Does God Get Angry? Or Does He Love Us?

Here’s one of those blog comments I started to write, and then I discovered I was getting so deeply into it, I had to write a blog post. Ben Arment on his trés kewl blog, History in the Making, posted a couple links to a theological controversy that’s been making the Internet. It’s one of these stupid theological controversies that really gets my goat, because both sides are acting like immature little children. And in the process, they miss the most important part of who God is and–more importantly–what that means to you and me.

Here’s the gist: One side says God is angry at us, because God is holy but we are all sinners, and that “the phrase ‘God hates the sin but loves the sinner’ was invented by a Hindu.” The other side says, on the contrary, that God is not angry at us and has never been angry with us, because he loves us.

OK. I’m officially confused. God is angry at sinners; therefore, he hates us?

I get angry at my kids when they disobey me and do stupid, self-destructive things, but I still love them. In fact, it’s when I’m the angriest with them that I do the most to remind them that I love them. None of this even touches on what scripture says God is like. And it completely ignores how important this is to our personal character.

I’m a good father, because I love my children.

That’s what my kids tell me, especially my younger, who is especially sensitive about such things. In fact, I just asked her whether she thought I was a good father. Her answer was unconditionally, yes. When I asked her why, she said, “Because you’re nice to me, and you love me.”

“But what about when I’m upset at you?”

She couldn’t even remember a time when I was upset at her. But I assure you, I get upset regularly. Especially when I’m exhausted and she refuses to go to bed and the both of them are bouncing off the walls. And that’s when she demands even more of me, more than I can give. But even at the end of my rope, I somehow bear with her through till the end.

It’s all about unconditional love. The two of us have discussed this many times since she was very little. I wanted her to understand this, because it’s such a powerful concept. And if it’s something that a tiny child can understand, an adult should be able to understand it. (Or maybe this is part of what Jesus meant when He said, “Let the little children come to me, and don’t prevent them, because God’s kingdom belongs to people like them.”)

“I always love you,” I tell her, “no matter what, because you’re my daughter. Even when I’m mad at you, even when you do things to upset me, no matter what, you’re still my daughter, you’ll always be my daughter, and I’ll always be your Daddy, and I still love you.”

I will never stop being her father, because it’s a physical and emotional impossibility. I will never disown her, no matter what she does. I will always be here for her, with as much strength as I can muster. Even if I get upset and say things I later have to apologize for–and we all do–she will never stop being part of my family.

Dear John, I hate you. Love, Martha.

See, I learned this from my Dad. My own father pointed out to me, before I was married, that if you have unconditional love in a relationship, it empowers your relationship. This is such a powerful concept, unconditional love. Unfortunately, it is often frowned upon by pop culture, because many people are afraid of it. But this sage advice Dad gave Margaret and me. He said, “Eliminate the word divorce from your vocabulary.” And he said, don’t fight dirty. When you fight, fight clean, because you will fight. In these times, this is seen as an outmoded and provincial concept, unconditional love. And it’s only because it’s missing from most TV dramas that we actually have the drama part.

Think about it: Because I know that my wife Margaret will love me, no matter what, and will not leave me, no matter what:

If we as flawed and sinful human beings can use and benefit from the power of love, how much more so an infinite and omnipotent God?

God is Love.

People make this so much more complicated than it needs to be. As though theology were some mysterious, complex enigma, full of mysteries that only theologians can understand. It may be full of mysteries, but these are mysteries a 4-year-old child can understand.

We can’t dismiss God’ s love with a, “Sure, God loves us, but…”

No! There is no but. God loves us. Period. Unconditional love, God’s love. Until we find some way to integrate that truth into our theology, we don’t truly understand God. And we don’t truly understand how His love can make us better people.

God is holy, fully and abashedly, and He cannot tolerate sinners. And at the same time, God loves us, unconditionally and without limits, and gives His grace to us freely, without any action on our part.

If you’re paying attention, you may recognize this as one of the oldest theological arguments ever invented. It’s God’s grace versus our works. It’s Calvin and Wesley all over again. It’s just a new incarnation of a classic debate. The thing is, this false dichotomy has ripped apart more churches and destroyed more lives than I care to think about. It frankly amazes me that Christians who claim to believe in an infinite God cannot fathom this simple truth, even though it is the main message of the Bible. Instead, they’d rather fight over pet theologies, rather than realize that God cares about people, not about theology.

That’s what “God’s love through us” means.

In the final analysis, no matter what we do, we can never claim God’s acceptance based on anything we have done. His acceptance is based on His work and on His ancient promises. And knowing how accepted you are frees and empowers you to accept others, who may not be just like you.

“God’s love through us” means caring about people and relationships more than beliefs and theology. Or to paraphrase my rabbi: A theology without human values is not worth much. And in the circumstance that a choice is needed, human values should win.

And I would add one more part: Because in this circumstance, the theology must be in error.

Yes, God demands holiness, because God is holy. That’s why He made it possible for us to become more like Him, to demonstrate His love, and to put people first, as He does. There is no “but” to God’s unconditional love or to His holiness, because God’s holiness is rooted in His love.

That is the answer to the dichotomy.

Or as the Apostle Paul put it: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

-TimK

P.S. That crack about “invented by a Hindu”: Sheesh! If you mean to say the phrase “God hates the sin but loves the sinner” is bunk, just say it’s bunk. Of course, then you’d have to back up the opinion with actual theology. On second thought, forget it. It’s much easier just to blame the Hindus.

P.P.S. You think a Hindu never said anything worth listening to? Think again.