The supermarket has a unique power to drain the very life from a person. The noise and the lists and the lines, not to mention the endless possibilities for a kid to grab something or beg for a treat on every single aisle—these all conspire to make the grocery store a wretched experience for many parents. I have children; I can testify to this truth.
I recently encountered one beleaguered mom who cracked under the strain. Her daughter, the oldest of the three in tow, had apparently badgered her mother relentlessly. The woman’s eyes drooped, and she shuffled along behind the cart, attempting to find a jug of milk while her daughter ran circles, grabbed boxes, and shouted questions. Mom finally snapped and yelled, “No! Stop! Stop all of it. Stop being so awful!” The girl looked stricken. Her eyes fell, and she silently followed her mother down the aisle, though at a distance.
Who knows the backstory for this poor woman? Whatever it is, certainly no parents in their right mind would cast stones. However, this weary mom’s reaction (which I’m guessing she later mended with apologies and hugs) reflects how many of us believe God feels and acts toward us. God, we imagine, has patience that lasts only so far, but when irritation builds, He snaps. God’s had enough. God simply can’t take our foolishness, ignorance, and rebellion anymore. God blows His top.
Our suspicion is unfounded. If the action of Jesus Christ tells us anything, it assures us that God’s core being exudes unquenchable and (to the human mind) unfathomable love, patience, and forgiveness. As the psalmist says, He is “slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness” (Ps. 103:8). Jesus gladly surrendered to the humility of human existence by taking on flesh and to the agony of the cross as demonstration of the fact that divine love has no limits. Our idiocy and our rebellion do not catch the Lord off guard. Rather, they are the reason Jesus came to us. Our sinfulness is the reason we have this gift called the gospel. In other words, He expects our foolishness and meets it with kindness. God does not blow His top.
Receiving such tremendously good news, some assume this to mean God’s love is one-dimensional. They think God—because He is love—can only offer a grandfatherly smile, even as we do damage to ourselves and rip our world asunder. Of course, a weak, benign inaction is no love at all.
A number of years ago, an older man sat me down and told me in straightforward terms that I was acting selfishly and harming someone I loved. He did not berate me or assault my dignity, but neither did he pat me on the back and dish out sweet words that would have done me (and the person I was harming) absolutely no good. Love required words that would sting. These words were not easy to hear, but they were true and they brought healing. I righted the wrong, and years of joy have been the fruit.
The apostle Paul also offered loving, stinging words. Writing to Christians living in the city of Colossae, he admonished them to live up to their identity as followers of the Jesus Way, to live courageously into the true life and true humanity the Lord had for them. Paul instructed the Colossians to “put to death” those destructive remnants of their old life: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, rage, dishonesty, malice and greed. “Because of these,” Paul said, “the wrath of God is coming” (Col. 3:5-9 NIV).
Wrath? How does that square with love?
Paul understood that the Lord is not interested in merely implementing a new and improved moral code. Instead, He wants to create an entirely new way of being human, a new life created by the generative, stunning truth that we have been “raised with Christ” (v. 1). Jesus willingly stumbled to a cross and triumphantly walked out of a grave in order to establish the kingdom of God and to inaugurate the life this kingdom creates. Everything that had been ruined by sin (and all the resulting devastation) must be undone. However, if humanity is to be restored and the disastrous effects of sin righted, this means that our status quo will be disrupted. If God’s kingdom is to come on earth as it already is in heaven, then the ways of our world will be upended.
God has moved into our world to heal us, to restore us, to enact an entirely mercy, everything changes. Thankfully, God always insists we leave behind whatever dehumanizes us, whatever wrecks goodness, whatever yields selfishness and evil rather than joy, love, and life.
I have a friend who gives her heart away boldly. This courageous posture places her in a vulnerable position because it means she will inevitably endure others’ misunderstanding, rejection, and immaturity. In a recent conversation with her pastor, she shared how she would soon have to enter another of these vulnerable spaces. God was asking her to give herself freely, and she knew it would be costly. Her pastor asked why, and she explained how past experience had proven that, in this venue, she would be dismissed and treated with disdain. As my friend began to recount one of these stories, her pastor interrupted. “I’m sorry—I have to stop you right there. I have to tell you that I’m angry. I’m very angry.”
In that moment, the pastor’s anger on my friend’s behalf was the most righteous and healing action she could have experienced. His anger was not at odds with love. His anger protected and enacted it.
God’s wrath, defined by Jesus Christ’s self-giving sacrifice, declares to us that divine love is both powerful and unrelenting. In fact, God’s love is so fierce that He will not allow those things that destroy us to go unchecked. He will not smile in silence while we demean ourselves or harm others. Our Father gets angry, and this anger is a profound gift; He does not sit idly by when love is slighted and violence or injustice erupts. God’s love is not at odds with His wrath. Rather, His love requires that wrath. The great scandal is not God’s fierce love but the remarkable ways we remain lethargic and timid in response.
However, the kind Father’s wrath is not an explosive fit of rage, like the woman in the grocery market. God’s wrath does not go on benders, making our relationship a place of fear and instability. God’s anger protects His love. His bold, unrelenting action on our behalf assures us that He is strong enough to heal and deliver us. We can rest in the security derived from knowing that divine love is not timid or tepid but so fierce it will never go silent, so staunch it will never break.
by Winn Collier