Thursday, June 22, 2017

God’s Anger is Not Forever

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The LORD is compassionate and gracious,
    slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse,
    nor will He harbor His anger forever;
He does not treat us as our sins deserve
    or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
    so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
(Psalm 103:8-12)
There are several striking things in this brief passage, and they are perfectly revealed to us in Jesus Christ. First, we see that the Lord is full of compassion and grace. There is nothing God has ever done or ever will do that is lacking in either of these. God, in his holiness and justice, always deals with us according to mercy. God overflows with love toward all, even to those who have turned away and consider God as their enemy. The Father loves them nonetheless. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said,
You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:43-45)
What of God’s anger, then? The psalm writer tells us that the Lord is “slow to anger.” God is longsuffering toward us, exceedingly patient with us. Alongside God’s patience, there are a couple of other things the psalm writer would have us understand about God’s anger. The first is that, however we might think about the anger of the Lord, it is always for the sake of God’s love toward us all. See in these verses how it is couched in the middle of God’s compassion, grace and abounding love. God’s anger is always conditioned by his faithful love toward us. His anger is not at us but at sin and evil and darkness — how we break vital relationship not only with God but also with each other, with creation, and even within our own beings. By such dark ways, we do harm to others and to creation as well as to ourselves.

Second, however we might think about the anger of the Lord, the psalm writer tells us this: It will not last forever. It is never God’s last word about anyone. For the anger of the Lord does not come to condemn us but to deliver us. For God is forgiving towards us and does not treat us according to our sins. He does not hold them against us — he removes them from us! Such is God’s love and mercy toward us.

The people whom the psalm writer primarily has in mind as the object of God’s faithful and enduring love are the people of Israel. God made covenant with them and, through Moses, showed them wonderful deliverance. The Lord, “made known his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel” (v. 7). But in Jesus Christ, God reveals that this same love is not just for Old Testament Israel but for all the world. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:16-17). “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19).

This calls for faith, for it is through faith, turning from our own darkness to the light of Christ, that we embrace this great reconciliation, come to know our forgiveness and find our true freedom in God. But if we embrace the darkness, the light of Christ will seem to us like the anger of God instead of the love that it is, for light is God’s judgment on the darkness. The anger of God will not last forever, not because God changes in his disposition toward us — God is ever and always disposed toward us in love, for God is love — but because our disposition toward God changes and we finally see Divine Love for who he is.