“And He looked around them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart.” Mark 3:5
Few topics are more misunderstood than God’s anger. We tend to make it very human-like and want to think that God’s anger must be like our anger. This happens in a couple of common ways.
When I hear or read someone addressing the subject, I often sense that just beneath the surface is the author’s justification for his or her own anger. Thus, someone speaking about “7 Things the Lord Hates” (from Proverbs 6:16-19) has probably been the recent victim of haughty eyes, a lying tongue, a man who sows discord, etc. We feel justified in “hating what God hates” and want to let everyone know how we feel.
Related to this passive-aggressive theology is the chronic “indignation at sin.” This kind of anger is purely self-righteous, with the angry person adeptly identifying targets around him. Identifying sinners is no real challenge. We’re all over the place. And if you want to find a reason to justify your anger then the next person you meet will provide plenty of ammunition. Some people seem to want to be angry. I truly believe some Christians look forward to the second coming of Christ (with all the judgments and bowls of wrath) because they don’t much care for the tone of the first coming.
But is our anger really like God’s anger? Because we live in an angry age, we should spend a few moments thinking about what makes God angry, and Jesus provides us a clear example.
The passage for this week’s GraceWaves comes from the story of Jesus’ healing a man with a withered hand on a Sabbath. The Pharisees were watching Him carefully to see if He would violate the Sabbath rules by performing the miracle. So the scene has the feel of a set-up, and Jesus knew it, and it made Him angry.
We should note first that Jesus did get angry. He was not anger-less. The inability or unwillingness to feel anger is no virtue. Anger has a place in our lives. Jesus was not “meek and mild,” but challenging, confident, and willing to become sternly angry with opponents (as in this episode) and disciples (in several episodes). The Gospel of Mark particularly shows us this side of Jesus’ personality. He was no cringing sparrow of a man, but more like C. S. Lewis’ lion.
So did He get angry at sin? Of course He did, but at the same time He was a friend to sinners! In fact, He was so well-liked by sinners and spent so much time with them that His opponents called Him a drunkard and a glutton. Make no mistake, Jesus came because of our sin problem and died for our sins. He did not wave off the issue as if it made no difference. His solution was to give His life for our sins, not just became angry about them.
The real source of Jesus’ anger, especially clear in this passage, is “hardness of heart.” The Pharisees who conceived the trap were unwilling to lay aside traditions and see the work of God before them. More than that, they used their legalism to object to Jesus’ healing a poor man.
Plainly throughout the gospels, Jesus’ anger is aimed at the most religious people of the day. As a religious person, this observation has always given me pause. I can bloviate, pontificate, and fulminate myself into a storm of anger, but am I angry because of my own offended nature? Do I long to become an agent of God’s condemnation and even punishment? Do I use religion as a justification for my anger? Honestly, I can be very religious, and I can very wrong when it comes to anger.
The key to “good anger” is the word grieved. Jesus was grieved at their hardness of heart. The word also means sorrow. Jesus was saddened by what He saw in the Pharisees. As the Son of God He knew what man could become, and He saw what these religious people had become. It saddened Him. His anger was not conceived in a fury to punish but more the result of seeing people He loved go down the wrong road. He saw the damage they did to others and to themselves. The Pharisees were merciless and censorious. Jesus came to give grace, and the people who were most “wired” to hear and respond turned their backs and even plotted His death (3:6).
So be very careful with anger. Your goal is not to be without anger, but don’t let it be self-righteous in any way. You’re wired for grace, to receive it and give it. The next time you feel the fury stirring, simply ask yourself a basic question: “would God be angry in this situation?” If the answer is no, then leave it alone.
Dr. Terry Ellis
October 26, 2014