The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities— his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. Romans 1.18-20
The God of the Bible gets angry.
When I talk with Christians about this fact, they usually answer that they believe in "the God of the New Testament" and not the scary, angry "Old Testament God." But the truth is that God gets angry in the New Testament as well. In Revelation 17--18, God hurls the entire corrupt Roman imperial machine (a.k.a. "Babylon the Great") into the lake of fiery judgment, and in the Gospels of Matthew 21 and Mark 11, Jesus throws down tables in the Temple to expose corruption and injustice of its proprietors, the Chief Priests. Elsewhere in the Gospels, Jesus becomes angry (Greek: ORGE) with the Pharisees' hypocrisy, as they oppose his Sabbath healing of a man with a withered hand in Mark 3.5, but then begin to plot his death as they leave; and he launches an extended harangue against the Pharisees and scribes for the same reason in Matthew 23.
What am I saying? Simply that harmful corruption (the Temple establishment and the Roman government had this in great supply) and soul-deadening religious hypocrisy (the Pharisees' and others') do palpable harm. They seem like two forms of damaging behavior worthy of strong disapproval, so if God were to be angry at anything, you and I might actually nominate these things as worthy candidates....right there in the New Testament.
The God of the Bible gets angry. And this morning's passage is the most obvious identification of God's anger in the entire New Testament. Our English translations of Romans 1.18 put it plainly. They begin with four words ("The wrath of God") which translate two Greek words (ORGE THEOU). But this time, God's anger has a very different object: human disbelief in God and the worship of other gods. In other words, God directs anger at people for not worshipping him.
Doesn't this sound like what we sometimes call a "victimless crime"? At least at first blush, massive and murderous corruption and hypocrisy seem much more serious offenses than idolatry. In fact, why would God get angry at all with misdirected human religiosity? Doesn't this come off looking egomaniacal -- a God unable to abide even one person who withholds worship?
Paul sees it otherwise. Romans 1.18-32 is his earnest attempt to show how this so-called "misdirected human religiosity" actually comes with a huge price tag to humanity and even to all creation. In his answer we see a grand synthesis of Paul's theology, anthropology, and cosmology. Not to sound too grandiose, friends, but in Romans 1 we encounter nothing less than Paul's theory of everything: how the entire universe works.
So what is Paul's theory of everything? I'm afraid you'll have to wait 'til tomorrow for an answer. I've committed to writing shorter devos in this New Year, and I aim to keep my promise. Plus, I'm just two days removed from giving you a loooong letter from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as your daily. Today we have space to set up the question, but the devo must remain a bit of a cliffhanger: why does God get angry when we withhold or redirect our worship?
For today, take a moment to ask yourself whether the God you picture in your own heart and mind ever gets angry at anything -- and, if so, at what. Just by taking this moment to ponder, I am confident that you will...
Prayer -- God, we know you ARE love (1 John 4.8), and we see that you are also sometimes angry. This is confusing! Please help us sort out how love and anger can share space in you and in our own lives. Continue to reveal yourself to us, in Jesus. Amen.