O LORD, rebuke me not in Your wrath, and chasten me not in Your burning anger.” Psalm 38:1
Burning anger - Can you identify with David’s emotional state or are you so far away from a God who is enraged at sin that you can’t even imagine what it would be like to fear the consequences? Most of us today have been seduced by a glacial shift in our concept of God. Slowly, over centuries of erosion, we have lost sight of the God who hates sin. We have replaced the God whose very presence on the mountain brought a thick cloud of terrifying darkness and horrible flames. We have “moved on” to a God who could never contemplate the destruction of human beings simply because they didn’t happen to hold certain beliefs about His authority. After all, those Old Testament metaphors are clearly outdated. Today God is our “higher power”, resting comfortably removed from the tragic events of this world until we mount an effort to enlist His assistance for the benevolence of our kind. God has successfully completed His anger management therapy and is now the kindly old Santa Claus who brings good gifts to his enlightened children. Tsunamis, hurricanes, earthquakes, wars, famines even environmental disasters are uniformly viewed as unholy twists of fate. They cannot be the handiwork of an angry God because God cannot be God if He is judgmental and vengeful. God must always be the perfect loving Father (as we define the concept). Would you dare to suggest that the destruction of a city or an entire country was the sign of God’s anger over sin? Only if you wish to be dismissed as a fanatic or worse. In at least one regard we have something to learn from the Islamic Jihad. God has no reason whatsoever to tolerate our laziness about sin. And when God gets angry, watch out!
David sees the enormity of the consequences of sin. He sees it on a national scale and on a very personal scale. His awareness propels him into emotional despair. If we have never touched the foul stench of our own depravity, how can we celebrate the incalculable love of a God who would redeem us? If we have never confronted the caged beast within, how can be express eternal gratitude for the God who removed our chains? Thankfulness is directly proportionate to desperation. In a world that does everything possible to avoid emotional trauma there is little room of spiritual good news. Perhaps that’s why Jesus sought those who lived on the edge of civilized society. They could not escape desperation. They were ready to hear a message of hope. But we are different. Until the twists of fate disrupt our carefully crafted myths of control, we are crippled by our affluence. We take Wellbutron instead of weeping. We buy Prozac as a substitute for prostration. The Bible for us might as well contain the verse, “For he who has much, little will be understood.”
“God, grant me poverty of soul, and if I cannot find the desperation for You within me, then bring me to desperation another way.” Could you pray such a prayer?