We are taught that the Bible is written by humans, but inspired by God. Much of the Old Testament shows God’s involvement in Israel’s brokenness. Considering the inspired word, why do some of the Psalms (see Psalm 79) talk about things like revenge or God’s wrath being poured out? In my mind that appears sinful. I realise there is a context but perhaps I am missing it. Thanks
@Thomas_Wilson That is a great question and one that I think we all need to take seriously. How do we reconcile a God of wrath with a God of love? And more specifically, how to we reconcile King David’s love for God and for the outcast with his bitter anger at his enemies? Personally, I have found both Miroslav Volf’s work and that of C. S. Lewis helpful in addressing this question. Lewis’ book on the Psalms is a good read. A few things they point out:
- God would not be loving if He were not angry at evil
- we can scarcely imagine how brutal the world of King David was - how savage and violent
- King David, as a human, experienced all of the anger we would feel if someone murdered our loved ones or targeted us with bitter gossip and hatred - some of the Psalms are simply David’s raw emotions and not expression of divine will - they give us space to go to God with our toughest emotions as well; especially in the face of great injustice
Here is a great quote from Volf, who experienced first hand human brutality in Croatia - and a few quotes from Lewis.
What thoughts do these quotes provoke? Do they help you process your question? Christ grant you wisdom
“My last resistance to the idea of God’s wrath was a casualty of the war in the former Yugoslavia, the region from which I come. According to some estimates, 200,000 people were killed and over 3,000,000 were displaced. My villages and cities were destroyed, my people shelled day in and day out, some of them brutalized beyond imagination, and I could not imagine God not being angry. Or think of Rwanda in the last decade of the past century, where 800,000 people were hacked to death in one hundred days! How did God react to the carnage? By doting on the perpetrators in a grandfatherly fashion? By refusing to condemn the bloodbath but instead affirming the perpetrators’ basic goodness? Wasn’t God fiercely angry with them? Though I used to complain about the indecency of the idea of God’s wrath, I came to think that I would have to rebel against a God who wasn’t wrathful at the sight of the world’s evil. God isn’t wrathful in spite of being love. God is wrathful because God is love.” -Miroslav Volf
These poets lived in a world of savage punishments, of massacre and violence, of blood sacrifice in all countries and human sacrifice in many. And of course, too, we are far more subtle than they in disguising our ill-will from others and ourselves. C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms
Against all this the ferocious parts of the Psalms serve as a reminder that there is in the world such a thing as wickedness and that it (if not its perpetrators) is hateful to God. C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms
the absence of anger, especially that sort of anger which we call indignation, can, in my opinion, be a most alarming symptom… If the Jews cursed more bitterly than the Pagans this was, I think, at least in part because they took right and wrong more seriously. C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms
Thanks @Thomas_Wilson for this excellent question. It weighs on my heart as well.
I am still working this out for myself, but I think that there are likely different factors to consider.
First, I wonder whether the Psalmists’ outpouring of their feelings (all of them) before God somehow is a reflection of how we need to be honest in our interactions with God. We often, as Christians, have difficulty in expressing the darker side of our feelings to God, somehow thinking that we should not be feeling that way in the first place. Instead, like in the Psalms, we should be inviting God into the ugliness of our hearts (He knows how we are feeling anyway) so that He can begin the work of healing us and changing our hearts.
Second, I wonder whether the fact that the Psalms were written in the old testament (before Christ’s atonement for our sins) has any bearing on the communications between men and God. I am wondering, in particular, whether the stark division between the sin of mankind and the holiness of God would have anything to do with the language of the Psalmists?
As far as revenge and the wrath of God, I see both of these to be in the domain of God’s holiness and therefore not sinful at all. Sin requires a response from a holy God. Wrath and avenging would be appropriate responses, I would think, given that Jesus had not yet become the ultimate sacrifice for our sins. I wonder whether the Psalmists, in asking for God to pour out His wrath and to avenge the Israelites, His chosen people, were asking God to avenge His holiness, His name when speaking of those who oppressed them.
Thanks so much for your response to this question @SeanO! I love the references you gave from Miroslav Volf and C.S. Lewis. I heard Miroslav Volf tell this very recently but it helps to see it in print. Both of their contributions (and yours) gives me more to ponder.
@tpauls8 Glad to hear Your point about the difference between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant is very helpful to consider as well. That had not come to mind, but it is quite critical to remember that in the OT God was establishing a Kingdom on earth in Israel, whereas the Kingdom of Christ is not of this world. David expected justice in the form of peace on earth for God’s chosen nation, whereas we await Christ’s second return, knowing that in this world we may very well suffer for righteousness.
I will just piggyback on Tara’s respond of God’s holiness in wrath. I heard it phrased before as God’s righteous anger/wrath.
Psalms 79:5 I believe represents what we are studying about:
How long, O Lord? Will You be angry forever?
Will Your jealousy burn like fire?
Just as Sean stated, if God is not angry at the breach of justice, that means He doesn’t care for justice. And the Hebrew word for jealous could easily translate as zealous as well, to demonstrate God’s zealousness to uphold justice. He is even willing to pay the ultimate price itself to satisfy justice at the cross.
I think the easy takeaway that we must understand is:
God’s wrath/jealousy is righteous and not arbitrary like human’s anger (James 1:20)
Fire/burning in Hebrew is always used as a symbol for the judgment of God. (Deut 4:24)
God’s wrath and jealousy is always FOR our sake and our best interest, unlike the selfish nature of human’s anger or jealousy.
(He is always found to be j(z)ealous when His people turn to idolatry, worshiping gods that cannot save them - Isaiah 45:20 & Psalm 115)
Once we understand God’s wrath and jealousy correctly, we will not be so quick to put those divine emotions side-by-side with human emotions.
This is somewhat of a 4th point, we always need to zoom out and remember, the human language is limited to convey the vastness of God’s wonders and mystery. And they are also written from an observer’s perspective. For example when an observer says that “the sun sets”, we know it only appears so, but that the sun never really set.
I hope through my limited explanation, it helps you to better apprehend God’s righteous wrath and selfless jealousy.
I just want to add the reference Ephesians 4:26 which says “In your anger, do not sin”, and that suggests to me that “sin” seems to be on the other side of the line from “anger”. There is a point though where one crosses over.
I want to pose this question as - How can David talk to God that way?
King David was not a perfect man, neither were his desires. The way I see it though is that to talk to God about it is to be very honest. Better still is - for it to be recorded in the Bible, makes the Bible very honest about David’s relationship with God. Yet, he was the “man after God’s own heart”. Personally I think God wants us to be real with Him. We can come boldly to the throne room in prayer and talk to Him as our Father and seek His counsel.
Wonderful points @nkaravaki.
The desire for fairness and justice seem to be born into us. What small child does not cry out in frustration, “not fair!” Very young children don’t really understand justice as a learned thing, it’s innate. A desire for the world to respond in a way that values their feelings for the rightness of things.
And if it’s part of the blueprint God designed for us, then I’m wondering if it’s so we would be drawn to God when seeking fairness and justice. That sin creeps at our door and enters in when our response to our anger is not seeking God but taking retribution into our own hands.
The psalmist’s heartfelt plea is for God to render justice, not a proclamation of what the psalmist is planning to do to his enemies.
I’d like to add a couple of small thoughts to the great ones already laid out.
‘Be angry and sin not” is a caution from God, who knows our limits well. An old phrase, “anger clouds judgement” is another cautionary phrase people tell each other, also in recognition of our limits - the idea is that we have to be in control of ourselves to judge rightly and that we lose control in our anger. BUT, God does not “lose it” - He is never “out of control”. And, any time He is angry, it is righteous anger as He always knows whether it’s proper to be mad or not (and He is long suffering and, even, humble, so He is not easily angered) Also, He has complete, true insight into every matter. He can experience righteous anger and still give perfect judgements unclouded by the emotion. That’s not a human capacity but it is a God capacity.
It seems to me that often we are comfortable talking about the final Great White Throne judgement by Jesus - THE JUDGEMENT - but stumble over God judging people in the world now - a judgement - and decreeing/causing or allowing, by removing restrictions from evil angels (reference Job, among others), nation-level or personal catastrophes. We want to handcuff God to His nature of love and don’t like to consider His justice and/or discipline, which can show up in varied ways. But, He is not easily provoked and does not jump the gun on administering justice but when He moves from merciful restraint to executing justice, He does let His emotion be exhibited in and through His judgements, BUT never in a manner that His nature is compromised.
The anger of man never accomplishes the righteousness of God but God’s anger can accompany His actions against sin and evil, which He rightly detests. With that in mind, it is neither an OT God thing or a NT God thing but is an ongoing display of His righteous attitude towards unrighteousness in its many forms. The Revelation story lays out how He will no longer withhold His wrath once the period of His loving patience ends and will tell Jesus it is time to judge the world in truth, which is a post-resurrection event.
In sum, what are negative emotions in man are not negative emotions in God, as He knows all things and balances properly His actions in the midst of His emotions.
Hope you have a great Sunday!