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The Role of Anger and Judgment in the Work of Love: A Christian Perspective

Sometimes we Christians are a bit arrogant about the anger of God. We may say, ‘It’s the Old Testament that has an angry, judgemental God. Our God is loving and compassionate and kind.’

There are many stories of divine intervention in a judging way in the Hebrew scriptures.

  • the banishment of the first humans from Eden,
  • the destruction of the world by flood,
  • the delivery of slaves out of Egypt,

Judaism, Confucianism, Islam, Sikhism, Buddhism, Hinduism, African traditional religions all have teachings that see humans being divinely punished for bad behaviour.

There is a common theme:

  • a nation should be obedient to God's covenant and God's messengers, give reverence to Heaven, and present honor and support to sages and religious teachers.
  • a nation should promote the welfare of the people, ruling them with justice and benevolence.

Christians believe we have been adopted into the covenantal relationship between God and the people of Israel. We are also a people who believe that God has a plan for God’s children and intervenes in the world.

But we don’t like God’s anger, unless it is directed elsewhere. Who would? The ancient people of Israel were a lot more receptive to God delivering them out of slavery by defeating Pharoah’s army than they were when the judgement was coming their way through the prophet Jeremiah.

Poor old Jeremiah was attacked by his brothers, beaten and put into stocks, imprisoned, threatened with death, thrown into a cistern and opposed as a false prophet.

And for what? For predicting that they would be destroyed from the north for worshipping other gods.

Learning about God from the Potter

God sent Jeremiah down to the potter’s house. As the potter kneaded a shapeless lump of clay, pumped the wheel with his foot, bringing it to life, slapped the clay onto the wheel, and then poured water on it before beginning to mold the clay by hand, caressing it into a shape, judging it’s formation, breaking it down again and reforming it until it was pleasing to hand and eye.

The potter has a plan for the clay. Even in the shapeless form it starts out in, the potter ‘sees’ a finished pot, the texture, the shape, the colour -- even perhaps the use it will be put to.

The true potter loves the clay. Ah such potential! But in the short term, the clay doesn’t resemble the plan. Things go wrong, the clay resists the plan, and so the hands of the potter break down the pot and begin again, molding, nudging the pot back into the plan.

Think about a time in your life as a son or daughter.

  • Do you remember a parent’s anger when you did something that was dishonest, hurtful to self?
  • Did you ever do something intentionally hurtful to a brother or sister?
  • Do you remember your parent’s anger?

Lots of times we remember it as ‘he loved her better’ when what was really happening was, the anger of the parent over one loved child hurting another loved child.

When your children make choices that are obviously not part of God’s plan, perhaps you can help them to understand your anger as a part of your love.

There are times when we disappoint God -- and the potter image gives us hope that God will rework us so that God’s loving plan for our lives is realized.

Yes, Christians believe in a loving God. The Christian scriptures emphasize the forgiving, compassionate capacity of God’s love. But we also know that God has a plan for us, and when we mess up, God does get angry, because God does love us. God judges people and nations who act in ways that dishonour our relationship with God, destroy the children God loves and subvert the loving plan God has for all humanity.