“Are you nice?” My four-year-old posed this question about 5 minutes after I had scolded her for jumping around on the couch.
“What?” I asked, confused by her question.
“Are you nice now? Or are you mad again?”
Ah. I see. She was testing the waters to see if it was safe to approach. She stood staring at me with wide, dark eyes, waiting timidly for my response. I wasn’t sure what to say. The closest thing to the truth would have been, “Yes, dear. Mommy’s eyes are no longer shooting angry laser beams, and the fire in her belly has been squelched for now.” After all, it wasn’t the first time I had told her not to jump on the couch. The volume of my tone had conveyed that the last straw had been dropped on the proverbial camel’s back and the end was near. My wrath resulted in an entire household cowering in their bedrooms to see if the runt of the family would survive the lightning that was sure to strike her where she stood.
Sigh. I knelt down and opened my arms. She immediately ran to me so I could wrap her up in a big hug.
“Yes, Baby Girl. Mommy is nice now. I’m sorry I yelled. You shouldn’t have been jumping on the couch, and I shouldn’t have yelled. We were both wrong. We both need Jesus to help us do right.”
As she snuggled in tighter, wrapping her little arms all the way around my neck, I thought about my early days as a Christian. There were years when I approached God just as my little one had approached me. I timidly tried to pray, knowing that I had messed up yet again, and wondering if God was nice, or still angry. There were times when I knew I needed to pray, but I waited, feeling like maybe God needed some more time to calm down before we talked. I knew God hated sin, and it stood to reason that my sin would be met with a frown and cold tone.
There were times in my faith when I thought that this was really too much. There was no way I could keep God happy all the time, and I decided I didn’t want to be a Christian anymore. After all, I had friends who lived how they wanted with no thought about whether they were making God angry, and they seemed peaceful and happy enough. Maybe I could just stop worrying about it. But I couldn’t. I kept finding myself longing to be right with God. There was no peace in my heart when I didn’t come to the Father and ask forgiveness. But, I really felt like God was angry with me all the time. Why wouldn’t he be? I kept making the same mistakes.
Sometimes, I would reach a point of determination where I’d decided that this time I would do better. This time, I wouldn’t make the same mistake. And for a few days or weeks, I felt pretty good about myself. It would seem like I was finally getting the hang of this Christian life. Then I’d find myself back at square one, where I knew I had messed up big time again. Surely, God would be completely peeved this time. Surely, this would be the last straw with him.
What I lacked during this season of my faith was an accurate understanding of the gospel. I knew Jesus’ death washed away my sin, but I didn’t understand that his sacrifice also appeased the wrath of God. I knew that Jesus’ death grieved God to the point that he turned away from his son, and Jesus cried out “Why have you forsaken me?” But I didn’t understand that Jesus bore, not just my sin, but also the wrath of God towards my sin. I never have to experience the full cup of God’s wrath, because Jesus drank all of it for me. Without a better understanding of the Gospel, we will continue to feel like we are on the outs with God. Sure, he said he’ll forgive us, but we feel like we still have to earn back our good standing. Believing this lie will keep us from repenting, because it just seems too hard. It will keep us working to earn our place in his family.
I figured God was mad at me, because I would be mad at me if I were him. Yet, God is not a human. His anger is always right. Mine is not. When I get angry with my kids, I have to ask myself if my anger is because they have done something that could bring destruction to them, or am I angry for selfish reasons. When my daughter’s do something like run into the street without stopping to check for cars, my anger is right. I am terrified for what could have happened. I scold them because I love them and don’t want any harm to come to them. But when I am angry with them for interrupting me while I am reading, I am angry because I don’t want to be bothered. My anger is wrong. It is self-serving.
As we begin the Holy Week leading up to the celebration of Jesus' death and resurrection, we are confronted with the atrocity of sin. We see the lengths that God has gone to on our behalf, and our temptation will be to tiptoe to him in fear of retribution. But we must understand that God’s anger is righteous. He hates our sin because sin brings death. He loves us and does not want to be separated from us. So he separated himself from his son, temporarily, so that we could be reconciled to him forever. We will never see God’s brow furrowed in anger. Instead, when we sin, we are met with the grief of a loving Father, who hates the way sin is destroying his beloved child. He is a good Father, and his anger towards sin is right. What's more, his love toward us is steadfast. And this is what compels us to respond with obedience.
Milton Vincent talks about the appropriate response to God's loving kindness in his Gospel Primer:
I also found the grace of the gospel producing in me a huge passion to love and obey God. In moments of temptation, I enjoyed saying to myself, "You know, I can commit this sin, and God's grace would abound to me all the more as He maintains my justified status...But it is precisely for this reason that I choose not to commit this sin!" In such moments I would walk away from sin with laughter in my heart!
My prayer for us today, is that God will give us the faith to believe the truth about the full gospel of Jesus’ work on the cross. I pray that when we timidly test the waters to see if God is angry with us, we will find ourselves met with open arms and a celebration. I pray that we will open our own arms to our children when they have sinned, so they won’t grow up thinking God is still angry with them. I pray that we would be so relieved at the grace of God, that we would respond with obedience out of joy, rather than fear.
And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, 'Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate. Luke 15:20-24