A meditation on anger
I've been meaning to write this one for a long time now, but, well, life happens.
A few months back I was on a retreat. It was a great time. Lots of new people, lots of drinking. Not so much new info, but free room, board, and drinks.
There was a gentleman on the retreat, who's name I now forget. Long story short, he was married. Had two kids. Seemed like a really nice guy. One night, while drinking and partying, this gentleman got mauled by two girls on the retreat. They were shamelessly hitting on him. They knew he was married, but didn't seem to care. One was all over him. He resisted at first, but he was loaded and eventually stopped resisting so hard. He did not make out with or sleep with either girl. I ended up walking him back to his cabin, and then returning to the party.
The point of this story is what was going on in my head during the incident.
I was angry. Furiously, unbelievably, angry. Angrier than I have been in a very long time. So angry it was hard to breath. Granted I had been drinking, a lot, but I am not an angry drunk.
My anger perplexed me.
But as I walked, holding my anger out to God, it started to make some sense.
I was angry because these girls knew this man was married. That he had children. And they did not see the harm this behaviour could bring to the family. From their point of view, it was harmless fun. But in a larger perspective, it wasn't.
They guy was feeling fucked up about the whole thing on the walk home. He was guilty and distressed. More, he had to go see his wife the next day, feeling those feelings, and decide if he a) wanted to just forget about it and move on, waiting for the feelings to die, or b) tell her.
I was angry because this guy wasn't being more firm in his no. He was risking harming himself and his family for some drunken fun.
Now, it's quite possible that I was misreading the whole situation, and that his wife wouldn't have been distressed by this at all. But in the situation, it seemed pretty intense to me, and I'm pretty sure his wife would have minded.
Actions stretch beyond the immediate moment, often in ways we cannot see. One important lesson I garnered from this.
More importantly, I got a perspective on God's anger that was new, and strangely comforting.
I was angry, furious really, because I liked this guy and could see how the actions he was getting involved in could hurt him, his wife, and his kids. Anger arose out of concern for him.
I think God's anger is like this in a sense. God loves us. Madly. Totally and completely, without reservation or qualification. God also sees perfectly. He sees the way(s) action stretches out into this world, the cause and effect if you will. I think this is why a loving God can be furiously angry.
Sin threatens us. Personally and corporately. There is a harm to the person caused by sin, and a harm to the community. I think this is why God hates sin. Because it brings more pain and suffering into this world. And because we willingly choose it. We none of us live alone. Our actions stretch beyond ourselves into this world, in turn affecting the actions and choices of others, and thereby directly, to a greater or lesser extent, shifting this world of ours either toward or away from love.
I think this is important. Being made in God's image, human beings have a creative power over the world we inhabit. Through our actions, we birth love, or suffering.
And God, being love, and loving us madly, when He sees us threatened, when He sees us willingly choose to bring pain into this world, when we very directly cause this world to slide away from Him, however minutely, and Creation becomes further wounded, becomes furious. His love gives birth to anger.
So there I was, having this intense vision of how action pours through creation, giving rise to life or death, and I got a little, well, self-righteous. I thought, "I get how God can be angry. Anger can be righteous. Anger can be holy and good."
And God said, "you're also angry because you wanted to sleep with that guy too. You're jealous. You're frustrated that you won't behave like those girls."
And God told me to forgive the girls. Because they were blind to the harms they were causing. They simply didn't see them. And to forgive the guy. And to forgive myself. Because all of us were blind. None of us see perfectly. We all screw up. We all choose evil sometimes, not knowing it is evil. And sometimes, we choose evil knowingly.
God reminded me to love the girls, and the guy, and myself. Because if I got all holier than thou, they wouldn't want to talk to me. Because if I screamed at the guy, he'd feel like shit, and wouldn't want to look at me. Because if I beat myself up, I wouldn't have a lot of life left to share.
And as God let me see His anger in a new way, this made sense. God's anger, being birthed in love, ends in love. His anger is aimed at the pain caused by sin and wants, above everything else, to remove it and to destroy the cause of that pain. God isn't interested in destroying the suffering person, but in calling them back toward love.
God takes no pleasure in the death of a man, but would rather that he repent and live. (Ezekiel 33:11)
And so it is, I think, that a perfectly loving God can be angry, and that anger can be holy, just and righteous. And so it is that a perfectly flawed human can be angry, and be judgmental, proud and erroneous. And there is no contradiction.
This was a powerful experience for me. I no longer fear God's anger. I used to loathe the thought of judgment. I still balk at the doctrine of Hell. But I do not fear God's anger any longer. God's anger is birthed in love, and ends in love. It arises out of witnessing His loved ones threatened, and ends on the cross. Grace is cataclysmically powerful.
Grace, the broken body of Jesus, was love ending anger. It is a scream to us all, to look, to really look, at what we are doing. To see in the broken body of Jesus the wages of sin, to see the wounds we cause the innocent. God's anger, born in love, does not seek to destroy the object of that love, but to call it away from that which destroys it, and destroys others.
The cross then is a call. It is a foreshadowing. It says, "this is what you are creating, and where you will end up". Not because God has chosen to inflict punishment on us, but because we, through our own actions, give birth to the evil that will consume us.
And the cross is where that evil dies. It is love destroying the source of the threat to the object of that love. For in the cross, in the broken body of Jesus, we see the prince of this world judged and the powers of darkness openly mocked. We see God taking judgment on Himself and offering a new beginning to the whole creation. We see Jesus, in His resurrection, foreshadowing the restoration of the whole creation.
And we see a blessed challenge: having witnessed the cross, where love birthed anger was quenched in love, we are called to leave off from lives that give birth to suffering, to put off the judgment and anger that died on that cross, and to take up the love that is willing to die to save strangers that despise it and live it out in this world.
And, in case anyone feels a little overwhelmed by that, to start by receiving God's immense love for yourself, and with it the knowledge that He is patiently leading you toward unimaginable glory one day at a time.