Christians today spout “God is Love.” It gets said so much that this has become a catchphrase, something many people say but don’t actually think about. However, if a Christian says that he or she has been really hurt by someone and is seeking help, chances are this phrase and many more like it “we have to understand this situation in light of the Gospel.” come thick and fast. The hurting Christian is told to grin, bear it, and reach out to the person that hurt him or her. In fact, in one of my classes, we were told that having protective barriers up after being hurt by someone was a bad response. Essentially, the hurting person is told to forgive and forget because “That’s what Jesus would do.” The hurting Christian is not supposed to be able to be offended at all, but rather be “so focused on God that the problems of this world melt away,” or another favorite, “Christians are supposed to have an eternal mindset, and in realizing the brevity of one’s time on earth one can then let anything and everything slide because, in light of eternity, this is just a small blip on the radar.”
This is ridiculous! Are human beings, upon being saved, supposed to transcend their humanness? Are emotions like anger, feeling hurt, and being upset wrong? Of course not! In fact, what the Bible teaches is completely contrary to this modern thought!
If being upset at injustice is wrong or a sin, then Jesus sinned, plain and simple. Mark 3:1-6 says that Jesus looked at the Pharisees with anger and grief. When Jesus threw the money changers out of the temple, He was probably upset with them (unless one was to assume that he either unemotionally or lovingly:
made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables; and to those who were selling the doves He said, “Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a place of business.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “ZEAL FOR YOUR HOUSE WILL CONSUME ME.” (John 2:15-17 emphasis mine).
Was Jesus sinning when He became angry with what they were doing to oppress the poor and downtrodden?
One response I have honestly heard is that, “Well, He’s God, and He can do things we can’t.” Let’s examine this statement.
- Can God do anything and everything?
- Yes. He is all-powerful (Isaiah 43:13, Matthew 19:26, Genesis 18:14 . . . ).
- Did God set up the rules of right and wrong for Earth?
- Yes (Genesis 2:16-17 for example. God told Adam what he could and could not do.)
- Is the line that God drew between right and wrong good?
- Yes. (Genesis 1:31)
- Can God act outside of the moral rules and boundaries He set up? (Not talking about natural laws that govern creation.)
This is where we run into a paradox similar to Euthyphro’s dilemma. Is it “good and just because God wills it or whether God wills it because it is good and just,” (link below).
To say the former implies that God has to choose the standard of good and evil. That means that He could literally say that mass murder is good, and it would be good because God says so. A capricious God could do whatever He wants, and call it good. He would be no better than a petty tyrant who defines his own good based on his whims.
To say the latter implies that God is drawing the boundaries based on an outside measuring stick. He does things that are good because the actions have been pre-defined as good. However, this means that there is a higher power that established what right and wrong is, and God has to follow that.
Neither outcome is desirable.
Where this line of reasoning runs aground is when goodness is separated from God. The problem arises when goodness becomes an external, objective thing rather than an attribute of God. God is good, and out of His goodness comes the natural lines between what is good and what is not.
To answer the last bullet-point – no. God cannot act outside of His rules and boundaries, because they are a natural outflowing of who He is. This would mean that He has acted against His character, something that is impossible.
To bring it all back around, saying that God can do whatever He wants because “He’s God” falls into the grievous error of saying that God is not inherently good. If God makes good moral rules based on His good character, and then if He breaks His good rules, then He has worked against His own good character, and therefore can no longer be called “good.” To say that God can act outside of His good moral guidelines [or to say that He’s God and can hate the wicked but we can’t] is nonsense because God cannot go against His character.
The Bible clearly states that God hates the wicked and what they do (Isaiah 61:8, Proverbs 6:16-19, Revelation 2:6, Zechariah 8:17, John 3:36, Psalm 5:4). If what God does is good and moral, Christians cannot say that God can hate the wicked but we can’t. Again, He would be breaking His own rules which means He would go against His own character. But since He is good, it, therefore, follows what He does is good, and what He does Christians should follow. If He wanted us to follow the guidelines He set up (guidelines that again are a natural outflowing of who He is), should Christians not also hate the wicked?
When the Bible records Jesus getting angry and upset at injustice, there are only a couple responses that one can have. Either God can be angry with wicked people because He’s God, but we can’t (which again says that He can act outside of His character); or people might say that the Bible manuscripts are in error (at which point the whole Bible becomes untrustworthy); or Christians can say Jesus really sinned (at which point He would no longer be God and Christianity would be null and void). Or one must say that Jesus really did get angry at injustice and that that is something Christians should also do.
There was a quote I heard in class that I thought was very truthful. It goes, “There needs to be justice to maintain order in society.” If this is true, why is there no justice for the oppressed, the abuse victims, and the downtrodden in most American churches today?
**PLEASE note that I do not encourage Christians to become hateful at everything. The Bible does not teach blind rage at very minor offenses. Rather, when there is a great injustice done (in the case of abuse or rape for instance), anger at what has happened is a healthy response. Horrible things have happened. Abuse is not something that you can just get over. The scars last for some their entire lives.
Also, note the Bible does not teach bitterness. Holding grudges is destructive to the one holding them and is wrong. The Bible teaches that personal vengeance is in the hands of the Lord.
HOWEVER, there are passages (1 Corinthians 5 and Deuteronomy 17) that call for the people of God to purge the wicked person from their midst. This is not vengeance but rather a zeal for holiness.