exhausted souls at that moment, but do not lead into lasting, relevant and rewarding spiritual experiences.
We often hear about a loving, forgiving and merciful God who is always there for us, ready to forgive and forget, embrace, understand and accept us as we are. And, of course, each one of these statements is true. But they are also utterly misleading and incomplete because they pick and choose what is pleasing to our ears and leave out anything that might make us uncomfortable.
The holy prophets who lived with God and knew Him intimately, often depicted a very different type of God.
But when we continued to sin against them,
you were angry.
How then can we be saved?
All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
and like the wind our sins sweep us away.
- Isaiah 64:5-6
“Do not be angry beyond measure, Lord;
do not remember our sins forever.
Oh, look on us, we pray,
for we are all your people.
Your sacred cities have become a wasteland;
Our holy and glorious temple, where our ancestors praised you,
has been burned with fire,
and all that we treasured lies in ruins.
After all this, Lord, will you hold yourself back?
Will you keep silent and punish us beyond measure?”
- Isaiah 64:9-12
This passage from today’s Scripture reading from the prophet Isaiah reveals God, who though loving and merciful, can also be angry, very angry at His children when they consciously and continuously harm and wound their souls and bodies, violate and abuse His mercy, kindness and love.
This is not a topic we hear about often. But there was a time in this country when people believed in the angry God. Not long ago, Jonathan Edwards’ iconic sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God was included in the school curriculums. But during the past several decades, our society and culture strived and meticulously sanitized our faith and removed the notion of an angry God. We ended up with a God that is only loving, only forgiving and always merciful. This is a bad thing. We do need an angry God. In our minds and in our hearts, we need a God who gets angry at injustice, violence, corruption, and sin. We need an angry God to live with hope, we need an angry God to live with humility, and we need an angry God to know how loved we are. And in fact, we will never truly know the loving God unless we get to know and accept the angry God.
To live in hope in a broken world, we need the biblical angry God who is not indifferent to suffering, injustice, bloodshed, abuse, discrimination and disappointment, but stands with us, restores justice and punishes what is evil, dark and corrupt. For us to be able to forge a world and society that refuses and eradicates violence, we need a belief in divine vengeance. These are not my words but the central thesis of a fascinating book on this very topic titled Exclusion and Embrace by renowned Yale theologian Miroslav Volf. The author argues that “violence thrives today secretly nourished by belief in a God who refused to wield the sword.” And he concludes by making the profound conclusion that “If God were not angry at injustice and deception and did not make the final end to violence God would not be worthy of our worship.” Unless we believe in a God of vengeance who can be angry at injustice and violence, we can’t be peacemakers, we can’t have peace, live in peace and we can’t have hope.