If it matters what we think about God, and it does, then it matters that we are intentional about understanding as much as we can about Him. There is a potent and mysterious line of teaching in the Bible that points to an inextricable link between our knowledge of God and our own spiritual growth. And it should be noted that in the language of the Scriptures knowledge is gained through interaction more than it is through analysis. That is to say there is value in studying about God, but there is equal and greater value in being with God. Perhaps the best case scenario is not to choose one of those two, but to study and ponder God while being with Him.
Inevitably, as we attempt to know the Lord better, we will be faced with the fact that He is not without anger and wrath. I want to push as hard as I can into the grace, mercy, and love of God; but I do a disservice to His character as well as my own integrity if I don’t take time to meditate on the attributes He possesses that are, perhaps, more difficult to deal with. I speak as a Christian, and as far as I can tell from the Bible God deals differently with those who are “His people” than He does those who are not. I understand that this sounds like an exclusive claim of “you’re in / you’re out”, and while I don’t categorize people like that in social interaction, there is a reality to this fact. Matthew 25 is fairly clear that in the end there will be those to whom Jesus will say, “I never knew you”. I am more concerned with how God deals with His people because I am one of His people and because my first concern for those who are not connected in relationship with God is not to wonder what God might “do to them”, but to offer an explanation of what it means to be His, to have him dwelling in and with our hearts.
I would be foolish to build an entire belief or doctrine off of one text but as I was reading about Moses’ interaction with God in the first chapters of the book of Exodus I was once again surprised by something I had never consciously paid attention to. You can read Moses’ objections to his own calling in chapters 3 and 4 of Exodus, and by the time you’ve made it to chapter 4 you’ve basically gotten used to a pattern and flow in the conversation. God is going to tell Moses to do something and Moses is going to come up with a reason why he either shouldn’t or can’t do it. God had been remarkably patient up until the middle of chapter 4. I have a 5 year old daughter who seems to have some very Moses-like qualities. Regardless of what I say she has the amazing ability to create, invent, or conjure reasons why I am either wrong, why she cannot carry out my instructions, or why this just isn’t a good time for her to do whatever I’m asking. I can attest that this has been a season of frustration for me as a father. I am not particularly interested in the excuses of a 5 year old regarding the validity or timing of getting her own juice, going to bed, or the benefits/detriments of teaching her 1 year old brother to jump on the bed. But she continues to offer her opinions, assuming that I have missed the real essence of the situation; essences that apparently only a rising kindergartner can effectively illuminate while watching My Little Pony.
All of that to say this, I – and every other parent – understand just a little bit of God’s frustration here.
So, the loving God gets angry. The sovereign Lord of all things, the Creator of the universe, the strongest, fiercest, most powerful force in existence gets mad. And here’s what happens:
Exodus 4:14-16 (NRSV)
14 Then the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses and he said, “What of your brother Aaron the Levite? I know that he can speak fluently; even now he is coming out to meet you, and when he sees you his heart will be glad. 15 You shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth; and I will be with your mouth and with his mouth, and will teach you what you shall do. 16 He indeed shall speak for you to the people; he shall serve as a mouth for you, and you shall serve as God for him.
There is really no need for me to break this down very much, the point here is simple. When God gets angry at His children His response is, at least sometimes, not lightning or fire but help.God asks Moses to do something, Moses makes excuses, God gets angry, and as punishment the angry God hires Moses an assistant. Curious? Indeed.
Not once in all of the interactions I’ve ever had with authority, nor in the interactions I’ve had as an authority figure, has this ever been the result. Teachers would give me assignments in school, if I didn’t complete them and offered instead some ridiculous excuse I can’t recall one time when they looked at me and said, “you know what, your excuses are senseless, let me get you someone to help you do your work.” Does that even sound right? Once again God refuses to fit into our neat and tidy categories, He rejects our attempts to tame Him. If God is anything He is disorienting to our dogmatic pragmatisms and narrow-minded assumptions. When we are on “holy ground” we would be wise to kneel, either to keep our balance or at least to have a shorter distance to fall when He gushes grace all around us that we are not expecting.
It should come as a great encouragement to some of you who have followed Jesus as best you can and still failed miserably that when you are God’s, when you’ve given your life to Him, His anger toward you is not going to lead to your destruction. When your excuses and dodges have brought God to be frustrated with you it may mean, incredibly, that He’s not going to send you to Hell, but He’s going to send you help. Isn’t it true that centuries later, as the world had only gotten worse, when God’s own people had time and time again rejected Him, forgotten Him, mocked Him, and abused Him – at that time God Himself walked into the picture through a little animal shelter in Bethlehem? “While we were still sinners Christ died for us”, said Paul; and maybe Moses would have said it this way, “at the moment I made God the most angry He sent me help.”
Friends, if you are His child don’t be afraid of Him…even when He’s angry. His plans are not those of destruction, but of promise and hope. He doesn’t leave His kids alone to fend for themselves, He has sent His Spirit and the community of believers that make up His body to stand with us. And if I might add this, if this is how He treats us when He is angry, can you imagine what is in store for those who will obey and submit?