When God gets angry

From a Christian perspective, one of the more telling pictures of divine anger is the cleansing of the Temple.  John’s version of the story goes like this:

After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother, his brothers, and his disciples; and they remained there for a few days.  The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money-changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, ‘Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a market-place!’ His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’ The Jews then said to him, ‘What sign can you show us for doing this?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.  (John 2:12-22)

What does this story tell us?

  • The anger of Jesus in the Temple reminds us that we do not live in a value free world
  • It reminds us that God loves us and is present with us, but God also has a will for us
  • When our lives are out of sync with God’s will the anger we encounter is not the anger of a God who is only and always angry
  • Nor is it the anger of a God looking for an opportunity to vent anger
  • The anger we encounter in God points to something out of order with the will of one who loves with purpose
  • It also reminds us that it is not enough to be loved.  If it is true that God loves us — and it is — it is equally true that God wants the best for us
  • Divine anger reminds us of the distance between that desire and the lives we live
  • God is not angry for the sake of being angry
  • God is not angry out of pique or caprice

What is the lesson in spiritual direction?  The anger of God signals the dissonance between what God wants for us and the way in which we are living.  The key to spiritual growth is prayerful attention to the distance between the two.

About Frederick Schmidt

The Reverend Dr. Frederick W. Schmidt, Jr. holds the Rueben P. Job Chair in Spiritual Formation at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL, and directs the Rueben Job Institute for Spiritual Formation. He is an Episcopal Priest, spiritual director, retreat facilitator, conference leader, writer, and consulting editor at Church Publishing in New York. He is the author of numerous published articles and reviews, as well as several books: A Still Small Voice: Women, Ordination and the Church (Syracuse University Press, 1998), The Changing Face of God (Morehouse, 2000), When Suffering Persists (Morehouse, 2001), in Italian translation: Sofferenza, All ricerca di una riposta (Torino: Claudiana, 2004), What God Wants for Your Life (Harper, 2005), Conversations with Scripture: Revelation (Morehouse, 2005), Conversations with Scripture: Luke (Morehouse, 2009), and The Dave Test (Abingdon, 2013). He and his wife, Natalie (who is also an academic and an Episcopal priest), live in Highland Park, Illinois, with their Gordon Setter, Hilda of Whitby. They have four children and four grandchildren: Henry, Addie, Heidi, and Sophie.


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