Where love and anger meet

Daily we are assaulted by reports and experiences of children murdered, women abused, leaders assassinated, homes destroyed, money squandered and people whose needs are not being met. What do we do with the anger we feel at these endless atrocities? What do we do with the helplessness when faced with abuse from those who are meant to love, and constant rebuttals from those who have the power to bring about change?  What do we do with the fury we feel towards the people who so blatantly benefit from the suffering of others, and who then either deny or celebrate it? There’s anger born of helplessness on the part of those who live in the midst of these challenges, and anger born of helplessness on the part of those who witness these things but have no idea how to help. And then there’s God. And here’s what helps:

Throughout scripture we see a God who hates injustice, who expresses deep anger at unrighteousness, who warns those who oppress the poor or harm children of the wrath to come. We see Jesus venting his anger on the moneychangers at the temple, accusing them of turning his house of prayer into a “den of robbers” (Matt 21:12-13). By using that phrase Jesus likens them to the people at the time of Jeremiah, whom God chastises for coming to worship while involved in oppression, murder and idolatry (Jer7:1-10). Later Jesus goes on an absolute tirade in the well-known “woes” passage at the corruption of the religious leaders of his day, calling them snakes, vipers, unwashed graves. (Matthew 23:13-36; Luke 11:39-52)

The Old Testament prophets express God’s anger well.

“27See, the Name of the Lord comes from afar,
  ….. his lips are full of wrath,
  and his tongue is a consuming fire.
28 His breath is like a rushing torrent,
  rising up to the neck.” (Isaiah 30:27,28)

21“I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
  your assemblies are a stench to me.
22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
  I will not accept them…
23 Away with the noise of your songs!
  I will not listen to the music of your harps.
24 But let justice roll on like a river,
  righteousness like a never-failing stream! (Amos 5:21-24)

There is no doubt that God hates injustice, greed, idolatry and corruption. When we are seething with anger and pain at what we see happening around us, it’s comforting to know this. Yet – do such expressions of anger from God give us the right to be angry as well? Can our anger be likened to that of God?

Perhaps only if we can also measure up in terms of our love.

For Jesus taught that we should love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. As a child I struggled with the idea of loving the children who teased and bullied me, and I took secret delight in the fact that such love “heaped burning coals on their heads” (Proverbs 25:22 and Romans 12:20). So I’d go, “Ok, I forgive them – Hehh hehh, Zap ‘em, Lord!” That was until I heard an interpretation of heaping burning coals as being a way of supplying people with the fire they needed for their household. Even if that may not necessarily be accurate, one has to concede that the passage is about kindness and being willing to meet the needs of our enemies, and that the images I had in mind were by no means kind. And this is where the difference lies between our anger and God’s; between our love and that of God.

Despite the wraths and woes, throughout scripture we see a God whose love, mercy and forgiveness are relentless, who constantly calls his wayward children back to him; who loves so much that he gave his son to die even for those who most violently opposed everything that he stood for. All God’s expressions of anger reflected in the Bible, vehement though they are, are interspersed with expressions of love. In the midst of Isaiah’s rantings quoted above is the following:

“Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you (my emphasis);
  therefore he will rise up to show you compassion…
… How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you.”(Isaiah 30:18,19)

Jesus’ “woes” are followed by similar longing:

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” (Matt 23:37)

Bruce Marchiano, the actor who played Jesus in The Visual Bible film series, describes Jesus’ anger as coming from “a heartbreak that screams in utter agony for the needless, pointless pain of people” (116). While preparing for the “woes” scene and expecting to approach it with righteous anger, Marchiano describes feeling a depth of anguish like “the desperate scream of a parent watching his own child step off a curb in front of a moving car” (117). He writes, “The Lord wasn’t spitting fire at these guys, he was loving them…. It was a rage born of a broken heart” (p163). So we see Jesus’ love and anger as being two-sided. There’s anger at the pain his beloved children are enduring at the hands of others, and anger at the pain his beloved children are inflicting on others.

How does our love measure up? Too often our anger takes the form of mumbling and grumbling, blaming and complaining. We get stuck in the issue; get caught up in discussions on social media the likes of which are a disgrace to humanity, let alone to people following the way of Jesus. Worse is that these assaults are often directed at the person rather than the issue in question. Our posts and tweets include blatant condemnation and shameless mocking, even mocking of fellow believers whose opinions on a matter differ from our own. We value our posts more by the amount of likes we get from people who think like us and whose acclaim we value, than by the extent to which they reflect God’s heart and Kingdom values. While anger at atrocities is certainly justified, such expressions of it cannot be, for they fall far short of Jesus’ own example and his call to love one another. If our anger expresses itself in a desire for harm to others, then it is not of God. Our heart for the victims must translate into actions that seek to right the wrongs and undo the harm, but at the same time our heart for the perpetrators should be one that seeks to change their hearts and bring them to knowledge of the truth of Jesus’ love, salvation and restoration. Like Jesus, we should long to gather them under our wings.

The key is to remember that the ultimate enemy is not the person who does evil, nor even “the system”, but Satan – whose aim is to steal, kill, destroy and devour (John 10 :10 and 1 Peter 5:8), whose strategy is deception, accusation, confusion and distraction from the way of God. The enemy thrives on retribution and retaliation, on ongoing hatred and ongoing pain. His aim is to hurt us as much as possible in order to get back at God, so he constantly turns us against each other, constantly creating “red herrings” that take us off the path we are meant to be on – that of fighting evil and building righteousness. If we keep on hurting each other, half Satan’s work is done. In addition, as long as we respond to evil in kind – hate with hate, harm with harm – we remain in enemy territory and continue to give power and legitimacy to Satan. And sadly, this too often tends to be our default tendency, despite all that we know to the contrary.

We all know Ephesians 6, and its description of our struggle being not against flesh and blood, “but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians describes the weapons we have as being far superior to those of the world and of the enemy; that ours have “divine power to demolish strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:4). The important thing is to realise that we are operating in two realms; that the spiritual is just as real as the natural, and that it’s in the spiritual realm that the power lies and from where our weapons operate. While my glee at heaping burning coals on the heads of my persecutors was wrong in its motive, it was right in its outcome. The power of our spiritual weapons is that they fly in the face of what the enemy expects. Love, forgiveness and coming in the opposite spirit disarm the power of evil that thrives on retribution. Our weapons include truth, repentance, forgiveness and humility, the greatest, of course, being love.

So how do we respond when faced with the abuses around us? I’d like to suggest ten ways:

1. Realise that while we are aware of and oppose state capture, the devil is about mind, heart, soul and world capture. Don’t be distracted.
2. Be angry, but direct your anger at what is wrong rather than at the person through whom it comes.
3. Let your anger energise you into prayer against the evil. Prayer is power. We have been given authority to put demons to flight.
4. When sharing posts or posting news, keep to what is true. Check sources before posting and check opposing views on the issue so that truth is what is put forward, and love is what comes through.
5. When planning action, ask God to lead you in the direction you should take. Find out as much as you can and act where you can, doing what you can in obedience to God’s leading.
6. Ask God for courage to approach those who perpetrate evil, and for wisdom in how to do this, trusting God’s strategies, for he knows and sees what we don’t.
7. And here too, pray that God would change the heart and mind of the person you’re confronting. Kings have relented and set people free because someone was praying. But do it in love, as God directs.
8. But before you do any of this – and after, and all the time – ask God to show you any way in which you yourself, be it in thought, word or deed, are part of the problem; part of the perpetration of injustice. Check for attitudes such as guilt, saviour complex, fear, control, false responsibility, self-righteousness. And as God reveals, repent. For as long as we carry these inside ourselves, we have little power or authority over the evil we strive to bring down.
9. Soak in God. Be filled with his spirit, his love, his power, his encouragement. Receive from him all that he has for you. God is love, and love is power.
10. Finally, know and trust that God is more angry at the evil on this earth than we could ever be. But he is also more heartbroken. For we are all his dearly loved children, living lives far outside of his plans of abundance and peace. All his anger and all his tears and all his plans for us are built on the foundation of his love.

It is this love that should drive us too.

By Colleen Saunders

 

 

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