Hugh Baker seeks to pin down the crucial difference between the wrath of God and the anger of man
Six years ago, I was part of a group of people who founded a new Christian charity. It began in the worst possible circumstances – a division in the Body of Christ. I was one of a number of dissidents who had fallen out with the leadership of a Christian body of which we had been members for a number of years. ‘Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices,’ [2 Cor. 2.11, KJV] we made sure at our inaugural AGM that we fully forgave the people whom, we felt, had treated us so imperiously, and indeed we pray that God will bless them every time our Executive meets. Side by side with this, though, a phrase I had never given much thought to became very real to me: ‘Furious activity.’
In the months that followed the split I, and others, were extremely busy corresponding, arranging meetings, organizing and setting up a whole new ministry. I gave heart and soul to setting up this new body because it mattered to me. I think I can put hand on heart and say that I have harboured no resentment against those who excluded us, and yet ‘furious activity’ describes how I acted.
This came back to me recently when talking to one of my Readers, recently returned from a Selection Conference for the ministry. He had gone fearful that association with his vicar would see him branded as hopelessly Protestant: what he noted, on arrival, was the defensiveness of some of the brethren from the Anglo-Catholic camp. This is understandable: they, after all, have seen life-long friends leave the ship for other vessels, and have had to correspond, arrange meetings and organize the setting up of what could become a whole new province.
And whereas my battle has taken place in an obscure corner of the charismatic constituency (most of you would not have heard of my lovely new organization, even if I named it), Forward in Faith’s battle has taken place in public, with all the machinery of bishops, synods and the media to plough through. Small wonder
some its adherents arrive at a Conference hoping to be selected, yet anticipating rejection!
The Wrath of God
Our age is uncomfortable with the Wrath of God: by and large, it cannot square it with a God of Love. Our problem, I believe, is that we see human anger, and assume God’s must be the same. The Wrath of God, however, comes out of concern: it operates because his world, and his people, matter to him. There is nothing hasty nor compulsive about it. Read the story of the exile to Babylon, and it comes slowly, reluctantly, and with full prophetic warning. It is, in short, God’s ‘furious activity,’ the best blessing that God can give us; to do nothing would make for an unhappier ending than an application of his discipline.
New Testament Greek uses the same words (thumos or orge) for this Wrath of God as it does for the ‘Wrath’ in St Paul’s list of ‘don’t do’s’ along with envy, malice, and similar: what differentiates them is that one is of perfect God and the other is of imperfect man.
Since we are fighting for causes which we deeply believe to be God’s, how can we, inevitably wrapped within the coils of all that is happening within our church and society, ensure that our anger embodies the Wrath of God, rather than just the Anger of Man? You, like me, want to live out Ephesians 4.26: ‘In your anger do not sin.’ How? Sinful anger is a reaction to pain. Some of our reactive choices, Anger being one, are wrong. To seek healing for hurt is not just an option for counselling addicts or the spiritually fastidious: it is the correct thing to do for any Christian who wishes to lead a life that witnesses to a risen Lord.
We are people with our backs to the wall, and in such a situation it is easy to bite back at our opponents in an ungodly way. May we take time and trouble to have our inner selves healed, that our outer actions may not be summed up in the chilling words in Murder in the Cathedral, ‘The ultimate treason: to do the right thing for the wrong reason.’ ND