Does Sin Make God Angry or Sad? [Choose Wisely]

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.

Chad at HBU’s ‘Paul and Judaism’ Conference


Here’s Cataclysmic’s own Chad Chambers presenting his paper “Before I was Born: Paul’s Calling and the Question of Time in Galatians” at Houston Baptist University’s ‘Paul and Judaism’ conference going on today and tomorrow.

Chad did a great job and his paper was really interesting, taking a look at how Paul views time in the book of Galatians.  Definitely piqued my interest! Well done, brother!!


The ‘Lacking’ Apocalyptic Imagination

Every time I encounter the word ‘apocalyptic’ in a text, I get scared. But maybe not for the reasons you would expect.

Apocalyptic produces fear because for some scenes from Apocalypse Now, or even worse scenes from one of those tribulation movies so popular at youth group lock-ins in the 80’s, flash before our eyes leaving us trembling at the thought of it all becoming reality. Others imagine scenes from Daniel and Revelation filled with goats and growing horns, stars being thrown down, flying horseman, dragons, seven headed beasts, and seals being broken. In the end, we are left much like Daniel, “And I, Daniel, was overcome and lay sick for some days…I was appalled by the vision and did not understand it.” (Dan 8:27)

Yet, as scary as these images are what frightens me the most is that for many Christians apocalyptic means chaos, wars, judgment and nothing else. In other words, we lack an apocalyptic imagination.

Apocalyptic is a rich term drawing meaning from many different wells and therein lies one of the primary problems; most of the wells are left untapped. Many Christians, including many Christian scholars, have never read (much less studied) the various sources available that can inform our apocalyptic imagination. Multiple sources dating from late BC to early AD offer examples of the apocalyptic worldview prominent during these times. For example, 1 Enoch, Fourth Ezra, Second Baruch, the Apocalypse of Abraham, the book of Jubilees, the Sibylline Oracles, and even parts of The Dead Sea Scrolls.* Some of these books do contain scary scenes and other-wordly visions, much like those in Daniel and Revelation, but they also engage in what can be considered a history-making exercise, that is they examine how we got here (past), what is happening (present), and where it is all going (future).

Apocalyptic is not just about the future, apocalyptic is a re-imagining of the world we live in.

Once this is realized and the ideas are given room to blossom, we come to understand that Christianity is most assuredly an apocalyptic religion and not just because we believe Jesus will come again. Jesus announced the kingdom of God is a present reality. Paul declared the present evil age has been defeated. The writer of Hebrews described the good things that have already come. Peter proclaimed God has already acted to cause us to be born again. The past, present, as well as the future have been changed by God’s apocalyptic in-breaking through the death and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ. The axis around which all history turns is the first coming of Jesus Christ not the second. It defeated the old. It inaugurated the new. It altered the present. The world has been changed and nothing can be the same again.

And while I hold out hope that this apocalyptic imagination will take hold, the reason I get scared when I read the word ‘apocalyptic’ is because if all we can imagine is a story ending in chaos, war and judgment then the available options for how we choose to live in the present are indeed something to be afraid of.

*For more information on apocalyptic literature:

  • John C. Collins – The Apocalyptic Imagination (from which title of post was stolen!)
  • Frederick J. Murphy – Apocalypticism in the Bible and Its World
  • Christopher Rowland – The Open Heaven: A Study of Apocalyptic in Judaism and Early Christianity

Aquinas and Metaphor Revisited

In February, I wrote a series on the Western Theory of Metaphor and included this on Aquinas

One final thing to discuss before leaving Thomas, is his understanding of metaphors in scripture. While it seems he would have preferred that God left metaphors out of scripture, he recognizes that since they are present they must be useful. As Thomas interprets them in scripture, he operates basically within an Aristotelian model of metaphor – he discusses metaphors at the level of words, he recognizes that some kind of similarity exists between the words, and he believes it takes insight, effort (Aristotle’s genius) to interpret the meaning of their connection. Thomas, however, goes further than Aristotle to tie the meaning to the historical or literal sense. In what in many ways was a response to the tortured use of the Four-Fold Sense of Scripture, Thomas insists that the literal sense have primacy over all other senses. Thus, as stated above, Thomas saw metaphor as useful for interpretation, but only in a limited or subordinate role.

As I revisited Aquinas, I have expanded on this statement and wanted to add it to the blog:

Aquinas interpreted scriptural metaphors as God’s deliberate means to communicate truth. Scripture is God’s self-revelation and Aquinas states, “Sacred science is established on principles revealed by God” (1.1.2). He is alluding to the fact that scripture is based on premises self-evident only to God and the blessed[1] (1.1.2). Nevertheless, God designed scripture to reveal himself to humanity. In other words, the very purpose of scripture is to teach the truths necessary for salvation to humanity so it must be understandable to mankind if it is to be effective; it must act in accord with God’s designed purpose.

In order for scripture to accomplish its central purpose, Aquinas believes God must accommodate himself in scripture to humanity’s level of understanding, or as Aquinas writes, “according to the capacity of our nature” (1.1.9). Therefore, since humankind naturally learns through external senses (1.1.9) Aquinas determines “it is befitting Holy Writ to put forward divine and spiritual truths by means of comparisons with material things” (1.1.9). Thus, scripture’s use of metaphors is not unbecoming of its intent rather it is fitting for the purpose of revealing God. Aquinas asserts, however, metaphorical readings must be governed so that one can judge between acceptable and unacceptable meanings.  In this regard, he says that everything scripture teaches metaphorically is elsewhere in scripture taught more openly (1.1.9).[2]  Here again, Aquinas’ doctrine of scripture, as divinely authored with a purpose, influences his methods of interpreting scripture and accordingly, he treats metaphors not as barriers to truth but as a fitting channel through which God communicates His truth to mankind.

[1] “The blessed” are those who have seen God face to face.  Thus, knowledge of God is no longer veiled but fully discovered.

[2] This alludes to another aspect of Thomas’ methodology for interpreting Scripture, namely that scripture interprets scripture.  Even though he does not stress this in certain terms within his Summa Theologica it becomes self evident when one studies his exegetical works.

Summer Blogging

Know what they say about good intentions…but I do have a plan for the blog this summer that has me excited.

1. This week and next finish the series on metaphor. There are two posts left – blending and mapping. I hoped to post these weeks ago, but good intentions…

2. In June and July, a series of post examining Paul’s “in Christ” language. Each week will consist of two posts (…good intentions…):

A. For my thesis (US dissertation), my summer research project is to come to terms with what I think about this language. If you are involved in Pauline studies you are probably aware how much of a wormhole this topic can become. Thus, I have decided to place firm parameters on the amount of time I will devote to specifically studying this phrase – June and July. One post each week will deal with this phrase from an academic perspective.

B. I also decided to use this phrase as the theme for the summer Bible study I teach at Houston’s First Baptist Church. For seven weeks in June and July, we will be discussing this phrase from a pastoral/devotional perspective. I am firm believer that all scholarship should be done for the church and in the church. I am blessed to teach a class that agrees – they are willing to struggle with the hard questions with me, to spend some weeks sinking with no promise of rescue, and to rejoice over insights born out of cooperation. One post each week will present material uncovered during this time together.

Finally, I take the month of August off from my studies. My annual review falls every July so August is the best month to unplug completely. It is likely the blog will fall silent during August also.