I will not execute my fierce anger;
I will not again destroy Ephraim;
for I am God and no mortal,
the Holy One in your midst,
and I will not come in wrath. (Hosea 11:9)
While God is complex and not easily reduced to flat, one dimensional images, there are two dominant pictures of God available to us. Which one we choose says a lot about what we believe and how we respond to God.
The first image is of the wrath-filled God. This God is dominated by anger and works to punish all but those who do whatever it is that appeases God’s anger. You can watch late night TV preachers and find examples of this sort of thing all over the place. It was this picture of God that Martin Luther struggled with before his transformation that led to the Reformation.
The second image is of a loving God. This God comes to us with a love that is characterized by mercy. It is not that God doesn’t get angry. When things go wrong and people get hurt, to not be angry isn’t loving, it is apathetic. God is far from apathetic and cares deeply. God does get angry at pain, suffering and injustice in our world and at all who are responsible for causing them. But this God channels that anger into transformation and love to heal more than punish. It is this God, a God of grace, who Luther discovered in the pages of scripture.
The text above, from an Old Testament prophet who wrote long before Jesus came on the scene, already points to a merciful God. The people have disobeyed, forgotten what matters, and put themselves in a position where everything is going astray. Their lives are hard and God knows, they deserve it. But Hosea tells us that even though God is angry, even more God is heart broken. And love causes God to act with restraint, amazing restraint, simply because God is God.
All of us have done some pretty stupid things in our lives and many of us know the consequences of such actions. But God’s heart breaks at our pain and God’s love continues to heal and work for our healing and restoration.