What does God think when he sees our violent and corrupt world? How does he feel when he sees all of our mistakes, doubts, and addictions? What does God experience as he reflects on the seemingly infinite ways in which his good creation has broken bad?
If you grew up with me in the Bible Belt, you’d know that God is angry. He’s pissed. After all, it’s right there in the Bible: Deuteronomy 29:27-28, 2 Chronicles 29:10, Nehemiah 9:17, Psalm 7:11, and Hebrews 10:26-27. But the more I read the Bible, the more I realize that anger isn’t the only “emotional metaphor” used to help us understand how God relates to a fallen world. In fact, our first peek into the inner-life of God in the Bible paints a much different picture:
“The LORD saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of their hearts was only evil continually. And the LORD was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” (Genesis 6:5-6)
Here the Scriptures portray a God overcome with regret and sorry (nhm in Hebrew). A God who is sad. What if sadness is God’s deepest and most genuine reaction to the evil which characterizes his world? What if grief, not anger, should be our controlling metaphor for understanding God’s reaction to sin and death? Interestingly enough, the first time that sin is explicitly mentioned in the Bible (from the mouth of God, no less) it is personified as a slave-master: “Sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.” (Genesis 4:7) I find it significant that God doesn’t name sin for the purpose of condemning our older brother Cain, but in order to offer him protection, warning, and advice. When his words of caution are ignored and violence multiplies throughout his creation like metastasized cancer, his response is … grief. Remorse. Tears. A deep, abiding sadness.
I tend to think that grief, not anger, should be our primary way of understanding God’s reaction to our sin. When the emotion of anger dominates our view of God, we become distorted and unhealthy people. We grow up afraid. We experience him as a cruel judge who is waiting to pounce on us with punishment. Or worse, we conveniently think of God as the archenemy of those we identify as enemies. Anger is a legitimate biblical portrayal of God’s emotional life, but we should understand his anger in light of his grief. His anger is that of a betrayed lover, one who remains painfully committed to his creation.
It’s time to realize that God isn’t like the soldier waging war against the infidels. God isn’t like the mobster dishing out vengeance to those who have dishonored him.
He’s like the father with a son addicted to drugs, as of yet unable to accept his love. He’s like the patient lover, eaten up on the inside as he’s forced to watch his love destroy herself.
God’s like a young Jewish prophet, sitting outside of Jerusalem, weeping over the people that he has come to rescue.