If I was going to write my mission statement on a t-shirt, it would be: The love of God is the most powerful force in the universe. He loves you madly, truly, deeply and eternally. Okay, maybe two t-shirts.
This certainty has not always been my reality, so I cling hard to it now. I will, for the rest of my days, position my writing and teaching with His love in first position – it is the lens through which I see everything else. This sometimes leads to the assertion that I am teaching too much of a good thing and that an overemphasis on His love will lead to too little emphasis on His wrath, which could have catastrophic consequences.
Now, sometimes people position this argument as “Love vs. Truth” and I hate that idea. I don’t believe there exists any smidge of a “vs” between love and truth. Love and truth are not opposing forces. I think a more accurate title for this particular debate is: God’s love for mankind vs. God’s wrath toward the things that hurt mankind. And the term “wrath” here is pretty fierce. It’s hard to reconcile this word with a God who dances joyfully over His creation (Zeph. 3:17). And yet, I do agree on some level with those who say any attempt to erase God’s wrath from His emotional makeup is both theologically incorrect and personally damaging – though I often disagree quite fervently with how and why they are saying it.
So, can we make God mad? The short answer, as I see it, is: Yes. But it’s not the same as making each other mad and it’s not God’s default emotion toward our sin, mistakes or even our stubborn resistance to truth.
Here’s the text I’m leaning on for this post, but there are a bunch of them that read similarly all through the Holy Script:
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourself of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander and filthy language from your lips. Colossians 3:5-8
The word wrath here is the Greek word, orge and it means “violent passion”. It occurs 13 times in the Bible, four times it’s about our wrath and nine times it’s about God’s wrath. And in every instance where this emotion is attributed to humanity, it is condemned. Here’s an example:
Get rid of all bitterness, wrath, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. Ephesians 4:31-32
This is a fascinating, because what we’ve just discovered is an emotion that God is allowed to have and we are not. In all the ways we are instructed to become like God, this is one place where He says, “Nope. Not there. That one belongs to Me alone.” I could write a whole bunch about this, but the takeaway point for me is: The wrath of God is so motivated and shaped by His unending and unconditional love that He can be trusted with wrath and we cannot. We are fully deputized to handle and distribute the love of God, but we are forbidden from handling His wrath (in fact, James 1 says the wrath of man can not produce the righteousness of God.) This principle tells me that there is something about the wrath of God I do not and cannot understand when I view it through my foggy human filter. The only way I can begin to grasp the truth of my ability to make God mad and still be loved by Him is to bring it into my human relationships.
My husband loves me more than anyone loves me, but if I had NO ability to make him mad or frustrate him, that wouldn’t really be love at all – that would be indifference or ignorance and it would be a facade of a relationship. If I can’t make him mad, I can’t make him proud. If I can’t frustrate him, I can’t delight him. One example that is most prominent in my mind: If treated Cliff’s children badly, even if I treated Cliff like a king, even if I loved him more and better than he’s ever been loved before, even if I believed exactly as he does about politics or vocation or justice or finances – if I hurt his kids, it would not only make Cliff angry, it would do real damage to our relationship. My relationship with Cliff doesn’t exist in a vacuum, it exists in community. My relationship with God also exists in community and the things listed that incur His wrath, are the things we do that hurt His kids: anger, rage, malice, slander, filthy language (<— a study of these words and their meanings is fascinating but too long for this post! Short story: They all have to do with using words or actions to intentionally hurt other people.)
So, yes, I definitely believe it’s possible to make God mad and I believe that begins with the way I treat other people. I also believe it’s possible to make Him proud and that also begins with the way I treat other people. Perhaps God isn’t mad AT me, He’s mad FOR me. He’s mad about the ways I am deceived and broken and the ways that brokenness is conferred onto other people. And here’s a crazy kicker: God’s anger does not change His heart of love for me one scintilla of an iota. I can’t pull that one off, not even with my very favorite people. My love grows weary, worn and cold in the face of anger, but God’s love does not. Sheesh, that’s almost too beautiful to comprehend.
I’m a bullet points girl, so here are some handy-dandy bullets that I think represent at least some of the biblical truth about the wrath of God:
His wrath does not look like our wrath because everything He is and does is birthed out of His love for us.
His default emotion toward our sin is not wrath. Sometimes it’s heartbreak. Sometimes it’s disappointment. Sometimes it’s forbearance. Sometimes it’s sorrow. Always, it’s love because God is love and that never changes.
I am invited to join God in loving His world extravagantly but I am forbidden from wrath. This actually takes a lot of pressure off of me, because when I try to appropriate the wrath of God toward those He loves (which last I checked is everyone), I run the risk of incurring the wrath of God upon myself.
In summation, I am certain that I have the ability to make God angry, but I am more certain the truth of the gospel is not “But God so loathed the world, that He gave His only son.” Nope. It’s love. God’s love is the motivating, animating force in our world and I will always keep it at the very front end of what I speak, teach, write and – hopefully – what I live out in my world.
P.S. Remember, the thesis of this post is whether or not sin makes God mad, not whether or not it’s okay for us to get mad at those who sin or to withhold love. I’ve touched on that a bit here because it was so interesting to me that every reference forbids us from this “orge” wrath – perhaps a more nuanced case could be made by including more words for anger etc., but that’s not my goal here. And honestly, it’s not my goal to find biblical backup to live indignantly toward my world, so I probably won’t be doing that study any time soon.