Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger
or discipline me in your wrath.
Your arrows have pierced me,
and your hand has come down on me. (Psalm 38:1-2)
Some people don’t want to think of God as angry. They highlight the portions of Scripture where God is loving and kind and delete the parts where God is harsh and vengeful. But both are there. And both are true.
More than this, to grow in an intimate relationship with God we need to experience all aspects of God’s character. The closer we get to God, the more we realize there are times God allows us to experience pain – for our greater good. God may even inflict pain on us to warn us of graver consequences ahead.
God’s discipline does not feel good, but it may be the only thing preventing us from certain destruction. Like a parent who twists his child’s arm, yanking her out of the way of an oncoming car, sometime firm discipline is necessary. Pain that prevents catastrophe is not cruelty but compassion.
There have been many times in my life where I believe I’ve let God down. This is perhaps my greatest “fear of the LORD—not fear that God will destroy me, but fear that I will let God down. It is during times such as these that I find it difficult to be consoled, like the Psalmist who says –
I am feeble and utterly crushed;
I groan in anguish of heart. (Psalm 38:8)
Thank God we are not left alone during times like these. The LORD, who is Salvation, hurries to help us. The tumult in our hearts is replaced by an abiding sense of peace knowing God does not leave us or forsake us, no matter how much or how often we disappoint God.
Part of our trouble with the wrath of God is the pitiful examples of how human anger is expressed within and around us. When I become angry at myself, I fret and stew instead of becoming motivated to change. When I’ve become angry at others, I’ve often responded by making verbal attacks or cutting off relationships. When fueled by a manic or mixed episode, my anger has become particularly virulent.
God, however, is far more gracious in His anger toward us than we are in our anger toward each other. The anger of God is directed not at who we are, but at the damage we cause ourselves and others. It lasts only as long as we hold onto the sin that destroys ourselves and our relationships. The love of God, which prompts God to be angry at our sin in this world, will ultimately remove sin from our lives in the world to come. The firm hand of God will then grip us with loving tenderness forever.