Mercy Triumphs over Anger

By Dr John Yates

Introduction

From Genesis 3:14 until Revelation 22:19, divine judgement is a topic that cannot be avoided in scripture, but characteristically is by the contemporary church.  God is speaking about this from a perspective that to us seems contradictory. The true nature of his wrath can only be known through a revelation of his Fatherly gentleness.  This topic is of supreme importance, for as this article will demonstrate, human anger is a stumbling block to God’s purposes of renewal.

Since we respond to anger with defensiveness, how we approach this theme is foundational.  We must start with human experience, recognising however that this will bring us to a radically different conclusion than if we commenced with the revelation of God in Jesus.

Humanity’s Experience of the Anger of God

It is human rather than divine anger that begins the cycle of separation between us and God.1)Wrath is not a part of God’s eternal nature.  God is love, righteous, wise, good etc., but he needs to become angry [Num 11:10; Judges 10:7; 1Ki 8:46; 1Ki 11:9 etc.] The Bible never says that “God is wrath” for there was never an eternal cause in the Godhead itself which would move God to become angry. The first explicit biblical mention of anger is found in Genesis 4:5, “but for Cain and his offering he (the LORD) had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell.2)The text does not focus on the nature of Cain’s offering, but his; compare Hebrews 11:4, “By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain”.That God was not angry with Cain comes out in the caring fatherly warning, “v6 The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? v7 If you do well, will you not be accepted?3)Literally, “a lifting up”, i.e. of his face towards God. And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”” (Genesis 4:6- 7). Cain’s sin indeed spirals out of control so that through murder he “went away from the presence (literally:“face”) of the Lord” (Genesis 4:16)4)A reminiscence of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden [Gen 3:22-24] is unmistakable.

When God says, “but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.” (Isa 59:2), it means his presence cannot indwell our angry, self- righteous judgement.5)The wrath of God is not to be equated with any sort of emotional instability or irritability, these are always condemned in the Bible [Gen 47:7; Ps 37:8; Prov 30:33; Amos 1:11].  Wrath is not the opposite of love, indifference is, God’s wrath may be thought of in terms of injured love [Jer 13:12-14; Hos 5:12 ].  James says, “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” ( James 1:20) and “judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy.”(James 2:13). Both texts teach that human vehemence meets with divine disapproval.

Jesus confirms this, “For with the judgment6)The verb krino here bears the sense “to condemn”. you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” (Matt 7:2).  His parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:23-35) expounds the difference between the anger of God and of man.7)The parable follows immediately after Jesus’ instruction how to deal with a “brother” who sins against us. A servant owes his master an impossible debt,8)10,000 talents is the equivalent to billions of dollars, showing that the master represents God. threatened with enslavement he pleads “‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’” (Matthew 18:26).  The word for “patience”, makrothymia, is literally to be “long – tempered”, or “to put anger far away”.  “Out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt” (Matthew 18:27). The keywords are commonly used of God’s generous grace in forgiving sin,9)E.g. Matt 9:2; Luke 6:37; Rom 4:7; 1 John 1:9. and the one translated “pity” is that used for Jesus frequent “compassion”.10)Splanknidzomai Matt 9:36; Matt 14:14; Matt 15:32; Matt 20:34; Mark 1:41; Mark 6:34; Mark 8:2; Mark 9:22; Luke 7:13  It is God’s will that “mercy triumphs over judgement” (James 2:13 ).

However, the story goes on to describe how the forgiven servant mercilessly refuses to release another servant from a minor debt.  Hearing of this “in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt.11)Which is never, especially since his incalculable debt has been compounded by his merciless attitude.  So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:34-35).  The unforgiving servant by hardening his heart against God’s mercy experienced the wrath of God as the mirror image of his own mercilessness.12)“if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” [Matt 6:14].  Compare Romans 9:22. In demanding “justice” without makrothymia we exclude “mercy”, so that the image of the Judge is our image and the content of the wrath of God becomes our own anger.13)This is Paul’s central point in Romans 1:18-32 God’s wrath consists in the judicial act of handing humans over to their own debased mind, “he gave then up”, [Romans 8:24,26,28]

This sets up a vicious inescapable cycle, man experiences God as unjustly angry with him and is angry with God and sins without godly fear.14)Gen 20:11; Ps 36:1; Rom 3:18 This humanly unholy rage is what God pours out in his judgement as he presents himself to humanity according to their likeness.  From human sacrifice in ancient Israel15)v24 because they had not obeyed my rules, but had rejected my statutes and profaned my Sabbaths, and their eyes were set on their fathers’ idols. v25 Moreover, I gave them statutes that were not good and rules by which they could not have life, v26 and I defiled them through their very gifts in their offering up all their firstborn, that I might devastate them. I did it that they might know that I am the Lord.” [Ezek 20:24-26] to the jihad terrorists of today, the wrath of God is visible in the rage of man.  This action never pleases God, he detests it;  “For God, his anger is pain.” (Heschel)16)God considers his work of judgement a “strange” or “alien” work [Isa 28:21]. While human beings feel self- justified in their anger, it is God’s forbearance and removal of judgement that justifies him.17)This is the purpose of “propitiation” [often translated “atoning sacrifice”].  God is pleased to provide a sacrifice [Jesus] that removes his wrath and reveals his justice. See especially Rom 3:21-26.  Nothing pleases him more than to show mercy, and to say, “I have no wrath.” (Isa 27:4).18)Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.” [Isa 30:18].  See also Hosea 2:19.

Jesus’ Experience of the Anger of God

For sinful human beings the real issue with God’s anger is his power.  To an evil conscience an impotent deity, no matter how wrathful, is trivial.  Jesus shatters our perception19)The postmodern saying “Perception is reality” is now even echoed by the Australian cricket captain, . see  Link In terms of fallen humanity’s experience of God as willfully angry with them the saying it is true. of the divine anger by manifesting a new form of power.

v21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, v22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”” (Luke 3:21-22).  This is Jesus’ first encounter with the immensity of the Father’s power.20)how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.” [Acts 10:38].  The dove- image of the Spirit reveals that at the centre of God’s strength is gentleness (who ever heard of an angry dove!).  The dove, an image drawn from the Flood story,21)Genesis 8:8-12.  There are also other important connections to a new creation [Gen 1:2]. signifies grace beyond a coming flood of judgement.22)The “unquenchable fire” of Luke 3: 9, 17.   Through this anointing Jesus knows that inside the heart of the Father there is no anger,23)he does not from his heart afflict or grieve the children of men” [Lam 3:33]; this is a literal translation. his human spirit of gentleness is in perfect union with the gentle but forceful presence of the Holy Spirit.24)The fullness of this union reveals God to him as “Abba Father” [Mark 14:36] and enables the Spirit to fill him “without measure” [John 3:34].

Since in seeing Jesus we see the Father (John 14:9), the call ““Come to me…for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt 11:28-29), is a revelation of the gentle Father.25)More technically, this is because the perfect interpenetration of the three Persons of the trinity [perichoresis] means their attributes are undifferentiated.  This is firstly manifested in the ministry commission given to Jesus through God’s gift of the Spirit, ““v18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, v19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”” (Luke 4:18-19 ).26)Whilst this declaration is a quote from Isaiah 61:1-2, Jesus deliberately stops short of “and the day of vengeance of our God”.

It is the cross however that is the supreme demonstration of the truth of an infinite gentleness at the heart of God’s power, both in mercy and judgement.  I believe this for two reasons, the first as a personal revelation, the second, and more substantial, from scripture.

A New Image of Judgement

The personal revelation is a simple one.  While praying about this subject I saw the arms of the Father lifting Jesus up to the cross and with infinite gentleness placing upon him the sin of the world.27)Compare, “The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms. And he thrust out the enemy before you and said, Destroy.” [Deut 33:27]. In delivering Jesus up to our sin and condemnation God acted through his heart of mercy in the power of the Spirit.

It was because Jesus is “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) that the Spirit descended upon him as a dove.  Even more forcefully, “Christ …through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God,” (Heb 9:14 ).  In order that Jesus might save the world and not condemn it28)For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” [John 3:17]. he must be full of the knowledge that at the centre of God’s anger is compassion. This is the revelation that his Father’s heart recoils at the need to judge.29)How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? …My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.” [Hos 11:8].

To more fully grasp the power of the cross we must return to the concept makrothymia, “to put anger far away”.  When Jesus “became sin” (2 Cor 5:21) for us, he entered into the place of forsakenness,30)“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”” [Mark 15:34]. the final repository of evil that it is as “far away” from God as possible, hell.  As the crucified identifier with our iniquity Jesus is handed over to a realm outside the mercy, gentleness and grace of God’s Spirit.

He experiences that transition from the realm of God’s presence to the solitary place of man separated from God.31)“the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” [2 Thess 1:9]. This is a transition for Christ so traumatic it must be described in terms utterly oppositional to the true nature of God’s dove – like holiness but true to the violence of humanity,32)the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence” [Gen 6:9]. he experiences being “cast into the outer darkness33)Matt 8:12; Matt 22:13; Matt 25:30 and “thrown into the lake of fire.34)Rev 20:15

In this image of the crucified Christ is the image of the judge judged.  Firstly, the Lord takes his judgement into himself so that we see his pure heart of mercy and forgiveness.  Secondly, we see our judgements about God’s character exposed and judged.  He is neither hard nor cruel – no excuse remains for our hard heartedness towards his love.  We recoil lest we fall into the condition of the merciless.35)v3 Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? v4 Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? v5 But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.” [Rom 2:3-5].

Beyond Christian Anger

Many of us have fallen into the sin of the Pharisee, self- righteous in our Christian values we neglect to show mercy towards the sexually promiscuous, abortionists, addicts, lazy, greedy – rich, homosexuals, indigenous people and so on.36)““Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” [Matt 23:23 ]  Compare Micah 6:8.

Many Christian leaders (me too!) have failed to enter the promised land because like Moses in tiredness at the grumbling of the flock of God we have struck out in anger (Num 20:10-13).  We have failed to reveal the face of the Father and kept the church in the wilderness. Whilst the gifts and kindness of God are irrevocable (Rom 11:29 ) (the water still flowed from the rock to the thirsty) our Holy Father could not take us further without repentance.37)The rock Moses struck is the site of Christ’s merciful revelation of God ,“all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.” [1 Cor 10:4]. Like Moses and Aaron, who knew God’s pardoning first hand, we have not revealed the constant mercy and righteousness of God but the anger of man.

We need to ask Jesus to teach us that whilst his Spirit – moved human anger on earth was bearable (e.g. by the Temple dealers) his coming wrath is unbearable.38)v15 everyone…hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, v16 calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, v17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”” [Rev 6:15-17]. We need a direct impartation of godly fear from the Spirit, who was with Jesus in his anguish and passion,39)See especially Heb 5:7. “Never man feared death like this man.” [Luther] of judgement falling on the lost.

Conclusion

“O Lord, I have heard the report of you, and your work, O Lord, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy.” (Hab 3:2)

Revivals fail when the church depends on something, its gifts, leadership, numbers, methods, rather than the mercy of God in the cross.  The people of God themselves become the site of his judgement.  Before us are two ways,40)See Deut 30:15-20 and the early Christian writings Epistle of Barnabas 18:1- 21:9; Didache 1:1- 6:2.light or darkness, good or evil, and in this paper, the way of the serpent in the garden41)Who is always angry with God and his image e.g. Rev 12:12  or the dove upon Jesus.  Our fleshly anger, having no dove  – like qualities, is evil, to desire gentleness is to ask for the power of the Holy Spirit.

References   [ + ]

1. Wrath is not a part of God’s eternal nature.  God is love, righteous, wise, good etc., but he needs to become angry [Num 11:10; Judges 10:7; 1Ki 8:46; 1Ki 11:9 etc.] The Bible never says that “God is wrath” for there was never an eternal cause in the Godhead itself which would move God to become angry.
2. The text does not focus on the nature of Cain’s offering, but his; compare Hebrews 11:4, “By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain”.
3. Literally, “a lifting up”, i.e. of his face towards God.
4. A reminiscence of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden [Gen 3:22-24] is unmistakable.
5. The wrath of God is not to be equated with any sort of emotional instability or irritability, these are always condemned in the Bible [Gen 47:7; Ps 37:8; Prov 30:33; Amos 1:11].  Wrath is not the opposite of love, indifference is, God’s wrath may be thought of in terms of injured love [Jer 13:12-14; Hos 5:12 ].
6. The verb krino here bears the sense “to condemn”.
7. The parable follows immediately after Jesus’ instruction how to deal with a “brother” who sins against us.
8. 10,000 talents is the equivalent to billions of dollars, showing that the master represents God.
9. E.g. Matt 9:2; Luke 6:37; Rom 4:7; 1 John 1:9.
10. Splanknidzomai Matt 9:36; Matt 14:14; Matt 15:32; Matt 20:34; Mark 1:41; Mark 6:34; Mark 8:2; Mark 9:22; Luke 7:13
11. Which is never, especially since his incalculable debt has been compounded by his merciless attitude.
12. “if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” [Matt 6:14].  Compare Romans 9:22.
13. This is Paul’s central point in Romans 1:18-32 God’s wrath consists in the judicial act of handing humans over to their own debased mind, “he gave then up”, [Romans 8:24,26,28]
14. Gen 20:11; Ps 36:1; Rom 3:18
15. v24 because they had not obeyed my rules, but had rejected my statutes and profaned my Sabbaths, and their eyes were set on their fathers’ idols. v25 Moreover, I gave them statutes that were not good and rules by which they could not have life, v26 and I defiled them through their very gifts in their offering up all their firstborn, that I might devastate them. I did it that they might know that I am the Lord.” [Ezek 20:24-26]
16. God considers his work of judgement a “strange” or “alien” work [Isa 28:21].
17. This is the purpose of “propitiation” [often translated “atoning sacrifice”].  God is pleased to provide a sacrifice [Jesus] that removes his wrath and reveals his justice. See especially Rom 3:21-26.
18. Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.” [Isa 30:18].  See also Hosea 2:19.
19. The postmodern saying “Perception is reality” is now even echoed by the Australian cricket captain, . see  Link In terms of fallen humanity’s experience of God as willfully angry with them the saying it is true.
20. how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.” [Acts 10:38].
21. Genesis 8:8-12.  There are also other important connections to a new creation [Gen 1:2].
22. The “unquenchable fire” of Luke 3: 9, 17.
23. he does not from his heart afflict or grieve the children of men” [Lam 3:33]; this is a literal translation.
24. The fullness of this union reveals God to him as “Abba Father” [Mark 14:36] and enables the Spirit to fill him “without measure” [John 3:34].
25. More technically, this is because the perfect interpenetration of the three Persons of the trinity [perichoresis] means their attributes are undifferentiated.
26. Whilst this declaration is a quote from Isaiah 61:1-2, Jesus deliberately stops short of “and the day of vengeance of our God”.
27. Compare, “The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms. And he thrust out the enemy before you and said, Destroy.” [Deut 33:27].
28. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” [John 3:17].
29. How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? …My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.” [Hos 11:8].
30. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”” [Mark 15:34].
31. “the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” [2 Thess 1:9].
32. the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence” [Gen 6:9].
33. Matt 8:12; Matt 22:13; Matt 25:30
34. Rev 20:15
35. v3 Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? v4 Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? v5 But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.” [Rom 2:3-5].
36. ““Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” [Matt 23:23 ]  Compare Micah 6:8.
37. The rock Moses struck is the site of Christ’s merciful revelation of God ,“all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.” [1 Cor 10:4].
38. v15 everyone…hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, v16 calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, v17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”” [Rev 6:15-17].
39. See especially Heb 5:7. “Never man feared death like this man.” [Luther]
40. See Deut 30:15-20 and the early Christian writings Epistle of Barnabas 18:1- 21:9; Didache 1:1- 6:2.
41. Who is always angry with God and his image e.g. Rev 12:12 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *