Fear & Loathing In… God?

Today, if you hear his voice,
    do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
    as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
when your fathers put me to the test
    and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.
10 For forty years I loathed that generation
    and said, “They are a people who go astray in their heart,
    and they have not known my ways.”
11 Therefore I swore in my wrath,
    “They shall not enter my rest.” – Psalm 95

Moses Striking the Rock by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (oil on canvas 1660’s)

God loathed that generation! If you are like me that is so hard to grasp – God Loathed them! Why because they complained against God and hardened their hearts against him. How can God loath his chosen people? How does that even make sense? In one of John Webster’s sermons on this very Psalm he addresses how this can be. Honestly its one of the best explanations of God’s wrath and hatred and anger that I have ever read…

Now, if we are to hear Holy Scripture aright at this point, we must be very careful. We read of God “loathing” this generation, of God’s anger against them. But if we are to make sense of that, we must not fall into the idea that God becomes another God—a God without grace, a God without mercy, a God who is not the redeemer and guardian of his people. God’s anger against this wicked generation does not mean that God abandons his covenant. It does not mean that God casts off his people forever, and that his promises are at an end. God’s purpose stands fast. His ways will be brought to completion. No sin, no rebellion, no refusal of God, can overthrow the determination of God. If our sins could stand between us and God, then no one would ever have been saved. God has never and will never go back on his avowed purpose that he will be our God and we will be his people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand. God is infinitely greater than all our sins.

Because this is so, then this “loathing” and “anger” of God does not mean that God rejects his people and that he is no longer with them. But it does mean that his presence is the terrifying presence of the judge of all. And that presence purifies by destroying evil. God’s anger is not just sheer destructive rage, the kind of thing which afflicts human beings and leads them to smash everything in their sight. God’s anger is God setting aside the evil which we sinners have allowed to invade us and take over our lives. It is the fearful energy of his holiness; it is his refusal to let sin have the upper hand. Through his anger, God eradicates sin and evil from the world. And he eradicates evil with a purpose: He eradicates it in order that righteousness and holiness might flourish; he attacks sin to establish the good order of human life. God’s anger is not God on the rampage; it is the form of God’s love. It is God refusing to let sin triumph; it is God not allowing his people to destroy themselves. God’s anger is his faithfulness to the covenant, the purifying power of his love. It doesn’t send us to hell; it rescues us from hell.

Webster, J. (2014). Confronted by Grace: Meditations of a Theologian. (D. Bush & B. Ellis, Eds.). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

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