The Purpose, and the Misuse, of Anger

May 28, 2015 at 10:45 am | Posted in Matthew | 9 Comments
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Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.

Matthew 5:21-26

We are created in the image of God. This deals more with the make-up of our inner selves than any physical characteristics. It includes our will and our emotions. In some ways, our emotions are a mirror of the ways God chooses to express His feelings. We are able to love because God is love, and He has created an ability to love in us. We have compassion because God understands everything about us, and He has created in us an ability to understand others.

Many of the emotions which we received from God have been warped and perverted because of sin. Jealousy is one example. God’s jealousy is good. We should be jealous of those we love in the sense of wanting what is best for them, and wanting to share a special bond. But instead we make it into a petty, selfish emotion, where we are jealous of what someone else has, so that we want it for ourselves. Another example is lust: a strong burning inward desire for something. We should lust after our spouses. We should lust after righteousness. But we’ve turned lust into a sinful desire to have what is forbidden, and our flesh enjoys it all the more because it is forbidden. Fear is another example. We should have an awe of God, and a reverent fear of Him that helps us. Instead, we make fear our excuse for not moving in faith, for not boldly going into the unknown while knowing that God is with us.

Let’s focus on another example: anger. Anger is expressed by God. God is love, but He does get angry. God is love, and He is good, but a part of being good is being just, and part of being just is rewarding right and punishing wrong. God’s holiness must be offended by, and angered by, sin. It must be angered by injustice, so God reserves His anger for times when His creatures rebel against Him, as is the case with Lucifer, Adam and Eve – and you and I.

Question: How can God be loving and angry?
Answer: How can He not?

We tend to be subjective when we think about someone’s evil deeds. Two people read about a criminal in the news. One person is offended, and another person is not. One person does not approve of the criminal’s actions, but is sympathetic over the consequences of getting caught or over the circumstances that led him to commit the crime. A third person is aghast and disgusted at the villainy that was perpetrated. Deep down, though, each of them has a sense of justice. When the crime is horrific enough, or cruel enough, we feel an urge to see punishment meted out, if not by the authorities, then at least by some cosmic judge. None of us really, truly want a God who could look at 9/11 and just want to give Osama Bin Laden a hug. God’s response to kidnappings, rapes, murders can not be, “Let’s just hold hands and sing kumbaya.”

Question: If God is all-powerful and all good, why is there so much bad?
Answer: That’s the wrong question. The question should be: “If God is all-powerful and all good, why has He not obliterated this whole world a long time ago?”

God expresses anger – it seems – as a way of dealing with injustice and sin. But we have taken our God-given capacity for anger, and have warped it and abused it and tainted it with sin.

There is a righteous anger and a holy indignation. The Bible even tells us to be angry (but not to sin, Ephesians 4:26). Some examples of righteous indignation include Jesus chasing the money-changers out of the Temple, and sinners under John the Baptist’s preaching reacting violently to get past the Pharisees in order to get to God (Matthew 11:12).

Matthew 5:21-26 is part of the Sermon on the Mount, where Christ the King issued His decrees on the fulfillment of – and the real meaning of – the Law. The Pharisees had made the law of Moses completely external. Christ said that its real application is to the heart – internal. Sinful anger is anger that is not justified – anger that exists, according to Matthew 5:22, “without a cause.” And this may very well include 99.9% of all human anger. Because, unlike God, we are sinful and not capable of exercising or administering perfect justice, we are commanded to be forgiving, meek, humble, long-suffering, kind, loving, prayerful for enemies, willing to turn the other cheek.

We who have been forgiven in Christ have been spared the consequences of God’s anger, although God remained just. Therefore, we, being unjust, must not place our own selfish interpretation of justice around us and seek to enforce it.

Sinful anger is very dangerous. It makes us want to destroy, when Jesus has called us to be builders rather than destroyers.

Sinful anger puts us into bondage spiritually (and sometimes literally). God doesn’t want us to be captives. He wants us to be free.

Sinful anger in our hearts comes out of our mouths, and makes a bad situation worse. God wants us to come into bad situations and make them better.

The Law said “thou shalt not kill.” The Pharisees added:

Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.

Matthew 5:43

Jesus said not only is murder a sin, but unjustified hatred in the heart is murder.

Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.

I John 3:15

Most murders are not cold and calculated; they are a result of unrestrained anger. Most of them don’t take place when people are defending a righteous cause; most of them take place in the barrooms and the bedrooms. God values human life. Only He gives it, and only He has the right to take it away. So the Lord says, make things right with your brother before you come to the altar to show your love for God. We need to come to worship with a right heart. Bitterness and anger toward our brothers intrudes on our relationship with God, and our worship of Him.

A Justice Sandwich

February 11, 2015 at 2:40 pm | Posted in Exodus | 6 Comments
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Exodus Chapter 21 starts off by addressing the rules governing servitude or slavery. The laws involving servants for Israel were supposed to be far different from the way the pagan nations practiced slavery. Remember, the Israelites had just come out of real slavery in Egypt, so, what is being dealt with primarily here is much closer to what we would call “employment,” than what we think of when we think of “slavery” as practiced by those who kidnap people and treat them like animals.

Most “servants” in Israel (except for foreign prisoners of war) were contract employees – the way the owner of a professional football team is said to “own” the players he signs to a contract. This type of employment contract was limited, under the Covenant Code, to six years, although the servant could decide to stay with his owner after that. The decision to place oneself into legally enforceable servitude for longer than the initial limited time period was to be taken seriously, and even discouraged to an extent, so there was a formal public ceremony to impress upon all involved the nature of what was being undertaken.

And if the servant shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free: Then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an aul; and he shall serve him for ever.

Exodus 21:5-6

The laws in this section of the Covenant are what are called casuistic and paradigmatic. They are casuistic, meaning that they are case-law examples. They were not intended to be applied by the judges narrowly or only to the specific situations described. They were designed for extrapolating into unforeseen or unusual circumstances. For example:

And if a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished.

Exodus 21:20

What if the boss didn’t hit the employee, but chained him to a tree until he starved to death? Could he escape punishment by claiming the law didn’t apply to him? After all, there was no smiting involved. No. The law concerning the rod was a casuistic example of a broader principle. A wise judge could easily see this.

These laws were paradigmatic in this sense: What if a woman rather than a man hit her servant? The principle of the law would still apply. The genders were interchangeable unless otherwise specified. What if the boss hit the servant with an ax instead of a rod? It’s the same idea, and the same punishment would adhere. The paradigm was still in place

In studying the laws of the Covenant Code it is also helpful to understand that they are often chiastic in structure. Otherwise, they might seem random to the casual reader. A chiasm is a literary or an oratorical device that is used mnemonically. Since these laws were given verbally and were largely transmitted verbally, chiasms helped group laws together in interesting and therefore memorable ways. For example:

He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to death. And if a man lie not in wait, but God deliver him into his hand; then I will appoint thee a place whither he shall flee. But if a man come presumptuously upon his neighbour, to slay him with guile; thou shalt take him from mine altar, that he may die.

Exodus 21:12-14

The structure is A-B-A. A general principle is stated: (A) The one who kills shall be killed. An exception is described: (B) If the killing is not premeditated, the killer may find a safe haven pending inquiry. Then, the general principle is restated with greater clarity: (C) One who kills with malice aforethought is to receive the death penalty.

The technique of chiasmus may be thought of like a sandwich. Two pieces of bread are the outer brackets, and the most bland parts. But each subsequent ingredient has a match on each side as you move closer to the center: mustard on each slice of bread, two pieces of lettuce, two slices of tomato, pickles on the top and bottom of the meat, which is in the center, and which is the most interesting (and least obvious) and defining thing about the sandwich. So, many of the chiasms are more complex than A-B-A, and may look more like:

A
B
C
D
C
B
A

“He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to death” is very general – basically a restatement of the 6th Commandment. “And if a man lie not in wait, but God deliver him into his hand; then I will appoint thee a place whither he shall flee” seems like a nonsequitur – like it applies to negligent homicide or to manslaughter. “But if a man come presumptuously upon his neighbour, to slay him with guile; thou shalt take him from mine altar, that he may die” returns to the theme – with an additional detail.

It is also worth noting at this point that the subject of this particular chiasm is the well-known lex talionis – from the Latin for “law” (lex) and talia, meaning “in like kind.” The “law of retaliation” – an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth – was the law of perfect justice. The punishment was supposed to fit the crime. This was in contrast to many laws of the ancient world, which focused on monetary or material fines and allowed rich people to count the cost and hurt people when it was more convenient. On the flip side, though, the qualifiers to the lex talionis in God’s law were also in stark contrast to the too-strict laws of the ancient world that often allowed vengeance to take the place of justice.

If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman’s husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life, Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

Exodus 21:22-25

The Consequences of Forgiven Sins

January 18, 2010 at 9:46 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 10 Comments
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David’s sins had been great. Looking with lust upon Bathsheba, he soon found himself involved in adultery, murder, and lying. David repented, and the Lord was faithful to forgive, but David was learning the harsh realities of the consequences of forgiven sins.

Bathsheba had given birth to a child who had no name, but the child was due to be circumcised on the eighth day after his birth. David spent six days in fasting and prayer, asking God to suspend His principle of sowing and reaping. But on the seventh day the child died.

And it came to pass on the seventh day, that the child died. And the servants of David feared to tell him that the child was dead: for they said, Behold, while the child was yet alive, we spake unto him, and he would not hearken unto our voice: how will he then vex himself, if we tell him that the child is dead? But when David saw that his servants whispered, David perceived that the child was dead: therefore David said unto his servants, Is the child dead? And they said, He is dead.

II Samuel 12:18-19

This was not to be the end of David’s chastening, but it was a key moment in David’s walk of faith. Rather than turning from the Lord, he continued to turn to the Lord. Bathsheba also received forgiveness from God, for we find her in the genealogical line of Christ. In II Samuel 12:15 she is called “Uriah’s wife.” Uriah was the man whose death David had arranged so he could have Bathsheba for himself. However, in Verse 25 Bathsheba is referred to as David’s wife.

When God chastens His children, the chastening can seem harsh and severe. But we know He chastens in love. Christians who have stumbled, and then have sought and received the Lord’s forgiveness, must not be discouraged if there are consequences to their sins which still must be dealt with. God does not always deliver tidy explanations, but He does give dependable promises.


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