Jean’s Gospel: Is God Angry?
“And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep.” (Matt 8:23-24)
A recent headline read: ‘Is God Mad?’ Mississippi Tornado Wreaks Havoc; Kills 4. The news article, which covered a Hattiesburg family that just lost their home in a tornado, quoted a young girl who asked her father: “Is God mad at us?” That weekend, nineteen people throughout the Southeast lost their lives in tornados.
It is not uncommon for victims or bystanders to ask if there is a causal connection between a tragedy and God’s wrath, because they understand God to be holy, good and just. They wonder if God caused or allowed the tragedy to occur as judgment or punishment for someone’s sin. God certainly possesses all of those attributes and He does punish sin, but does He make His invisible attributes perceptible in things that actually happen?
People engage in this line of speculation for a variety of reasons. Some Christians want to protect God’s honor by assigning blame to the victims. Other Christians want to use God’s name to bludgeon the victims in order to support their own pet cause. People who hate God may blame and judge Him as an unjust or uncaring deity. However, some Christians may simply be afraid, suffering and/or in mourning and are sincerely looking to God for answers.
“And they went and woke him, saying, ‘Save us, Lord; we are perishing.’ ” (Matt 8:25)
Based on the fact that at least four of the disciples were fishermen, Jesus and the disciples must have been caught in an extreme storm because the disciples were afraid for their lives. I would not be surprised in the least if one thought on their minds was: Is God angry at us?
That would not have been the only time that the disciples attempted to draw a causal connection from a tragedy to God’s wrath. What about the Galileans whose blood Pilate mingled with their sacrifices, people asked? (Luke 13:1). Jesus rejected the causal link and added His own story for an exclamation point: “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:2-5)
In the Gospel of John we learn of a man born blind. The disciples asked Jesus: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2) Jesus replied that the man’s blindness was not punishment for the man or his parents’ sin, “but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:3)
What about Job? He suffered the loss of family, possessions and health. However, Job appears to have been chosen to suffer not on account of any sin, but on account of his goodness. “And the Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?’ ” (Job 1:8) God could have chosen a lesser man to hand over to Satan, but He chose Job because Job was blameless and upright.
“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.” (Job 42:2-3)
What Jesus taught his disciples and what Job also learned is that God’s providential rule of the world is hidden from us; it consists of “things too wonderful for [us]”. We simply cannot and should not attribute a tragedy or suffering to God’s punishment of the victims. Their loss and suffering may have nothing whatsoever to do with punishment. It may just as well be attributable to God’s grace, His discipline or for His glory. God simply does not tell us the reason why.
Therefore, if we are asking “Is God mad at us (or them)?” we are asking the wrong question, and we are looking for God in the wrong place. God does not make His intentions towards us known through His providential works, so we must seek Him in only one Man, in one place.
“And he said to them, ‘Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?’ Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. And the men marveled, saying, ‘What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?’ ” (Matt 8:25-27)
When we hear about tragedies, such as the Galileans who had their blood mixed with their sacrifices, or the victims of a terrorist attack, earthquake or tornado, Jesus says that we should respond with repentance: “but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” In this week’s text, we see the disciples enact their repentance. They turned from their fear of the storm to Christ for their salvation: “And they went and woke him, saying, ‘Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” The storm turned (or repented) the disciples to their Savior. It served God’s grace as it drew the disciples closer to Christ in faith.
Sufferings and tragedies test our faith. But Christ, who suffered for the sins of the world and who conquered sin, death and the devil, is our answer to human suffering and the question of God’s wrath. While we are not given to understand God’s providential rule by examining events in the world, good or bad, He desires that we seek our understanding of God and His love for us through the suffering and death of His Son on the cross.
Jesus satisfied God’s wrath against sin on the cross as our substitute. “For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.” (Rom 5:15b) If we are able to behold Christ’s death on the cross for our sins and receive His unconditional forgiveness by faith alone, then we may have absolute certainty in every situation that God is not angry with us. Not only is He not angry with us, He is our heavenly Father who loves us. Amen!
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28) Amen.