Other sermons in this series
ANGER OR LOVE?
I think it’s fair to say: the idea of a wrathful God isn’t as popular today as it used to be, is it? Most people I know, they’re OK with the idea of a loving God. But a God who’s ANGRY? Forget it. I remember talking once with Dave, a friend of mine. He was curious why Christians like me kept wanting people like him to hear about Jesus too. So there I am: I want to help him see the need we all have to be saved by Jesus.
So I start by explaining how all humanity has actually rejected God, and so he’s deeply angry with us. But before I can go any further he cuts me off and he says: Well God shouldn’t be angry! Not with me. And not with you. I mean, Jeremy, you’re not abad person. You’re… OK. I still remember it was like he was going to say: You’re good – but then he thought about it and said: You’re… OK. And he goes on to say how the only God he’d be interested in knowing is a God of love, not a God of anger. Have you heard people say something like that? Perhaps it’s the way you feel yourself.
And maybe when we hear the pain in David’s song, Psalm 6, we can see where people are coming from, when they don’t want a God of anger. Because as you can see in v1, all David’s deep suffering here – and there’s a lot of it, isn’t there – all David’s deep suffering here stems from God’s anger.
Look at v1. David says: Lord, don’t rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath. All of David’s deep pain that follows is from having to face that anger of God. So, as we look at Psalm 6 this morning, it does force us to face the painful reality of God’s anger. There’s obviously no getting around that. But the good news is I think Psalm 6 points us to a way through.
This morning we’re going to see 3 surprises about God’s anger. 3 things you maybe didn’t know. 3 things that will hopefully help you understand God’s anger, and how it relates to God’s love, so you can know God, and even love him, more deeply.
And the 1st surprise is this: the most painful thing about God’s anger is losing relationship with God himself. For David, it’s not just fear of what God’ll do to do him for his sin. It’s not just the enemies God’s anger has brought against him. It’s the thought that he’s broken his relationship with God, by sinning against God and deserving his fury.
That may come as a surprise. But let me show you from David’s song. See, in v2 it is physical pain. Faintness and agony in his bones. But look at the next verse to see where that comes from. V3 David says: My SOUL is in DEEP ANGUISH. It’s hissoul where the deepest pain is felt. It’s the emotional pain that’s so intense it brings on the physical. See that again in v6: I’m worn out [physical, from the emotional:] All night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears. V7: My eyes grow weak [physical] with sorrow [emotional]. David sings of an emotional pain so deep – deep anguish of the soul – that it wracks his whole body and saps all his strength. And what triggers that emotional pain? It’s not just the prospect that he’s going to die, at the hands of his enemies, under God’s fury. What triggers it is that, if that all happens, then he’ll never be able to praise God again. Look what David says to God in v5: Among the dead no one proclaims your name. Who praises you from the grave? He’s facing God’s anger, and still David lives to praise God. His whole reason for living is his relationship with God.
That’s why he’s so devastated at the thought of losing it. And when you think about it, maybe that’s not so surprising after all. I mean, when do we feel anything like that depth of sorrow? Usually over lost relationships. Divorce. Death of a loved one.
Like I remember when my Dad died. It didn’t really sink in on the very day that he died. But the next day I felt the urge to go and see again some of the places we’d been together. So I’m walking down Lygon St in Melbourne near where he lived, and every time I see somewhere we’d been – that’s where we had coffee, that’s where we got pizza, that’s the bookshop where I used to wait for him to finally stop browsing the shelves – each time it hits me that I’ll never do that with him again. And so after a while I just burst into tears. And I can’t stop. Even though there’s lots of other people around – it’s a busy street. And I know if they notice me it’ll be really weird for them, but I just can’t help it. With hindsight, maybe going there then wasn’t the best idea. But I didn’t realise I’d be so out of control with grief like that.
That seems to be the kind of grief David expresses here. It’s not so much the fear of what God might do to him in his fury. That’s only part of it. The deepest pain comes from the thought that through his own sin, he might’ve lost his relationship with his Heavenly Father. Which I guess that raises the question: Why does David still crave relationship with God at all, when God’s so angry with him?
If I imagine my friend Dave reading Psalm 6, he’d be saying: David, just ditch the angry God and find yourself a loving one. Or none at all. Either way. Save yourself the grief. A God who’s angry at you like that isn’t a God who loves you. But I think the answer to that is surprise #2, which is this: God’s anger isn’t opposed to his love. It flows out of it.
That may sound surprising, but I think parents will know what I mean. If you’re a parent, how angry do you get if your kids run out on the road in front of a car and you nearly lose them? How about if one child pushes their sibling into the road for fun? Pretty seriously angry, right? And is that because you don’t love your kids? Or because you do? In fact, if you didn’t care. If you were happy to just let it slide. THAT would show you didn’t love them.
Well, in Psalm 6, that’s what God’s anger is like. God loves David. God made all people for relationship with him. But David’s sinned. He’s chosen to live like God doesn’t even exist. Or like he exists but there’s something more important in life than relating to God. David doesn’t say what his specific sin was, but whatever it was, that’s what all sin boils down to.
And so if God loves David, and David’s done that, how could God NOT be deeply hurt and angered at his choice??? If God didn’t care, if he was happy to just let it slide, if he wasn’t deeply angered, THAT would show he didn’t love David. And what if David’s hurt other people God’s made and loves? Like, if I sin against you. If I break your trust and hurt you. If I don’t treat you like the precious creation of God that you are, because I’m so absorbed in looking after my own concerns. If I do that to you and God loves you, he’s got to be angry at me. Otherwise he doesn’t love you! Do you see that? If he wasn’t a God of anger, he wouldn’t be a God of love. God is angry at our sin because he’s a God of love. And the really surprising thing is: in Psalm 6,that’s what gives David hope. David seems to know that God’s anger flows out of his love.
Which is why, even under God’s fury, he can still appeal to God’s love. That’s why he shares his pain with God – the aching, the weeping, the weakness – as if he knows God still cares, even in his anger. As if he knows God’s anger flows out of his love,so that God’s love must still there to appeal to. See that in v4. David says: Turn, LORD, and deliver me; save me [WHY?] BECAUSE of your unfailing love. “Your anger” in v1 doesn’t remove “your unfailing love” in v4. And so that’s the basis of David’s whole appeal. He can’t plead his innocence, like he does in other psalms. He can’t ask why this is happening, like he does in other psalms. He knows he’s sinned and deserves God’s fury. But he also knows he can still appeal to God’s love,and be completely confident of being heard. Did you notice the sudden change in tone at the end of the Psalm? At v8 it suddenly moves from pain to joy. The enemies that were indicators of God’s anger in v7, are suddenly told to get lost. They’re still surrounding David, apparently. But now their time is up. And WHY? Because, v9: The Lord has heard my cry for mercy; the Lord accepts my prayer. It’s as if David knows for sure: if he appeals to God’s love, even in the midst of God’s fury, God will listen. Because God’s anger isn’t opposed to his love. It flows out of it.
That just leaves the 3rd and final surprise. Which is this: This song of David about the pain of facing God’s anger – isn’t just about him. It’s obviously extremely personal to David, so that might sound surprising. But let show you what I mean.
Back when I was just 11. I had a crush on Jodie, a girl at my school, until I heard the awful news: Jodie actually likes Sam, my best friend, not me. Obviously I’m completely gutted. The greatest love of my life (at that early stage) and it’s not to be! The only way I can cope is to try and tell myself: Well, I don’t need her anyway. If her taste is so bad she likes him more than me – I mean look at me – then I’m better off without her.
And I still remember, actually AS I was thinking that… I hearing Go West on the radio. And they’re singing:
I’ll get over you, I know I will,
I’ll pretend my ship’s not sinking,
And I’ll tell myself, I’m over you,
‘Cause I’m the king of wishful thinking
Oh, man. I’ve never met the members of Go West. But it was like they’d had somehow seen inside my soul. Understood the deep (for an 11 year-old) anguish in there. And then perfectly expressed my feelings for me. Well, in the same way. Actually, in a much more profound way. This song of David, actually sings the soul of Jesus. 1000 years after David.
If you were with us for our series Sing with Jesus earlier in the year, perhaps you were expecting that all along. In Sing with Jesus we saw over and over how Jesus himself used different Psalms, as if they were really all about it him. But what’s surprising to me, is that surely Psalm 6 is different. It’s a song about facing God’s anger! So how could Psalm 6 also be about the sinless Son of God? That’s the final surprise here: Jesus faced God’s anger too.
To see what I mean, turn over with me to see Matthew’s account of the night before Jesus died. Jesus has just had his last supper. He knows he’s about to be arrested by his enemies and killed. And so he goes to Gethsemane, an olive garden. To PRAY. Follow it with me from verse 37. “Jesus took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.”” It’s Psalm 6, isn’t it? It’s the deep anguish of soul that David felt. Only now it’s Jesus who feels it. And actually, it’s for the same reason. V39 Jesus prays to God: “My Father, if it’s possible, may this cup be taken from me.” And actually the “cup” is a symbol of God’s anger, not just against an individual’s sin, like David’s, but against everyone’s.
So Psalm 75 says, “In the hand of the LORD is a cup… and all the WICKED of the earth drink it down to its very dregs.” And God tells Jeremiah about the “CUP filled with the wine of my WRATH” against “ALL the nations“. So, as extreme as Psalm 6 is, what Jesus is going through here is actually more so. Unlike David, he’s not facing God’s anger at his own sin. As the sinless Son of God, Jesus faces God’s anger for all the world’s sin. That’s why, for himself, Jesus is desperate not to. That’s why his soul is in deep anguish. That’s why he prays 3 times that if possible God might turn his anger away, like David prayed in Psalm 6. Jesus is as desperate as David was.
Because like David, as faces God’s anger, he feels he’s losing his Heavenly Father. But see, this is the big difference with Jesus. He actually chooses to drink the cup of God’s anger anyway. Why? So it can be taken away from us. See what he prays in v42: “My Father, if it’s not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” Unlike Psalm 6, Jesus doesn’t end here by saying: Away from me, all you who do evil, for the Lordhas heard my weeping. No. In the garden, Jesus finishes, v45, by saying: Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. Jesus decides to drink the cup himself, to take God’s furry. So that we don’t have to.
That’s where I wish I’d been able to get to with Dave. It wasn’t actually possible in that conversation. But I wish it was. Because we’ve seen that God’s anger doesn’t actually oppose his love, it flows out of it. And then here, in Gethesemane, it’s even much stronger than that. Here, it’s clear you’ll never really know God’s love until you know his anger. Because it’s only when you stop ignoring God’s anger at your sin. Stop pretending it’s not there. Stop downplaying it. It’s only when you acknowledge it fully and it face it as real, that you can seeJesus has taken it for you in love. And that’s when you’ll know the true depths of God’s love. And you’ll love him for it. And you’ll know the joy of renewed relationship with God. In the garden, Jesus prayed theanguish of Psalm 6. But not the joyous conclusion. So that you can pray all of it. With all it’s concluding confidence and joy. Knowing that, as deeply painful as God’s anger is. Jesus really has taken it all for you. THAT’S a God of love. That’s a God it’s a joy to know.