Tag Archives: Wrath of God

God’s People, part 75: Gehazi

Read 2 Kings 5:15-27

“For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows.” (1 Timothy 6:10 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

3393-largePart 75: Gehazi. The story of Naaman is one of the greatest examples in the Old Testament of the gracefulness of God. There was a man who was technically not one of God’s people, meaning that he was not under the Jewish covenant with the one, true God, yet he sought out the help of God through the prophet Elisha. In doing so, in humbling himself, God cleansed Naaman of his lebrosy.

Such an experience would, obviously, be life changing. 2 Kings tells us that Naaman went with all of his accompanying party back to Elisha and declared, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel.” He also proclaimed, ” Then Naaman said,  “From now on I will never again offer burnt offerings or sacrifices to any other god except the LORD.” (vv. 15b, 17a).

This is the power of God through those who effectively witness to God’s love and merciful grace. Because of Elisha’s faithfulness in caring for an enemy, that enemy became a brother in the LORD. Naaman made one other request of Elisha. While he would only ever worship the LORD God of Israel, he still needed to show loyalty to his king. He asked if God would pardon him for bowing before the King. Though this is technically a sign of worship, as much as it is a sign of loyalty and respect, Naaman’s heart was set on worshiping the LORD and not his king. God knows the hearts of people. Elisha’s response was conciliatory. He said to Naaman, “Go in peace.”

How awesome the grace of God is! God knew Naaman’s heart and was not going to force Naaman to disrespect his king over a technicality. The overjoyed Syrian commander wanted to give Elisha a gift; however, Elisha refused to accept one. His work was not for payment, but in service of the living God. Unfortunately, that sort of humility and selflessness fell on deaf ears and a hardened heart with Elisha’s servant, Gehazi.

Gehazi was angry over his master not accepting the gifts. He vowed to chase after Naaman and get something from him. Upon reaching Naaman, he made up a lie about prophets arriving as guests and that Elisha was in need of 75 pounds of silver to entertain and care for them. Naaman, of course, was overjoyed to help and gave Gehazi twice the amount he asked for.

Once he returned home, Gehazi hid the money in his house. Yet, God knew what he had done and, as it turns out, so did Elisha who had a vision of him committing the crime. Unlike Naaman, who had humbled himself, Gehazi was proud and full of greed. He was not acting like the servant of God that he was called to be. As a result, Gehazi ended up contracting leprosy. His skin became crusty white, as snow.

Stories of God’s wrath always make us uncomfortable, probably because we all know that we all fall short of God’s glorious standard (Romans 3:23); yet, it is important to realize that whether Gehazi had gotten leprosy or not, his actions poisoned his soul and led him far from where God was calling him to be. The challenge for us is to not dismiss accounts of the wrath of God because they makes us uncomfortable, but to let them cause us to reflect on our own lives, on where we are and where we ought to be. Are we, God’s servants, living up to the purpose God has for us, or are we selling out to our base nature and giving in to other spirits, voices and temptations? Let us strive to be like Naaman and avoid, like the plague (pun intended), the way of Gehazi.

“God’s judgment is not like man’s judgment. It is not a suspension of His Love but an extension of His Love. His justice is always righteous, so His judgment is always Love.” – Criss Jami

Lord, help me from following my base nature and turn my heart back to you. You have created me, apart from sin. Remove my sins and renew me, once more, as your servant. Amen.

Wrath of God, part 5

Read Jeremiah 31:1-10

“I—yes, I alone—will blot out your sins for My own sake and will never think of them again.” (Isaiah 43:25, NLT)

jer4-weeping-prophetJeremiah stood there in the midst of the city. Everything had been destroyed and burned to the ground. The houses were smoldering furnaces with smoke billowing to the heavens. Corpses were lying everywhere and the stench of decay filled the air. Jerusalem had her share of sorrows in the past, but they all paled in comparison with the Babylonian seige.

The Temple was in ruins and not one stone remained on top of the other. The holy place of God was a ransacked pile of rubble, laid to waste by the gentile Babylonians. The survivors were left without their Temple, without their homes, without the property, and without anyone of their spiritual leaders. King Zedekiah, his cabinet of advisors, his family, his priests and all of the leaders and their families were all exiled from Jerusalem and taken back to Babylon as spoils of the war. The future of Judah, the future of Jerusalem, were uncertain.

Jeremiah stood there that day, having been released from the prison by order of the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II. He was imprisoned by King Zedekiah for speaking out against the corruption of the King and the king’s government. Nebuchadnezzar had him released because word reached him that there was a prophet who prophesied in Babylon’s favor. Jeremiah stood there, horrified at the site of the utter and complete destruction, and he wept.

“If only they had listened,” he thought to himself. “If only they had turned from their wickedness, from their corruption, from their greed, they would have avoided all of this. How many innocent lives had been destroyed by the evil perpetrated by those who refused to live justly, who refused to love mercy, and who refused to walk humbly with their God?

But as sad Jeremiah was that day, he was not without hope for he knew that God was not the God of eternal judgment but the God of endless and ever abounding grace! God would not abandon the people of Judah, but would be working to bring them home and to restore them back to the people they were created to be. God would be showing them forgiveness and working toward reconciliation. This was not so just in spirit and in truth, but through the leadership of those who were still open to God’s wisdom and guidance; through the leadership of people like Jeremiah and those who followed him.

What is important for us to gather from Jeremiah and the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians is that GOD is not the GOD OF WRATH, but the GOD OF GRACE. When looking at the wrath of God, ask yourself this question: Is God reigning wrath down on the people? Even if it is being articulated that way by the Biblical authors, is that really what is going on? Or is the wrath of God, properly speaking, the natural consequences to the evil that people perpetuate? People may get away with being wicked for so long, but eventually (as the phrase suggests), “every dog has its day.”

What’s even more important to glean from this narrative, is that while we do often bring the wrath of our actions down upon our heads, God never gives up hope on us. God is always forgiving us, always working to restore us back to a place of righteousness, and always working to reconcile us with God and with our neighbor. In wrath, in the natural consequences of our sinful and evil actions, there is still GREAT HOPE. Today’s challenge is to see the hope in the consequences we, and the world, are facing today and to begin to be God’s mouthpiece for the proclamation of the Good News of God’s reconciliation and restoration!

“The work of community, love, reconciliation, restoration is the work we cannot leave up to politicians. This is the work we are all called to do.” – Shane Claiborne

Lord, help me to not only seek justice, but to seek reconciliation for myself and for others. Amen.

Wrath of God, part 4

Read Genesis 19:1-16

“Do to [Babylon] as she has done to others. Double her penalty for all her evil deeds. She brewed a cup of terror for others, so brew twice as much for her.” (Revelation 18:6)

fall-of-babylon-640x426It was on Thursday, Sepetember 13, 2001 that the late Rev. Jerry Falwell carried a conversation with televangelist Pat Robertson regarding the worst terrorist attacks in U.S. history just two days earlier on 9/11. He said, “The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularise America, I point the finger in their face and say, ‘You helped this happen.'”

Wow! Go ahead, read that quote again. Let it sink in. Did God really send terrorists, or “allow terrorists to succeed” in killing nearly 3,000 people (most of whom were not abortionists or ACLU members, many of whom were not gay or lesbian, and most of whom were not pagans) because such people are fighting for the secularization of the country? Does God really operate in such a morally questionable way? This is the type of stuff that make the Bible and, in particular, the wrath of God so hard to navigate while trying to be a responsible theologian.

I am not quoting the late Rev. Falwell to judge him; but to continue to address the wrath of God and how that operates in the Biblical narrative. First, I would like to state that God’s wrath is almost always poured out upon nations (with some exceptions). Rev. Falwell’s line of thinking that God could be pouring judgment and wrath upon America is certainly not unfounded in a literal interpretation of Scripture. In Exodus, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Jonah, and many others we see God actively calling nations out for their wickedness and we see God’s wrath poured out on them for their wickedness. In Revelation, we see God’s wrath being poured out on the beast, which represents the Roman Empire.

But the question is, what angers God so much that God’s wrath boils up and over? Time and time again, when we look in the Bible, we see that what God despises the most, what sets God off in anger and wrath, is injustice! When the privileged abuse their power for their own gain, when those in power lord it over those who are powerless, God gets angry. When people are oppressed, enslaved, mistreated, disregarded, impoverished, forgotten, manipulated and/or exploited, God is incensed.

Even in the instance of Sodom and Gomorrah, the wrath was the result of all of the men of the city trying to rape the very messengers God sent to warn the cities. While rape involves a sexual act, it is more of an abusive act of power than it is one of sex. And God destests such injustice. God’s wrath on Sodom and Gomorrah was not over consensual homosexuality, as it is often misinterpreted, but rather about the kind of moral depravity that the entire city was consumed by…to the point that its citizens would rape and have their way with strangers and aliens, just because they could!

Let us not fall into the moral tar pit of judgment toward people who are different than us in sexual identity, in gender, in political affiliation, in ideology, or in any such thing. That is the pathway of sin and, ultimately, can lead to evil (e.g. Orlando Massacre). When reflecting on God’s wrath, we must understand the heart of God. The Bible makes it clear to us, over and over again, that God detests injustice in all forms, and God’s heart is with the downtrodden and the oppressed and that God’s wrath comes against the SYSTEMS that work their hardest at keeping the oppressed “in their place.”

The question for us is this, does God’s anger burn through us at the injustice we see toward all who are oppressed and/or discriminated against? Or do we align with the SYSTEM in its discrimination? Do we fight for all to be treated equal in the system and under the law, or do we want to keep the under-privileged in their places so that we can hold on to our privilege and power? Reflect upon this and allow the conviction of God to stir up honest answers to those questions, for honest answers lead to heavenly transformation.

“If everyone howled at every injustice, every act of barbarism, every act of unkindness, then we would be taking the first step towards a real humanity.” – Nelson DeMille

Lord, help me to see the injustice that I perpetuate so that I may eliminate it and fight against it in the world around me. Amen.

Wrath of God, part 3

Read Jeremiah 6:1-19

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let Me. And now, look, your house is abandoned and desolate.” (Matthew 23:37-38 NLT)

Destruction_of_JerusalemJeremiah looked at his beloved Judah, and his beloved Jerusalem, and all he could feel was his anger, his rage toward what it had become. Coming from the tribe of Benjamin, Jeremiah was born in a priestly family and was called by God to be a prophet. Though reluctant at first, Jeremiah soon found that he could not turn away God’s call, for it burned like a wildfire within him.

Jeremiah was called to be a prophet around a year after King Josiah reformed Jerusalem and banned any form of idol worship. The king had tried to bring Judah back to a true and pure worship of God and he established the Temple of Jerusalem as the ONLY temple that God could be worshipped in. Following his death in a battle at Megiddo against Egypt, Judah quickly returned to its wicked ways.

The people of Judah and Jerusalem fell back into idol worship as a result of weak and corrupt leadership. The leaders themselves were corrupt politicians, greedy, murderous, and totally lacking the moral and ethical compasses needed for true leadership. The desparity between the ruling class and the poor grew wider and wider and the shepherds (aka the leaders) of God’s people were more or less wolves in disguise. They weren’t caring for or protecting the people, they were milking and raping them of all they had. What’s worse, the priests and religious leaders were corrupt as well, and supported these elitist, tyrannical rulers with the authority of their religious office. By doing this, the priests were explicitly giving the rulers “God’s blessing” to continue in their corruption.

This incensed Jeremiah. He was furiously beside himself and could not contain the fire that was raging inside. “I’m filled with the Lord’s rage,” Jeremiah shouted, “and am tired of holding it in” (Jeremiah 6:11). In the suggested reading, one sees Jeremiah go through an entire rant about how angry God is and that God would not sit idly by and do nothing in regard to the wickedness of Judah. God was going to bring wrath upon their heads. Their cities would be leveled. Their people would be exiled. Smoke would be seen from miles to remind everyone of what happens when you stray and embrace wickedness. Jeremiah’s rant is harsh, and much of it is spoken as being the very words of God.

Outside of the context, it is very easy for us to read that and take the words literally. In fact, some Christians do believe that God is an angry God who punishes the wicked for their wrong doings. They even wrongfully use such words in judgment against groups of people they disagree with, labeling them as “wicked” and blaming catastrophic events on their wickedness.What’s more, anti-theists will often point to such verses as a reason that religion needs to go. And it is no wonder why, what kind of perfect God throws such temper-tantrums and wipes out entire peoples.

Yet, let us not lose sight that this is Jeremiah speaking. He may be doing so on behalf of God, but he is not God. Let us also not lose sight that Jeremiah is extremely angry, and rightfully so, at the corruption and injustice of Judah’s leaders. It’s not all that different from the anger many are feeling today at the corruption of our American leaders and the injustice that is spreading throughout our land. Jeremiah is, quite frankly, ticked off at this and, rightfully, is pointing out that God is really, really angry too. In fact, God’s anger is what is fueling his anger!

With that said, Jeremiah also provides us words that permit us to interpret this text more responsibly. He words it that way but also proclaims, “Listen, all the earth! I will bring disaster on My people. It is the fruit of their own schemes, because they refuse to listen to Me. They have rejected My word” (Jeremiah 6:19 NLT). In other words, God’s wrath is ultimately the natural and often unintended consequences of evil and wickedness having their effect upon a people who have brought such consequences upon themselves.

As we will see later on, God does not just display wrath but also mercy, forgiveness, redemption and reconciliation. Yet, I do not want to put the cart before the horse. Today’s challenge, then, is for us to reflect on God’s wrath. Reflect on the wickedness in our own hearts, the wickedness in the world, and the evil that is carried out on a daily basis. Reflect on the natural consequences of such wickedness and evil. Read the suggested reading, feel God’s and Jeremiah’s pain, and reflect upon it. Allow it to pierce your heart and move you to change as well as turn you into an agent, a prophet, of change.

“This is the very worst wickedness, that we refuse to acknowledge the passionate evil that is in us. This makes us secret and rotten.” – D. H. Lawrence

Lord, help me to move away from wickedness and injustice and to speak out against it as well. Amen.

Wrath of God, part 2

Read Genesis 4:1-16

“So the LORD was sorry He had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke His heart.” (Genesis 6:6 NLT)

broken-heartIn the Beginning, God desired to create a world in which God could raise and nurture all of creation. So God set about in that Creation and saw all that was created as divinely good. Finally, God decided to make a creature that would be fashioned in the very image of God. In God’s image (imago Dei), human beings were created and set apart from the rest of Creation.

Now, humans were not set apart so that they could feel superior to God’s creation, for God loved all of Creation; however, God hoped to have a special relationship with humans, a mutual relationship that would be founded on the love of which God created them. God gave them everything they could ever need, and God made sure that they were cared for and nurtured.

Created in God’s image, humans had sharp intelligence and were filled with the creativity of their Creator. They were filled with compassion and a profound sense of their connection with the rest of Creation, so much so that they first people began name the creatures God created and began to be there caretakers, just as God was the care takers of them. Thus, they were living into that very image in which they were Created. To God, everything seemed perfect.

Unfortunately, humans quickly grew to resent their dependence on God and they became bored and complacent in their relationship. Like young adults seeking their independence from their loving parents, they first people chose to do things their own way and to make their own way in the world. They sought out their own wisdom and disregarded the wisdom God had already given to them. They ignored the warnings of God and, as a result, humanity fell into a state of sin. Whether this was a good thing or a bad thing is up for debate. Perhaps this was the final step of Creation, where humans could “fully mature” and could now choose for themselves to have a loving and mutual relationship with God. Perhaps, this was more of a fall than a blessing as humans began making poorer and poorer choices. Or, as I have come to understand it, it was a little of both.

Regardless, overtime humans when from being in a loving, mutual relationship with God to being in a tenuous, and often dysfunctional relationship with God. This was sadly reflected in the dysfunctional relationships that began to plague the relationships humans had with each other. Patriarchy started to develop, where men saw themselves as better, superior, and in control of women. Brothers rose up against their other siblings out of competition and jealousy, murdering their siblings in cold and sadistic blood.

All of God’s creation began to suffer as a result of this terrible imbalance in the world God had created. People started owning animals, owning land, owning other people, ruling those they conquered, and killing all who stood in their way to attain absolute power. The green fields, the deserts, the streams, ponds and oceans went from pure to running red with the blood of the destruction humanity was reigning upon the earth!

God, seeing the terrible turn that creation had taken, began to grieve so deeply that God began to question why God even created anything at all! God’s grief moved from questioning to remorse and that remorse grew into anger. God was angry that Creation had fallen into such a state of disrepair. God was angry that humans were killing humans, that they were denying their divine connection to Creation, and that they were denying their divine connection to and relationship with their Creation. In that deep anger, God also found compassion, and set out to redeem this Creation that had become so tragically broken!

This is, obviously, just the beginning of the narrative of God we find in the Bible. This is just the Genesis, if you will. I fully admit that lots of theological questions pop up in regard to how a perfect God could create a world that went so tragically wrong. I also fully admit that there is no answer out there that fully satisfies those types of questions. But this narrative shows us that God’s reaction to the evil in the world is not unlike ours and that our righteous anger over the brokenness of this world comes from that divine image of God within us. Let us reflect on that for today, and in the days ahead, just as surely we will reflect on the evil that is currently and consistently plaguing this world.

“The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.” – William Blake

Lord, help me to see the world, in its brokenness, through your eyes. In my anger, help me to discover the compassion from which it stems and allow it to fuel me to be even more compassionate. Amen.

Wrath of God, part 1

Read 1 Kings 21:1-29

God is a righteous judge, and a God who has indignation every day. (Psalms 7:11 NRSV)

lightning-storm-at-sea-wallpaper-2Anger. It is a natural response to things that not only “upset” us, but things that shake us to our very core. We as humans get angry at a lot of different things for a whole host of different reasons. We get angry when we experience injustice, when we lose loved ones, when we aren’t validated, when we feel out of control, when we feel threatened, and when we are stuck in a world of uncertainty.

I am not referring to petty anger, I am not referring to someone getting “mad” because they didn’t get their way, or because they missed their favorite show, or because their best friends suddenly became super annoying. I am not referring to any sort of petty, temper-tantrum, stubborn anger that wells up out of self-absorption.

Rather, I am referring to the deep, gutteral, extremely emotional, often times physical reaction our souls, minds, and bodies have to the evil in the world that surrounds. This week we do not have to look far or wide to get a sense of what I am talking about. The mass shooting that took place in an LGTBQ nightclub in Orlando, Fl and claimed the lives of 50 people is such an example.

When I first heard of the shooting in the early morning of Saturday, June 12th, I was at first deeply saddened and, if I am honest, a bit numb. How many times are we going to have wake up to hear that more people have been shot, stabbed, and/or maimed? How many times are we going to see images of bloodied, frantic, and devastated people in our streets? While there has always been violence in the world, and in United States, this is not the country or world I remember growing up in.

Of course, others in our country have a far different and more painful memory of the past than I do. Plenty of people in our country have experienced violence and discrimination against themselves because of their race, their gender, their sexual orientation, their age, and their ability. The more I thought about the mass shooting, those suffering as a result of it, and those suffering throughout our country and world because of senseless violence and hatred, the more angry I became.

I am angry that people perpetuate the evil of hatred, of bigotry, and of violence. I am angry that our politicians keep perpetuating an evil divisiveness in their rhetoric toward one another. I am angry that we, as human beings, fail to see the humanity, and the divine image, in one another. I am, pardon the phrase, pissed off that my children have to live in perpetual anxiety of the world around them…that their innocence is gone forever. I am angry.

Most people can accept that I am angry. People get angry, right? That is normal and natural, and the anger above is called for. But what about when we talk about God getting angry. That begins to make us uncomfortable doesn’t it? I recognize there is a flipside to this, but for now I will stick with this side of the topic. For those of us who are in the mainline tradition of Christianity, we get very uncomfortable talking about God’s anger and/or the wrath of God.

Perhaps it is because we have seen evil wrought in the name of God. Perhaps it is because we have heard egregious theology from the mouths of Christians that explain natural disasters, diseases and terrorist attacks to be the wrath of God on a “Godless nation.” Whatever the case may be, we find it challenging to except a God of anger, judgment and wrath.

Today, I beg you to pause and reflect on this. What is the alternative? At what cost do we avoid paying attention to the anger and the wrath of God? Would we prefer an apathetic and aloof God that is disconnected from the painful and horrible realities of evil in the world. The fact that we have a God who DOES get angry, who DOES seek to weed out injustice (aka wrath), means that we have a God who is passionately in love with us, who is actively grieving with those who are in grief, who is actively hurting with those who are hurt, and who is actively seeking to put an end to ALL evil, sin and suffering! Instead of ignoring God’s anger and wrath, let’s deal with it and try to gain a responsible understanding of it.

There’s nothing wrong with anger provided you use it constructively.
Lord, teach me to trust that, even in your anger, you ARE LOVE! Amen.