The media is full of stories of terrible atrocities and injustice everywhere. They are brutal reminders of the violent world that we live in. How can we make sense of a loving God when so many terrible tragedies happen? Can there be a God and if there is how can He be loving by allowing such things to happen?
Such questions a friend recently asked me following the news of a horrific terrorist atrocity. Her premise was that we need to focus on simply being more loving and understanding. A loving God she said, would not get angry. If we really loved people then we would see an end to terrible violence. The following post is part of my response to our discussion. I share it with you in the hope that it may help you or those you know who also grapple with such questions.
While I would agree with those that say we need to focus on love and understanding, at the same time we also have to engage with the realities of the world around us. Working as a psychiatrist I have had patients who have done terrible things. They have been treated with a lot of compassion and respect by the Health Service, yet they still go on with their crimes. When I talk to them it becomes clear that some of them don’t want to face the consequences of their actions and given the opportunity will revert to their previous behaviour. We spend huge amounts of money to protect the public from them.
Here is how the author Becky Pippert in her book ‘Hope Has Its Reasons: The Search to Satisfy Our Deepest Longings’ in chapter 4 of her book entitled What Kind of God gets Angry?
“Think how we feel when we see someone we love ravaged by unwise actions or relationships. Do we respond with benign tolerance as we might toward strangers? Far from it….. Anger isn’t the opposite of love. Hate is, and the final form of hate is indifference….. God’s wrath is not a cranky explosion, but His settled opposition to the cancer…. which is eating out the insides of the human race He loves with His whole being.”
So from the Bible, God’s wrath flows from His love and delight in His creation. He is angry at evil and injustice because it is destroying peace and integrity.
It is often thought that by believing in a God of judgement this leads to more violence – and in some places it does. As Tim Keller puts it, “If you believe in a God who smites evildoers, you may think it perfectly justified to do some of the smiting yourself.” We have countless examples of that around the world.
But interestingly Miroslav Volf, who is a Croatian who has seen the violence in the Balkans, has a different view of God’s judgement. In his book Exclusion and Embrace, he says:
“If God were not angry at injustice and deception and did not make a final end to violence – that God would not be worthy of worship….. The only means of prohibiting all recourse to violence by ourselves is to insist that violence is legitimate only when it comes from God……. My thesis that the practice of non-violence requires a belief in divine judgement will be unpopular with many…. in the West…[But] it takes the quiet of a suburban home for the birth of the thesis that human non-violence [results from the belief in] God’s refusal to judge. In a sun-scorched land, soaked in the blood of the innocent, it will invariably die…. [with] other pleasant captivities of the liberal mind.”
The point Volf makes is that unless we have truly deeply suffered injustice and betrayal it is very hard for us to understand the need for an all encompassing solution to the pain that we have gone through.
Tim Keller builds on this in his book ‘The Reason for God’:
“In this fascinating passage Volf reasons that it is the lack of belief in a God of vengeance that ‘secretly nourishes violence.’The human impulse to make perpetrators of violence pay for their crimes is almost an overwhelming one. It cannot possibly be overcome with platitudes like ‘Now don’t you see that violence won’t solve anything?’ if you have seen your home burned down and your relatives killed and raped, such talk is laughable – and it shows no real concern for justice. Yet victims of violence are drawn to go far beyond justice into the vengeance that says, ‘You put one of my eyes so I will put out both of yours’.They are pulled inexorably into an endless cycle of vengeance, of strikes and counterstrikes nurtured and justified by the memory of terrible wrongs.”
That is what is happening in so many parts of the world. Generations of appalling violence have led to a never ending hunger for more and more violence.
Let me quote again from Keller:
Can our passion for justice be honoured in a way that does not nurture our desire for blood vengeance? Volf says the best resource for this is the belief in the concept of God’s divine justice. If I don’t believe that there is a God who will eventually put all things right, I will take up the sword and will be sucked into the endless vortex of retaliation. Only if I am sure that there’s a God who will right all wrongs and settle all accounts perfectly do I have the power to refrain.
Czelaw Miosz is the Noble Prize winning Polish poet who wrote an essay called ‘The Discreet Charms of Nihilism.’ in it he recalls how Marx described religion as ‘the opiate of the people’ because the promise of an afterlife led the poor and working class to put up with unjust social conditions. Quoting him:
“And now we are witnessing a transformation. A true opium of the people is a belief in nothingness after death – the huge solace of thinking that our betrayals, greed, cowardice, murders are not going to be judged….. [but] all religions recognise that our deeds are imperishable.”
Back to Keller:
Most people complain that belief in a God of judgement will lead to a more brutal society. Milosz has personally seen, in both Nazism and Communism, that a loss of belief in a God of judgement can lead to brutally. If we are free to shape life and morals anyway we choose without ultimate accountability, it can lead to violence. Volf and Milosz argue that the doctrine of God’s final judgement is a necessary undergirding for human practices of love and peacemaking.
In other words a truly loving God cannot but get angry at the evil and injustice of our broken world. And understanding that can truly restrain vengeance and further violence.
What questions and thoughts on the love and anger of God raise for you? How would you respond to the question can a God of love get angry?