Young Adults: Angry God

Contributed by: Spanky Moore, Diocese of Christchurch

Throughout the Bible there are plenty of references to both the love of God, and the wrath of God and the final judgement of all humans before Him. How do followers of Jesus make sense of these two very different impressions of God?

A study on Romans 2:1-11 for young adults from the Society of Salt and Light, in Christchurch.

THE STORY

A quick introduction to the week’s bible passages and theme, which aims to engage people in the big picture of God’s story, and the challenge of living faith in light of that.

studyangrygodYou’ve probably played that game Angry Birds before, with the cartoon birds desperate to bring retribution and justice to the fat green pigs in helmets who stole their precious eggs. And when we read about the “wrath of God” in the bible, it’s easy for a sort of ‘Angry God’ image to pop into our heads – a grumpy God firing slingshots of flaming napalm at all the bad people of the world, muttering under his breath “well, they sure had that coming!” Or maybe for you it’s more the classic bearded old man in the clouds with a lightning rod. Or maybe you don’t believe in a wrathful God at all, and for you God is much more PC, more like a God of love that only dishes out tickles and sunsets and kittens.
Whatever you might think of God – the real question isn’t so much what you’d like God to be like, but what God is actually like. And when we look at Scripture we see a God of love, acceptance, mercy, hospitality, generosity, forgiveness and grace. But we also encounter a God of (gulp) justice, judgement, wrath, anger, a protector of the weak, and a demander of repentance. In our passage in Romans 2, Paul certainly makes it plain that one day there will be a day of reckoning – when every person is held to account by God for what they’ve done with their lives – be it good, or not so good. Does that idea make anyone else nervous?
The Bible says over and over again that it’s possible for human beings to miss the mark and pursue the wrong meaning of life. But recently in the Western world any idea of a God who judges humans has become increasingly unpopular. We want Loving God. We want Forgiving God. We want Social Justice God. We want Kingdom-Values God. We want Paedophile-Hating God. But no one wants Angry God.
So how do Christians make sense of a God that seems to both infinitely love us, but, at some stage, also judge us? What do we mean when we talk about God’s wrath, and is it a bad thing? And do Christians really need to worry about being judged for what we do with our lives when we die, or does God give us special treatment for being a signed up club member?

Discussion Questions

Choose from questions for the Scholars  |  the Dreamers  |  the Realists  |  the Activists

For the Scholars

Discussion questions focusing on exploring the bible passage.

1. How do you feel about the idea of God’s Wrath?

2. In Romans 2 verse 1 Paul says “for in passing judgement on another you condemn yourself”. Paul here hints at our natural inclinations to shift blame or to see fault in others but not in ourselves (also see Jesus’ teachings on this in Matthew 7:1-5). One biblical concept of sin is the notion of “falling short of the mark”, and Romans 3:23 says “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”. Why do you think judging others is so hard to resist? Do you think Christians are worse than others at being overly judgmental of others shortcomings, while excusing their own?

3. Paul appeals to the idea of divine judgement in verse 2, and opens the sentence with “We know… ”, implying the idea of God’s judgement was accepted as a given in those days. (Read Isa 13:6-16 & Zeph 1:14-18 for more examples of God’s justice). How do we as modern day Westerners 2000 years later react to this news of God’s judgement? Why do you think we feel this way?

4. In verse 4 Paul talks about God’s nature; his kindness, tolerance and patience, which is contrasted with the hard and unrepentant hearts of people described in verse 5. What does it mean to have a heart like this? (See Deut 10:12-22 & Jer 4:4) Paul says that God’s kindness is meant to lead us to repentance, so what does genuine repentance look like? How do you feel about repenting yourself?

5. Verse 7 uses the word “seek”, but from the original Greek this is actually a verb in the ‘present continuous’ tense, so more like “to go on seeking…”. This implies salvation and following God is both a decision, and an ongoing lifestyle that involves constantly grasping at good, and being truly open to God’s transformation in us. Do you think as Christians we undersell the ongoing cost of following Jesus? Or do we undersell the power of God’s grace?

6. Paul talks about God repaying people according to their deeds in verses 6-7. But sometimes Christians give the impression that because we believe we’re saved by grace through faith in Jesus (See Romans 3:24) that God won’t hold us accountable with what we do with our lives. How do you feel about the prospect of God judging everyone for how they’ve lived their lives? Even regular Church goers? Even those who donate to charity?

7. Verse 11 says “for God does not show favouritism.” Paul is meaning this specifically in relation to Jews and Gentiles – but it also gives us an insight into God’s level playing field when it comes to justice. Do you think God will judge the Church and those who profess to follow Jesus more or less harshly than others? Why?

8. Fortunately for us, salvation isn’t dependant on our abilities to be good people, but also on our faith in Jesus. Read Romans 3:21-26 to see how Jesus and the Cross fits into God’s judgement of us. How do we live lives that are good and honour God and his values, while depending entirely on Jesus and the Cross? How do you make sense of this ongoing tension in your own life?

FOR THE DREAMERS

Discussion questions focusing on mulling over the theme.

1. How do you feel when you think about God being upset with us over the things we do? Do you think He has a right to get angry with humans? After all, He did choose to create us…

2. What comes to mind when you hear the term “Wrath of God”? Do you see God’s wrath as being a bad thing or a good thing? How do you reconcile the biblical images of God’s wrath with those of God’s love? Could they be more closely related than we think?

3. In many cultures and past eras God’s Wrath has often been perceived as a perfectly acceptable and good thing. For societies that have been subject to persecution and injustice the idea of God’s wrath and judgement is actually hugely attractive. Why do you think they find the idea comforting? Why do you think Western society often finds the idea so repulsive?

4. Verse 6 of our passage in Romans 2 outlines God’s final judgement criteria, saying God “will repay according to each one’s deeds: .” How do you feel about the prospect of having your own life judged by God when you die? Nervous? Anxious? Scared? Excited? Relieved? As Christians do you think we spend enough time reflecting on who we’re really accountable to in the end? What difference might that make to the way we live our lives?

5. In verses 7-8 Paul doesn’t mince words when outlining the impact of the way we live our lives on the hereafter; “to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honour and immortality, he will give eternal life; while for those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but wickedness, there will be wrath and fury.” Do you think those are fair criteria? What do you think it means to “not obey not the truth but wickedness”?

6. It’s tempting to try to ‘play’ God, and make our own final judgements on peoples lives, but verses 2-3 warn strongly against falling into that trap, as it only reveals us as arrogant hypocrites. And yet, so many of us still do it – consciously or unconsciously. Why do you think we find the temptation to judge others lives so irresistible? What might help us not do it?

7. At the end of our passage Paul says “for God does not show favouritism.” – meaning this specifically in relation to Jews and Gentiles – but it also gives us an insight into God’s level playing field when it comes to justice. Do you think God will judge the Church and those who profess to follow Jesus more or less harshly than others? Why?

8. Fortunately for us, salvation isn’t dependant on our abilities to be good people, but also on our faith in Jesus. Read Romans 3:21-26 to see how Jesus and the Cross fits into God’s judgement of us. How do we live lives that are good and honour God and his values, while depending entirely on Jesus and the Cross? How do you make sense of this ongoing tension in your own life?

 

FOR THE REALISTS

Possibilities for on topic testimonials, sharing and story telling.

Scapegoat: Ask someone from inside or outside your group to talk for 5 minutes on a clear injustice they’ve experienced that was never resolved. How did their faith impact the way they reacted to the situation? Remember to give them at least a few days warning so they can prepare well.

 

FOR THE ACTIVISTS

Activities and adventures beyond the couch.

The Good Guys?: Many of our faith communities seem to contain more and more young people who on one hand like the idea of sticking up for a God of justice, but when it comes to putting that into practice struggle to find the drive to do anything about it.
Reflect on the verse from our passage “to those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honour and immortality, He will give eternal life.” What is an act of goodness you could do as a group that would bring glory and honour to God in your community?
Now do it. Go on. Really.