Our world often struggles with the idea that God is just plain angry. It is difficult to pinpoint the reasoning behind this troubling belief, so I’m not quite sure why so many believe it.
On one hand, in a few rare instances I’ve seen this literally preached from pulpits. Somehow, a pastor will ignore verses like 1 John 4:8 and say that God is angry with the sinfulness of the world. Fear definitely sells and captures attention, so I can see how Christian authors and pastors might be tempted to portray God as a wrathful being. We also sometimes focus on a handful of scripture passages, so I can also see how someone might pick and choose a couple of stories from scripture that might describe God as angry.
In college and seminary, we studied some ancient religions in class, and the belief that God (or the gods) are angry is quite common among these old belief systems. In ancient myths, divine figures seem moody, unpredictable, and downright nasty sorts of things. Perhaps we’ve never really gotten over these longstanding beliefs!
But in a broad sense, I think we can blame this predicament on our state at broken human beings. We don’t get along with one another. We are separated from God. To put it bluntly, we are sinners in need of salvation. Our sin also includes having broken views about who God is. I’ve witnessed so many people think that God is disappointed in them, that God just won’t forgive that one sin, or that God is too far away for them to receive any help.
As we saw in our sermon, John 3:16-17 is a wonderful foundation for what it means to be a Christian. It recognizes God’s love, the importance of Jesus on the cross, and the hope God offers us through salvation.
God is not angry with you. God offers forgiveness.
God does not seek to punish you. God wants to rescue you from sin.
God does not condemn the world. Instead, as John 3:17 points out, God sought to save the world.
One of the most famous theologians of the 20th century was a fellow named Karl Barth. I’ve referenced him occasionally in my sermons. He wrote a lot… So much so that in seminary, we only could read a couple of chapters from Church Dogmatics because it would take years to read the whole thing (over 6 million words!). The point is that he was extremely bright and thorough in his writing and reasoning.
There’s a story about him, however, that’s always stuck with me. When being interviewed one time, he was asked how to summarize everything he had written and believed about the Christian faith. His response was remarkably simple, “In the words of a song I learned at my mother’s knee: ‘Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.'”
Sometimes the simplest things are the most difficult to remember. We overthink it because surely it could never be so straightforward. But despite all the confusion about who God is in our world, I firmly believe and have experienced that God is perfectly loving.