5 his anger is but for a moment;
We don’t like to talk about God’s anger. Rightly so. There have been generations governed by fear that, if they stepped out of line, God would be there to whack them down. The all seeing eye, watching, waiting, ruler in hand. And even if some, convinced of their own righteousness, think they have no reason to fear, they have been willing to use it as a tool for governing others. It is good to leave such behind. It is not consistent with the scriptures that tell of a god who waits to be gracious (Isaiah 30:18).
But can it be that God is not angry when school children are gunned down, when workers are crushed in a poorly constructed building, when communities are poisoned by industrial waste, when tyrants rule by terror and armies rape and pillage? Can it be that God is not angry with the authors and bystanders of death camps and gulags and killing fields? Can it be that God is not angry at the infected blankets given to native peoples or the slaughter of their women and children? Is God unaffected by torture or human trafficking? Is God unmoved by young girls forced into prostitution? Do we really want a God who does not get angry?
The question is not whether God gets angry, but what God does with his anger. Same question for us, of course, and generally what we do with our anger is not pleasant. Yet we feel justified in expressing our anger but horrified should God do so.
I would be horrified if God gave vent to his anger – not because God has not the right, but because there is much for which we should be afraid, starting with starving children. Lazarus at the gate.
5 For his anger is but for a moment;
his favor is for a lifetime.
The point is not that God’s anger is short-lived and his love eternal – that sounds too much like an abusive parent – but that God’s anger is governed by his favor. Love governs wrath.
What God does with his anger is Jesus. God does not strike back. God does not strike down. God steps forward.
We have this message in the story of Noah, too, when God steps back from his anger and hangs up his archer’s bow vowing he will not make war on humanity, despite the fact “that every imagination of the human heart is only evil continually.” Though evil follows the flood, God steps forward with a promise to Abraham to bring blessing to the world.
No sentence is more powerful in scripture than the one Jesus speaks to his torturers: “Father forgive them, they know not what they do” – not meaning that these soldiers don’t know they’re killing someone important, but that we don’t see what has become of the human spirit: that we can mock and spit and pound nails and leave someone to die slowly while the ravens peck out their eyes. We do not know that we have lost God and our humanity.
But God steps forward. God has hung up his weapons of war. God has shouldered humanity’s ugliness. When Jesus commands us to love our enemies, he knows of what he speaks. It is the choice God made.