God of Wrath: The Center of The Universe - As Seen on Sunday
You made us so that you could love us.
We rebel when you shout to get our attention and we ignore when you whisper our names.
Forgive us for our spirit of arrogance that demands you treat us according to our standard.
We confess that your ways are much better than ours.
Help us live in such a manner.
Let's begin by saying that today's topic is quite uncomfortable. I would much rather talk about tithing and finances than to discuss a topic seems unfriendly, unfashionable, and unfathomable.
The question is often stated like this: If God is so loving how can he send people to hell? Or how can he wipe men, women, and children from the face of the earth?
How can God be both full of love and capable of displaying His wrath?
And that word...wrath.
It is an ugly word for sure.
So ugly that I haven't given much thought of what it really means. So I looked it up, specifically in the context of God's wrath. Here is the description:
And to the list, we also must add the people living in Jerusalem. For they received the full wrath of God.
What happened? Did our Loving God stop loving them?
The Problem of Pain (and wrath)
The problem with God's wrath is not that it exists, but rather that we may one day be on the receiving end of it.
When we say, "How can a loving God do such and such," perhaps we are really trying to say, "Would God really do this to me?"
As C.S. Lewis points out, man's problem with pain and wrath begins with his own misplacement. He says it like this,
We have this tendency to think that God exists for us and when something exists for us we take it for granted. We see this most accurately illustrated in children.
The whole world is theirs. Parents exist only to attend to their emotional, physical, and entertainment needs. And when those needs are being met - by their own standard, of course - sin happens.
Temper tantrums flare up, disobedience occurs, and rudeness sprouts because any attention is good attention as long as they are getting attention right now!
But these patterns of childhood grow in us and we carry them to old age. Our cries for attention evolve into cries for respect, admiration, and love.
And when we don't get them on our terms we riot. Or we rebel silently by closing ourselves off from everything and everyone in an attempt to punish others by withholding our true selves.
We so desperately want people to love us that we act out when they don't. And even if we can't explain the way we feel with words we will communicate with actions that scream "something is not right with our relationship!!!"
Something is not right in my world.
God is the Center
When we live a life in which we only exist for our own self and own purpose we, as the center of our universe will conclude that every person exists for us and our pleasure.
But God is the center of the universe, not us.
Still, what if we paused and asked ourselves this once culturally relevant question, "What if God was one of us?
If we assume that God demands our love and will do anything to force people to love him, and if he did it in the same way that we do it with the glorious temper tantrums that level kingdoms, and cause people to cease existing, then why are we shocked?
If we had all the power that God has would we not act the same way?
Tell me that you wouldn't be tempted to force people to love you, adore you, and worship you.
Because that is what sinful people would do! We want to force others to love us!
But God is not sinful. He is holy.
And if C.S. Lewis is correct, God did not make us so that we would love him (though it certainly is a benefit of being created), but God created this world so that he could love us!
We were created to be loved by God, not to be forced to love God.
Think of it this way, if our only purpose was to love God and feed his giant ego, then why would he create the ability to sin?
But if we were created to be loved, by him what better expression of love is there than forgiveness wrapped in mercy and justice?
While we humans demand that others love us on our own terms God loves us on his terms.
But now we have to go back and talk about how wiping out a city of people is an expression of love.
Love and Wrath are Linked
As we come to the final parts of this sermon, let me make one thing clear, I do not know the mind of God and I do not pretend to be able to understand his choices.
As I humbly study the scriptures I see fathomless expressions of love, patience, and forgiveness from God to his very rebellious and sinful creation.
But I also find gross acts of violence and righteous anger that shock me. Even God's ultimate expression of love and forgiveness is wrapped in sheer brutality.
As the Easter season is upon us we do well to begin daily remembering that love was wrapped in wrath.
And though I do not fully comprehend the link between God's love and wrath, I cannot deny it. Just like Jeremiah and the Israelites, there was no denying God's wrath was poured out on them.
There was also no denying that their own sin was the cause of it. The priest and prophets were sinners that led the people into sin.
They broke their covenant with God. While they were unfaithful God remained faithful. He kept his promise to punish the sins of their lives.
But the wrath came after hundreds of chances to turn back, to repent, and to reconcile. The wrath came after hundreds of years of wicked kings desecrating God's name and the religious spirits of the people.
The wrath came because it was promised but it was delayed because of God's grace and love.
And now I must confess something else...
I am not sure what makes me more uncomfortable, God's wrath or his grace.
Wrath in revenge I understand. An eye for an eye is easily grasped. Hurt people hurting others makes sense. I have an ability to grasp a God that pours out wrath on those he hates because I have felt the yearning to do the same.
What I don't have the ability to grasp is that God loves his children so much that he would rather cause them pain in order that they may return and be made new because reconciliation with God brought through temporary physical pain is better than the eternal loss of the soul.
Removing the heart of stone is painful. But the promise of being given a heart of flesh in which God himself writes himself on it is so much better. And while we hate the pain of wrath and judgement there is no doubt that we can't ignore it.
Sometimes the wake-up call is the strongest grace of all. Even if it is the hardest truth to understand.
The EC Challenge
How do you feel about the wrath of God? Are you like some Christians who think that the wrath of God was completely satisfied when Jesus died on the cross? Therefore, we have nothing to worry about anymore. God won't pour out this wrath again. Or are you the type of Christian that believes that the slightest sin of the smallest amount will send you tumbling down to an eternity of brimstone and fire?