Posts tagged ‘Wrath’

What makes God, God?

What makes God, God? Traditionally, God’s fundamental attributes have been described as omnipotence – that God has power over all – omniscience – that He knows all – and omnipresence – that He is with all. Certainly, these are all true and critical attributes of God. But as the prophet Micah closes His book, He sees something else foundational to God.

Micah begins with an announcement from God that He will rescue Israel in power. God says to Israel:

“As in the days when you came out of Egypt, I will show them My wonders.” Nations will see and be ashamed, deprived of all their power. They will put their hands over their mouths and their ears will become deaf. They will lick dust like a snake, like creatures that crawl on the ground. They will come trembling out of their dens; they will turn in fear to the Lord our God and will be afraid of you. (Micah 7:15-17)

God’s power will overpower all the powers of the world, Micah says. This is God’s omnipotence at its most expansive. But it’s not just this traditional attribute of God that makes God, God. For Micah continues with a critical question:

Who is a God like You? (Micah 7:18)

What is it, Micah muses, that makes God so unique? What is it that sets Him apart? His answer is as stunning as it is soothing:

Who is a God like You, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of His inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; You will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:18-19)

It is God’s mercy – and not only His power, knowledge, or even presence – that makes God, God. What makes God utterly unique is that He does not treat us as our sins deserve. Instead, He hurls our sins away and, by doing so, becomes our hope and stay.

Martin Luther spoke of two types of God’s work – His strange work and His proper work. God’s strange work is His work of judgment in power. It is a work that is meant to reprove and, if not heeded, condemn. But though God does this work, it is strange to Him. It is not His preferred mode of operation. His preferred mode of operation – His proper work – is that of mercy and grace. God’s desire is to redeem and not just to reprove – to commute the sentence of sin instead of condemning people in sin. This is what makes God, God. And for this, we can be thankful. Because it is God’s mercy that allows us to approach Him, to rely on Him, and to find our rest in Him.

In Hebrew, the name Micah means, “Who is like the Lord?” The answer is, of course, “No one.” But because of what the Lord is like, we can like the Lord. We can love the Lord. Because He loves us.

August 1, 2022 at 5:15 am 1 comment

The Day of the Lord

Credit: eberhard grossgasteiger / Pexels.com

One of the most prominent themes in Scripture is the Day of the Lord. This is the day God will reveal Himself in His power and glory. And what a day this will be. It will be a day of awe. It will be a day of fear. It will be a day of judgment. And it is a day that is near.

The prophet Obadiah describes this day thusly:

The day of the Lord is near for all nations. As you have done, it will be done to you; your deeds will return upon your own head. (Obadiah 15)

In Obadiah’s telling, the Day of the Lord will be one of recompense. What you have done – both good and evil – will boomerang back to you on this day.

For me, this sounds terrifying. I have done some good in my life – but I have also done plenty of bad. There are things I have done to others that I would not want done to me. A day of recompense, for me, would be a day of ruin.

And this is precisely what Obadiah wants his readers to worry about. He continues:

Just as you drank on My holy hill, so all the nations will drink continually; they will drink and drink and be as if they had never been. (Obadiah 16)

God warns that the nations will “drink continually” – a metaphor for the pouring out of divine wrath. The wrath that God pours out on this day will be so intense and God’s destructive judgment so definitive, that it will be as if there had never been any nations.

But it does not have to be this way. In the middle of a day of inescapable divine judgment, there will be a refuge:

But on Mount Zion will be deliverance; it will be holy, and Jacob will possess his inheritance. (Obadiah 17)

Zion will be a place of refuge from the judgment all around it. Jacob – that is, Israel – will receive an inheritance. But how?

A parent bequeaths an inheritance to a child for the simple reason that they are a child. It is not something that is earned – and often not even deserved, for many children are scoundrels – it is simply given out of love.

The apostle Paul writes:

In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. (Galatians 3:26)

This is how we are rescued from the recompense for sin that comes with the Day of Lord and, instead, given refuge in spite of our sin at the day of the Lord – through faith in Christ. Jesus is the One who turns a terrifying day into a triumphant day. He is the One who delivers us.

When the Day of the Lord comes, it will be either a day of wrath or a day of redemption in Christ. Which will it be for you?

June 27, 2022 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Did I Do Something to Deserve My Suffering?

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People who are struggling can sometimes wonder: Is God angry with me? Is He disciplining me because of some sin in my life? Did I do something to deserve this? These questions become particularly acute when people read biblical stories of God punishing places like Sodom and Gomorrah or Jericho or Babylon or even Israel because of their sin.

The prophet Amos lived during a time of spiritual depravity in Israel. This depravity was masked, however, by general political stability and economic prosperity. Because of these conditions, the Israelites were lured into believing they were experiencing God’s favor. But God called Amos to deliver a damning declaration:

This is what the LORD says: “For three sins of Israel, even for four, I will not relent. They sell the innocent for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals. They trample on the heads of the poor as on the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed. Father and son use the same girl and so profane My holy name.” (Amos 2:6-7)

God’s judgment was coming on Israel’s sin. But at the same time such a declaration may sound unsettling, it can also be comforting.

God regularly used the ancient prophets to remove ambiguity about His judgment. People did not need to guess whether God was punishing them because of their sin because the prophets clearly revealed whether God was punishing them because of their sin. In Amos’s case, God even reveals through this prophet the specific sins for which Israel was being punished.

God leaves no ambiguity when it comes to His punishment of sin. As Amos goes on to explains:

When disaster comes to a city, has not the LORD caused it? Surely the Sovereign LORD does nothing without revealing His plan to His servants the prophets. (Amos 3:6-7)

If God brings judgment, He will make known what He is doing. He renders no judgment without revealing whether it is, in fact, His judgment.

You never have to wonder, then, in the face of some struggle or suffering, whether God is angry at you. Or whether He is disciplining you. Or whether you have done something to deserve what you are experiencing. If you are left wondering, you already have your answer: He is not angry with you. He is not lobbing suffering at you out of His wrath toward you. God’s judgment is not meant to be secret or mysterious. Instead, it is designed to be clear so that it can unambiguously call people out of their sin and back to His righteousness.

If you are suffering, God is not judging you. You can know that. But you can also know this: He is with you. He does not remain aloof from you, but comes to you through Christ. If you are suffering, remember that Christ has also suffered. He knows what suffering feels like. And He knows – and cares – what you feel like. His response to your suffering is not judgment, but love.

June 13, 2022 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

A Tale of Two Lamechs

Credit: “Lamech and His Two Wives” by Phillip Mendhurst / Wikimedia

A week ago on this blog, we looked at the genealogy in Genesis 5, which recounts the lineages of the first humans. We focused on one member of this genealogy in particular, Enoch, who, we are told, “was no more, because God took him away” (Genesis 5:24). Though Enoch’s life of 365 years may seem outrageously high compared to our contemporary lifespans, compared to the other people in the genealogy, many of whom lived nearly 1,000 years, his life could be said to have been “cut short.” We discovered, however, that a life cut short is not an indication of a curse. God can bless a short life with eternal life, as He did with Enoch.

This week, I’d like to focus on another character in this genealogy – Lamech, a descendant of one of the sons of Adam and Eve, Seth, and the father of Noah:

When Lamech had lived 182 years, he had a son. He named him Noah and said, “He will comfort us in the labor and painful toil of our hands caused by the ground the LORD has cursed.” After Noah was born, Lamech lived 595 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Lamech lived a total of 777 years, and then he died. (Genesis 5:28-31)

This is the second Lamech we meet in Genesis. The first was a descendant of another one of the sons of Adam and Eve, Cain. This first Lamech was filled with anger and vengeance:

Lamech married two women, one named Adah and the other Zillah. Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock. His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play stringed instruments and pipes. Zillah also had a son, Tubal-Cain, who forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron. Tubal-Cain’s sister was Naamah. Lamech said to his wives, “Adah and Zillah, listen to me; wives of Lamech, hear my words. I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for injuring me. If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times.” (Genesis 4:19-24)

Here we find history’s first instance of a polygamous relationship and the second instance of a murder. This first Lamech walks in the footsteps of his forefather Cain as he kills a man, just as Cain killed his brother Abel. This Lamech even refers to his ancestor Cain, to whom God gave the promise of protection in a stroke of grace even after his heinous murder of his brother. After punishing Cain by sending him to a distant land, God promises him: “Anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over” (Genesis 4:15). This Lamech tries to outdo God’s vengeance with his own vengeance, threatening vengeance seventy-seven times over (Genesis 4:24).

This leads us back to the Lamech of Genesis 5. This second Lamech serves as an antithesis to the first Lamech. Whereas the first Lamech willingly participated in the curse of death brought on by sin, this second Lamech seeks to stymie that curse. When God first cursed Adam after he fell into sin, He said:

Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. (Genesis 3:17)

This Lamech says his son Noah will:

…comfort us in the labor and painful toil of our hands caused by the ground the LORD has cursed. (Genesis 5:29)

The second Lamech seeks righteousness and comfort while the first Lamech sought vengeance by death.

Notice also his lifespan – 777 years. God’s vengeance on Cain’s behalf was seven times over – one seven. The first Lamech’s vengeance on his own behalf was seventy-seven times over – two sevens. But the second Lamech’s righteous life is 777 years – three sevens. It turns out that righteousness and comfort outdo vengeance and violence. The second Lamech’s three sevens crush the first Lamech’s two sevens.

It can be easy to follow the way of the first Lamech. When someone hurts us, we reflexively want to take vengeance. But the way of the second Lamech is where hope is found, as we yearn for someone to undo the curse sin has brought into this world. The second Lamech’s son, Noah, survived the curse of a flood, but was ultimately not unable to undo the curse of sin. But there was One who came from this line who did. Indeed, He reverses the curse of the first Lamech. When one of His disciples, Peter, asks Him:

“Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:21-22)

The first Lamech’s vengeance is overcome by Jesus’ forgiveness, who is the second Lamech’s hope. May He be our hope, too.

July 12, 2021 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Casting Stones

Credit: Ciro Miguel via Flickr

Credit: Ciro Miguel via Flickr

From the department of the inane but entertaining, the real estate site Movoto.com recently published its list of America’s most sinful cities.  Surprisingly, the city famed for its profligate sinfulness, Las Vegas, didn’t make the list.  An article in The Street explains how the list was compiled:

The study analyzed 95 of the nation’s 100 most-populous communities…to see how often locals commit the Catholic Church’s seven major sins:  Envy, Gluttony, Greed, Lust, Pride, Sloth and Wrath…

[They then matched] each behavior on the church’s 1,400-year-old list of sins with a modern-day measure of immorality.

For instance, [they] gauged Wrath by looking at the FBI’s annual report on each U.S. city’s violent-crime rate – the number of murders, robberies, aggravated assaults, rapes and non-negligent manslaughter cases reported each year per 1,000 residents.[1]

Here’s what the study found.

Coming in at number five is Milwaukee.  According to CDC obesity rates, Milwaukee falls prey to the sin of gluttony.  Spot number four belongs to Pittsburgh, which struggles with pride.  In this city, there is one cosmetic surgeon for every 3,170 residents.  Minneapolis garnered spot number three.  Over 30% of Minneapolis’s residents are inactive, making this city super slothful.  Place number two belongs to Orlando, which, like Minneapolis, struggles with sloth.  And spot number one belongs to – drumroll, please – St. Louis!  Movoto found “the Gateway to the West places number two for Wrath and Envy, with 20 violent crimes and 65 property incidents per year for every 1,000 St. Louis residents.”  If it’s banal carnality you want, St. Louis is the place to go.

Of course, it’s hard to take a study like this too seriously.  But I have to admit, I breathed a sigh of relief when my town of San Antonio didn’t make the list.  Then again, I used to live in St. Louis.  I went to seminary there.  So I guess that means, according to this article, I once lived in a den of iniquities.

What makes a study like this one so comical for Christians is that we know that sin defies such simplistic statistical quantification and comparison.  This is the apostle Paul’s point when he writes, “There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:22-23).  There is no difference, Paul says, between one sin and another in God’s eyes.  Every sin leads to death.  Every sin leads to damnation.  Before God and apart from Christ, sin is sin.  Period.

This is why, when an angry mob of religious leaders seek to have a woman caught in adultery stoned for her sin, Jesus disarms this mob’s self-righteous pretenses by saying, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7).  Underlying this statement is an assumption that we have no right to use our own self-styled righteousness as a benchmark against which we can measure and condemn other people’s sinfulness.   The only benchmark that may be used to distinguish righteousness from sinfulness is God’s.  Everything else is just casting stones.

So, although I won’t cast stones at my old seminary town, I will eat concrete if I ever return for a visit.  And if that previous line doesn’t make any sense to you, just click here.


[1] Jerry Kronenberg, “5 Most Sinful Cities in America,” The Street (7.17.13).

August 19, 2013 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Holy Week Sorrow and Celebration

Right now in my personal devotions, I am reading through the book of Lamentations, a sorrowful song written by the prophet Jeremiah, which describes Israel’s defeat and exile at the hands of the Babylonians in 586 BC.  Some of the language Jeremiah uses to describe Israel’s demise is grotesque and gut wrenching:

  • The tongue of the nursing infant sticks to the roof of its mouth for thirst. (Lamentations 4:4)
  • Their skin has shriveled on their bones; it has become dry as wood. (Lamentations 4:8)
  • The hands of compassionate women have boiled their own children; they became their food during the destruction of the daughter of my people. (Lamentations 4:10)

Clearly, this is a tragic, despairing time.  Indeed, even for a professional prophet such as Jeremiah, who has seen much sin and tragedy, the despair of the exile seems overwhelming.  And Jeremiah places the blame for this despair squarely at the feet of God.

In chapter 3, Jeremiah laments his plight:

I am the man who has seen affliction under the rod of His wrath; He has driven and brought me into darkness without any light; surely against me He turns His hand again and again the whole day long. He has made my flesh and my skin waste away; He has broken my bones; He has besieged and enveloped me with bitterness and tribulation; He has made me dwell in darkness like the dead of long ago. He has walled me about so that I cannot escape; He has made my chains heavy; though I call and cry for help, He shuts out my prayer; He has blocked my ways with blocks of stones; He has made my paths crooked. He is a bear lying in wait for me, a lion in hiding; He turned aside my steps and tore me to pieces; He has made me desolate; He bent His bow and set me as a target for His arrow. He drove into my kidneys the arrows of his quiver; I have become the laughingstock of all peoples, the object of their taunts all day long. He has filled me with bitterness; He has sated me with wormwood. He has made my teeth grind on gravel, and made me cower in ashes. (Lamentations 3:1-16)

Notice the pronoun Jeremiah employs again and again to describe who is responsible for his misery: “He.”  “He” has brought Jeremiah misery, trouble, pain, and despair.  It’s “His” fault that Jeremiah’s plight is what it is.  Who is this “He”?  None other than God, of course.  God has afflicted Jeremiah in the most miserable of ways.

And yet, even in his misery, Jeremiah has not lost all hope: “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:21-23).  Jeremiah believes that finally, ultimately, God’s steadfast love will prevail.  Indeed, it’s interesting the way Jeremiah describes this steadfast love just verses later:  “Though He cause grief, He will have compassion according to the abundance of His steadfast love; for He does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men” (Lamentations 3:32-33).  Though God does afflict and grieve people because of their sin, Jeremiah says, He does not willingly do so.  God’s will is not to pour out His hot wrath, but His steadfast love.  The Hebrew word for “willingly” is milibo, a word meaning, “from His heart.”  Thus, Jeremiah is saying that from God’s heart does not come affliction.  Rather, from God’s heart comes His steadfast love.  God’s will is wrapped in love.

Luther describes God’s wrath at sin and God’s will of love by making a distinction between the “alien” and the “proper” work of God:

We must know what is meant by the work of God. It is nothing else but to create righteousness, peace, mercy, truth, patience, kindness, joy, and health, inasmuch as the righteous, truthful, peaceful, kind, joyful, healthy, patient, merciful cannot do otherwise than act according to His nature. Therefore God creates righteous, peaceful, patient, merciful, truthful, kind, joyful, wise, healthy men…But He cannot come to this His proper work unless He undertakes a work that is alien and contrary to Himself…Therefore, since He can make just only those who are not just, He is compelled to perform an alien work in order to make them sinners, before He performs His proper work of justification. Thus He says, “I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal.” (AE 51:18-19)

God must judge us before He can justify us, Luther says.  His alien and His proper work go hand in hand.  Thus, both God’s alien work of judgment and God’s proper work of love are needed in Jeremiah’s life.  And both God’s alien work of judgment and God’s proper work of love are needed in our lives too.  But lest we forget, through faith in Christ, God’s proper work prevails!

The alien and the proper work of God meet most clearly in the death and resurrection of Christ, which we remember during this Holy Week.  Luther explains:

God’s alien work is the suffering of Christ and sufferings in Christ, the crucifixion of the old man and the mortification of Adam. God’s proper work, however, is the resurrection of Christ, justification in the Spirit, and the vivification of the new man, as Romans 4:25 says: “Christ died for our sins and was raised for our justification.” (AE 51:19)

God judges His Son on the cross, killing Him for the sins of the world.  This was not something He delighted in doing – it was alien to Him – but it was necessary.  For Christ’s crucifixion satisfied God’s righteous wrath at sinners…sinners like you and me (cf. Romans 3:25-26).  And with God’s wrath satisfied through Christ’s suffering and death on the cross, God could now move to His proper work:  Giving to His children His steadfast love which never ceases.

This Holy Week, spend some time meditating on both the alien and the proper work of God.  For both are needed.  But finally, one prevails!  For God’s work does not end in an alien way.  Rather, it ends in its proper way.  It ends in our salvation through faith in Christ.  Praise be to God!

April 19, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

ABC Extra – You’re Inadequate

This weekend in worship and ABC we talked about the stain of inadequacy.  We’ve all grappled with inadequacy, of course.   A project we’ve been working on isn’t up to snuff according to the boss.  And we feel inadequate.  The money we make isn’t enough to keep up with our next-door neighbors.  And we feel inadequate.

I always enjoy watching the opening outtakes on the hit FOX TV show, “American Idol.”  Some of the auditions are atrocious.  What is really fascinating to me, however, is that some of these contestants, who couldn’t carry a tune if their lives depended on it, believe that they are truly good singers.  When they find out that they are not, they are crushed.  And they feel inadequate.

I suspect that Peter must have felt much like an “American Idol” contestant feels after Simon Cowell announces, “That was atrocious.”  As Luke 5 opens, we find Peter, a professional fisherman, casting his nets into the Sea of Galilee.  And Peter was no poor fisherman.  To the contrary, he was one of the best.  But even one of the best gets skunked from time to time.  And this was the case with Peter.  He had been fishing all night and had not caught a thing.  But not to worry, for a carpenter from Nazareth named Jesus is on the case.  “Put out into the deep water, and let down the nets for a catch,” Jesus says (verse 4).  A carpenter giving advice to a seasoned fisherman on fishing?  That’s rich.  But Peter trusts and obeys the Lord.  And the results are nothing short of miraculous: “When [Peter and his companions] had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break“ (verse 6).  Apparently, this carpenter knows a thing or two about fishing.  And all of a sudden, Peter is struck with an acute bout of inadequacy.  He says to Jesus, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man” (verse 8)!  Jesus, in turn, responds to Peter’s declaration with a promise of hope in the midst of inadequacy: “Don’t be afraid” (verse 10).

Sadly, many people have twisted this precious promise of Jesus.  In the sixteenth century, a young monk named Martin Luther twisted this promise by refusing to believe it.  He refused to hearken unto God’s call to “be not afraid.”  Instead, in his younger years, he saw God only as a cruel taskmaster who would surely damn all mankind for their inadequacies.  Blessedly, he later came to understand the wonderful compassion of our God, expressed in Jesus Christ.  In the twenty-first century, many people twist this promise by turning God into a wrathless deity who overlooks, rather than forgives, sins.  The promise, “Do not be afraid,” is conceived as an admission that God does not really care about, much less gets angry over, sin.  Indeed, a popular preacher recently toured the country with the message, “The gods aren’t angry.”  His point was this:  God is not angry with you or at your sin.  But this is not true.  God is angry.  And He’s angry at your sin.  As the apostle Paul writes, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men” (Romans 1:18).  God has wrath at sin.  Jesus says, “Do not fear,” not because God doesn’t get angry with sin and sinners, but because His wrath is taken by Jesus Christ in our place for our sins on the cross.  It is by Jesus’ work on the cross that our sins are forgiven.

When Jesus tells Peter, “Do not be afraid,” it isn’t because Peter is really a good guy.  No, Peter’s statement, “I am a sinful man,” is perfectly true.  He is inadequate.  But through Christ’s atoning work, Peter’s sin is taken away and he has nothing to fear.  The answer to inadequacy is not to pretend you’re adequate.  You’re not.  The answer to inadequacy is to trust in Jesus because He is more than adequate.  He is perfect.  And His perfection covers all of our inadequate sins.  Find your adequacy in Christ.

Want to learn more on this passage? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s
message or Pastor Zach’s ABC!

June 28, 2010 at 4:45 am Leave a comment


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