A Beautiful Anger
My thoughtful collegiate daughter recently asked me a good question that threw me into a quandary. She pointed to several passages in the Pentateuch and asked, "Should a God who commands his people to wage war be worshiped?" I dared not treat the subject lightly. ("You mean the God who empowers a bunch of cruelly oppressed bricklayers being led by a stuttering geezer to fulfill their destiny against all odds? It could be a movie!") I realized she was sincerely troubled by the violence.
The truth is, so am I. Until she asked her question, I had successfully avoided it. But it is one thing to stuff your own nagging doubts in a dark corner. It is quite another to tell the searching heart of your child to be quiet and go away. Instead, I told her I would pray, study, and write to her with my thoughts.
Thus, for several months I have been seriously grappling with the terrifying aspects of God's nature. For many, the inscrutable temperament of God is a stumbling block to belief. They choose the "safer" scenario of a universe without God over one in which our lives hang on the mercy of an infinitely powerful force we can't fully understand, much less control. But I would rather be boldly inquisitive than safe. Better to probe threatening territory than to draw back in apprehension, hoping someone else will find a solution for my dilemma.
Consider the difference between the swineherds of Gerasa (Luke 8:26-39) and the storm-beaten disciples on the sea (Mark 4:35-41). Both groups witnessed compelling demonstrations that Jesus could kill or save by his word alone. Yet only the disciples had the courage to ask, hearts pounding, armpits sweaty, "What manner of man is this?" (Mark 4:41, KJV). The swineherds opted to cut their losses (two thousand dead pigs) and retreat. They didn't want to know why a man of such power would take pity on a lunatic; it was enough to know he was dangerous.
What shall we do, then, with this dangerous God of the Old Testament (and the Book of Revelation, for that matter), who wreaks vengeance on some and bestows undeserved mercy on others?
One possible answer is that we are unworthy to question God at all, since we are wholly sinful and deserve death. But this seems unworthy of an unfathomably compassionate God. There must be a greater depth of understanding for those who desire to honor God by seeking it.
Job is my trailblazer. He refused to agree with his friends' explanations for his suffering. Instead, he cried out for a face-to-face meeting with God, at which point he was planning to complain of gross injustice. In fact, he had already sustained his complaint for 30-some chapters. God's response? A thundering self-revelation complete with lightning, a heart-stopping whirlwind, and a voice from heaven essentially saying, "Enough of blind rancor! You condemn me without knowledge of me. Now you shall see against whom you stand!" Fearsome words, yet Job is ultimately commended and blessed for possessing a faith that fully expects God to hear and answer.
I'm bracing myself, God. Just who are you, really?
Stephen Charnock, the 17th-century Puritan theologian, wrote, "Power is God's hand or arm, omniscience his eye, mercy, his bowels … but holiness is his beauty." Since God's holiness drives the judgment delivered by his powerful hand, surely there must be a beauty in its manifestations. Somehow I need to look for the beauty in the hands of an angry God. The problem is, we can't imagine anger being anything but ugly.