You’re driving down the road, listening to your music and going through the list of things that you have to do later in the day. Suddenly, someone cuts in front of you into your lane, with no turn signal, causing you to have to tap or even slam on your brakes. What’s your first reaction? Chances are there isn’t a smile on your face and there’s probably some choice words floating around in your mind. Anyone relate?
This is a mild example but the reality is that when we as humans feel wronged by someone we almost instantaneously feel some degree of anger creep in. Even more so, we get angry when someone we love is wronged by another person. Whether it is justified or not, it is there and more often then not it stays longer than it should. I know I’m not alone in this.
Then the real problem comes. Not only do we then need to deal with our own anger but we also project how human emotion/behavior works onto how God works. “If it is so easy for someone to fly off the handle at me, God must feel the same way.” “So-and-so did x-y-z to me and I can’t believe them! I deserved better!” “They went too far. I’ll never forgive them!” “But they hurt me so I have a right to be angry!” “No one hurts my family/friend and gets away with it!” Whether you give into these kinds of thoughts or not, they at least come to your mind.
Today at church we were looking at the life of the prophet Jonah. While the sermon was on second chances and Jonah’s stubbornness for God’s instruction on his life, a specific verse somewhat unrelated seemed to jump off the page at me.
When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way,God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it. But it displeased Jonah exceedingly,and he was angry. And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” And the Lord said, “Do you do well to be angry?” Jonah 3:10-4:4
Jonah was running away from God out of stubbornness. After he finally obeyed God, Jonah found himself overwhelmed with such anger because God showed mercy to the sinful people God sent him to minister to. In fact he says he’d basically rather die in his anger than go on living and knowing the grace God showed the people of Nineveh (they were kind of a bad bunch of people). Ironically enough, Jonah is angry about the fact that God himself is slow to anger, but instead is gracious, merciful, and –my favorite part– abounding in steadfast love.
When I read this several things stand out but the two that speak the most: Who God is and How I am to live my life.
-Who God is:: There a nine verses in the Old Testament that describe God as being “slow to anger” and eight of those verses follow it up with “abounding in steadfast love”. The thing is that I think as humans we take that in two different strides.
In one lane we see what we’ve done in our lives as too much, too bad, too hurtful that God must be forever angry with us because, after all, everyone else in our lives is angry with us. Therefore we have a difficult time believing that God is gracious and merciful and loves us. We project the faults of how humans relate to us onto God and can’t seem to move past our own shame and guilt.
The other lane is that we read this verse and make light of it. “Of course God is slow to anger and loves me…he’s God and that’s what he’s supposed to do.” But if we understood the FULL weight of what our sin does to God’s heart we would look at that statement MUCH differently. Every time I chose my way over God’s, every time I give in to my flesh and my selfishness I might as well be driving the hammer down on the nails in Jesus hands and feet. Jesus DIED for me; for my sins; for every time I “screw up” and/or choose my way. As his Father, God would have EVERY reason to be angry with me because it is MY SIN-ME that Jesus died for. It’s like me saying, “I know you kid died because of me and I say thank you, but the very thing he died for…I’m going to keep doing it!”
God has EVERY right to be angry with me when I mess up, whether I do something deliberately or accidentally. But he isn’t. He looks at me with grace in his eyes and loves me. And his love isn’t just any kind of love, it’s steadfast; it is a loving kindness. And it is abounding! That means not only is he gracious, merciful, and loving but he does this all more than we need, more than we deserve. He is constantly pouring out his love on his children, on me. Now it does say he is slow to anger meaning he does get angry. But God is a just god and so is his anger. And while he does get angry, it does not last.
-How I am to live my life:: I think the second thing is pretty cut and dry but just as important. If I am to live my life like Christ, according to God’s word, then I am to also be slow to anger and abounding in love towards the people in my life.
James 1:19, 20 says “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear,slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”
That does not mean you should never get angry. It doesn’t mean that when you are angry that you aren’t justified in that anger. But it is easy to get angry quickly and then to stay angry. The truth is though that you have to move on, past that anger and seek God’s wisdom in your actions/emotions going forward. There are many more themes that stem from moving beyond anger (i.e. forgiveness, turning the other cheek, healing, etc.) but I’ll stop there.
We are living in a world right now where there is so much to be angry about. I get it. It’s easy to look at the world and people through the lenses of anger. And it’s easy to believe that God looks at you through the lenses of anger too. However, my heart is that you would see who God is and how he wants us to live our life. See how LOVING God really is. He doesn’t stew in anger and allow that to fester. He lavishes his love and grace and mercy on us and because of that, we are to extend that to others. And by HIS power in us, we can do that!