Anger. The more I pondered this topic for a sermon, the more confusing it got. Scripture exhorts us to not let anger become a sin and to “turn the other cheek.” But the Old Testament God got angry all the time and even Jesus turned over the tables of the money-changers in the temple. We seem to be getting mixed messages. And the more I looked, the more I found contradictions. Before I could even deal with the topic of our anger, I had to deal with the Biblical contradictions. Hence, this sermon became part one, and in two weeks, we’ll have “Anger Management, Part 2.”
Think of all the differing messages of anger in Scripture. God gets angry at Adam and Eve and throws them out of the Garden of Eden. God sends the great flood to kill off everyone but Noah and his family because humanity was so evil. The primary modus operandi in the Old Testament was “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” God strikes Uzzah dead simply for touching the Ark of the Covenant when he tries to keep it from falling. The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were so wicked that God smote them. There are many more examples, but then on the other side of that we have Jesus telling us to love our enemies and love our neighbors as ourselves. The Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” has it’s roots in the laws of Moses.
In my research I found an article in Christianity Today in which the author assures us that if God got angry, it was a for a perfectly good reason. Sure, he said, these might be tough passages, but we should study them and understand them so that we wouldn’t be embarrassed if someone confronted us about them. His bottom line was, “Yahweh gets mad to protect his law, his honor, and his relationship with his people. Would you want to follow a God that wasn’t passionate about his relationship with you?” Really? This is why people joke about lightning striking them, and as far as I know either God really doesn’t work this way, or God isn’t a very good aim.
So, how about looking at this from a more rational perspective. All ancient Gods personified people, their behaviors, faults, actions. Just look at the stories of the Greek Gods. They were always getting angry, starting wars, committing adultery, kidnapping people, blessing those they favored, falling in love, and seeking revenge. Just like humans. Yahweh was no different. Yahweh was blessing old couples with babies, taking sides in a battle, sending people into exile, striking the first-born dead, getting jealous, proclaiming love for his people, anointing kings, or consorting with the goddess Asherah (go ahead, ask me about the temples condemned in the OT because Asherah and Yahweh were worshiped together.)
In addition, ancient people believed that all things that happened were because God either favored them or was angry at them. The Bible was not a historically factual document. It was written by many men, all trying to share their experiences and understanding of Yahweh.
By the time of Jesus, we see a shift in God. Now there is more emphasis on God’s love and constant presence than there is on God’s judgment and wrath (though there is still some of that). I believe the shift signaled a growing spiritual maturity and a very slow evolution in spiritual matters.
Two thousand years after Jesus we better have grown a little more in this department. In fact, psychology today tells us that emotional, physical and spiritual violence is detrimental to a person. Seems like that should’ve been a no-brainer, but some people won’t listen until it is a formal study. Violence is bad. Violence is almost always a result of anger. God and Jesus are not exempt from this. Divine anger and violence is not acceptable and is completely contradictory to an all-loving, all-forgiving Divinity. I simply can’t do the mental gymnastics to make that work in my head. And I shouldn’t have to.
It was OK for God to kill disobedient people? No. If God is that powerful, then why not just make the bad people good? The stories are to justify our own behavior toward other people. We use God’s name to justify vilifying another religion or race or culture. I’m sick of it.
What would happen to Christianity if God were no longer viewed as an angry/punishing God? With no threat of hell. With no demand for a human sacrifice to right the sins of humanity. What then is our relationship with God? What then is our relationship with ourselves and with one another?
Then we will come to a more mature relationship with the Holy One where we do not use God’s name to justify violent acts or words. We will take responsibility for our actions and the consequences of our actions. We will not justify our anger by saying we were created in the image of an angry God. And perhaps we will even recognize that psychology and spirituality can not be divided. Perhaps we’ll learn that there are healthy ways to deal with our emotions.
And this is where we’ll pick up again in two weeks.