Feelings and Faith: Studying the Character of God
- Tuesday, June 09, 2009
Even when his own people were on the rebellion treadmill, his love for them flowed over in a parental grief. “They put away the foreign gods from among them and served the LORD; and He could bear the misery of Israel no longer” (Judg. 10:16, NASB). The father heart of God is unveiled repeatedly: “How often they rebelled against him in the wilderness and grieved him in the desert!” (Ps. 78:40). “Again and again they tempted God, and pained the Holy One of Israel” (Ps. 78:41, NASB). Just so God appeals to his people through Paul: “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Eph. 4:30; cf. Isa. 63:10).
There are also numerous texts where God expresses his grief and pain in terms of a husband whose heart has been broken by an unfaithful wife, for example, in Ezekiel 6:9: “I have been broken over their whoring heart that has departed from me and over their eyes that go whoring after their idols.”12 Those who have suffered the awful reality of knowing that their spouse has been with someone else sexually will immediately recognize that the language God chooses carries with it the deepest emotional pain. As a pastor, I have seen the endless stream of tears and the trembling hands and have heard the quivering voice of a soul shattered into a million pieces because that one-flesh union has been violated. Another person, an outsider, has been in that sacred place reserved by vow and covenant only for the spouse. It is a violent violation. It is a cruel act, which goes far beyond the anatomy of intercourse. It is crushing. God uses this very language to give us a picture into his heart.
In these passages, God is grieved. He expresses sorrow, even pain. He comes to a point where he can no longer bear the misery of his people. He is grieved over his covenant people’s rebellion. He is devastated by their infidelity. He is wounded as they give him a vote of no confidence in the wilderness. This language does not take away from God’s sovereignty or immutability. To interpret these emotional terms in such a way that detracts from or nullifies his sovereignty or foreknowledge is to violate the whole counsel of God. Nevertheless, to interpret these strong emotional words as figures of speech with no emotional reality is to drain them of their meaning and force. The God of the Bible knows what it is to sorrow and grieve.
God Experiences Anger, Wrath, and Detestation
Anger management is in. Blow your cork at work and you will find yourself in a class designed to help people control their anger.
Although anger is a common and harmful sin, anger in and of itself is not sinful. In fact, our capacity to be angry is a reflection of the image of God in us. Unfortunately, we rarely know righteous anger. Thankfully, righteous anger is the only anger God knows.
God demonstrates his righteous care for the underprivileged by becoming angry when they are oppressed: “You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless” (Ex. 22:22–24).
He does not hide his detestation for evildoers, liars, and the violent. “The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers. You destroy those who speak lies; the LORD abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man” (Ps. 5:5–6). “God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day” (Ps. 7:11).
His hatred of certain sins is something he refuses to hold close to his vest:
For forty years I loathed that generation
and said, “They are a people who go astray in their heart,
and they have not known my ways.” (Ps. 95:10)
There are six things that the Lord hates,
seven that are an abomination to him:
haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
and hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked plans,
feet that make haste to run to evil,
a false witness who breathes out lies,
and one who sows discord among brothers. (Prov. 6:16–19)
“For I hate divorce,” says the LORD, the God of Israel, “and him who covers his garment with wrong,” says the LORD of hosts. “So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously.” (Mal. 2:16, NASB)
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