In the 2000s, Colorado judge Paul Sacco noticed a number of people who appeared in his court because they played loud, blaring music were repeat offenders. Simply paying a fine was not a sufficient deterrent to change their minds about respecting their neighbors. So Sacco came up with a unique method of punishment. He would make the offenders sit in a room for an hour listening to very loud music from Barry Manilow, Mozart, opera, the Barney theme song, and even Boy George. The offenders would leave the room wondering, “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?” and Sacco saw a dramatic drop in repeat offenders! Those who like classical music or soft rock would think the judgment held hope. We find that God provides hope in the midst of judgment as we consider the story of Noah (Ge 6-9).
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God’s Judgment Is Not out of Anger but from Regret
The story of Noah tells us God saw the wickedness of humans and how unjust they were to each other. Because of this, God would destroy all life on earth. Noah, however, was found to be righteous in his generation and so he, his family, and representative animals would be saved through this destruction in the ark Noah would build. In a podcast series looking at the anger of God in the Bible, Tim Mackie of the Bible Project noted the flood narrative never once mentions God being angry. The text only says God regretted making humans (6:6-7). God felt sorrow for what humanity was like and the role he played in creating humans, but he is not angry at them or demonstrating his wrath through the flood. As the Old Testament repeats often, God is slow to anger (e.g., Ex 34:6).
So when does God get angry in the Bible? When his people deny his call. Moses gave multiple excuses why he was not the right person to lead the Israelites out of their bondage in Egypt. Eventually, God became angry (Ex 4:14-17). God also gets angry when his people improperly challenge the leader he selected. Aaron and Miriam didn’t like Moses’ marriage to a Cushite woman. Instead of talking to Moses about this issue, they began to raise doubts among the Israelites about Moses’ calling as leader. They don’t question a legitimate leadership issue. They questioned his choice of a woman from an ethnicity of which they did not approve (Nu 12:6-10). His anger manifests when people misuse the gifts he gives them. Balaam has the gift of prophecy and attempts to use this gift against the Israelites to curse them (Nu 22:21-23). God is angry when people practice injustice against one another. His anger destroys the Egyptian army attacking the fleeing Israelites (Ex 15:7-11). Some of the first commands to Israel describe God’s anger at those who mistreat foreigners, widows, and orphans (Ex 22:21-24). God gets angry when his people misrepresent him to the world. God’s response to the Israelites’ golden calf was anger and to wipe them out, like in the flood story (Ex 32:7-10). God gets angry when his people don’t trust him to provide for their needs. The people refuse to enter the land because they fear they will be defeated (Dt 1:29-36). Cursed to wander in the wilderness, they complain about their hardships despite God’s provisions for them (Nu 11:1-3). God is also angry when his people consistently reject him and break his covenant (Dt 31:15-18).
So we see two broad categories that evoke the anger of God. First, God becomes angry when his people are not faithful representatives. God created humans to bear his image. God called Israel to faithfully bear his image after humans refused collectively do do so. When Israel doesn’t do this, God becomes angry with his own people whom he has called. Today, Christians are called to be image bearers of Christ, so God’s anger would be against us. Second, God becomes angry with any person who preys on the disadvantaged or is consistently unjust in their dealings with other humans. In the story of the flood, God could have been angry, as we are told that the world is filled with violence because humans are inclined to evil and their acts were wicked. But more so, God is sorry that he had made humans. So, God withdraws his hand and the order established in Genesis 1 devolves back to the initial chaos (Ps 104:29-30). All humans die because of the flood, save Noah and his family (Ge 7:22-23).
Even in Judgment, God Remembers, God Gives Hope
At the height of the chaotic destruction comes these words of hope, “But God remembered Noah” (Ge 8:1). God remembered he made a promise to Noah and those with him in the ark to rescue and redeem them. So the creative Spirit of Gen 1 begins once again to blow upon the waters as they begin to recede and order returns. Over and over, we see God not give up on his creation. God rescues them not because of who they are but because God remembers the promises he made to them. As God begins to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, he remembers his promise to Abraham and rescues Lot and Lot’s family (Ge 19:29). When Rachel cries out in her barrenness, God remembers Rachel (Ge 30:22). Not only does he give her a son, that son becomes the salvation of his people and many others. When God hears the groaning and cries of the Israelites, he remembered his promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Ex 2:24). So he called Moses to deliver them.
Even before the flood began, God provided hope within the judgment. We are told that “Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord” (Ge 6:8). Among his generation, Noah was found to be righteous (Ge 6:9). That might not have been saying much, so we must always remember that God gives hope in judgment not because of who we are but because of who he is. Still, God makes a covenant with Noah to rescue him and those with him in the ark. God doesn’t base this on anything Noah has done or will do in the future. God promises to save him simply because of who God is (Ge 6:18). God did not only save Noah and his family. God did not only save the animals he identified as ritually clean. God saved some of every unclean animal as well! God saved more clean (seven pair) than unclean (one pair), but God saved some from every species nonetheless (Ge 7:1-2). This gives us hope for the nations that God is a gracious and compassionate God who does exceedingly more than we ask or imagine.
At the end of the story, there is hope. God also made a second covenant with Noah for all humans and all creatures. No matter how bad it gets, God promised he would never again remove the order that he had created to allow the world to return to the chaotic waters before creation (Ge 9:11). God promised to keep order in the cosmos, the regular rhythms of life that allow stability for growth and for planning (Ge 8:22). Throughout the latter part of the story, there is a lot of creation (Ge 1-2) language: creative wind/spirit (same Hebrew word) over the waters; command to be fruitful and multiply; humans as the image of God. The author is calling to mind the story as a renewal of creation, a second start.
God gave hope through a sign. God placed a rainbow in the sky as a sign of the covenant (Ge 9:12-17). Whenever it appeared during a rainstorm, it would be a reminder to God not to flood the world. It would be a promise to humans that there is hope that the rain will end. The rainbow reminds us that God can be trusted. Often in the stories of the Bible, God provides a sign of hope in the midst of judgment. When Eve is cursed, she is also promised that her offspring would crush the head of the serpent’s offspring (Ge 3:13). God tells Abraham he was wrong to jump ahead of God’s plans by having a child with Hagar, yet God gives both the sign of circumcision as witness to the covenant God made with Abraham (Ge 17:9-14). Though the child of David and Bathsheba dies because of David’s sins of rape and murder, out of that same union is born Solomon who becomes the bearer of the earlier covenant God made with David (2 Sam 12:24-25). In the midst of judgment, God offers us hope and calls us to trust him.
God’s Image Bearers Serve as Signs to Bring Hope
Christians are called to pray for the salvation of others and to serve God by bringing hope to the world by the way we live our lives as image bearers. We see the hope within judgment that God’s people can bring in the story of Abraham. God told him about the coming judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham begins to question God about his righteousness, asking if God would surely “sweep away” (flood language) the righteous with the unrighteous. Would God spare the cities for 50 righteous people? God said he would. Would God spare them for 45? yes. For 40? yes. Abraham negotiates God down to 10 righteous people. Each time God says for the sake of the few, he would not destroy the many. Abraham appears satisfied with the answer and ends at ten. What if Abraham had continued the query down to five or even one? Would the cities not have been destroyed (Ge 18:23-33)? As believers, we are called to pray for the people around us. We must not pray the destruction of the wicked but for the life of the righteous remnant. Jesus, after all, told us to love our enemies and prayed for the forgiveness of those who crucified him. Even though Abraham stopped at ten and the cities were destroyed, we are told that God “remembered” Abraham–the call to not destroy the righteous with the unrighteous–as so he saved Lot and family (Ge 19:29).
In a similar story, Moses talks God out of destroying the Israelites. Because of their sin at the Golden Calf, God wanted to wipe them all out and start over with Moses. God wanted Moses to be the new Noah. Moses, however, called to God to remember his promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God promised them that their descendants would inherit the land. God could not go back on his promises. God also needed to think about what the Egyptians would say if he destroyed Israel. If God’s purpose was for Israel to bear witness to the nations of the love of God, how would destroying them advance that cause (Ex 32:11-14)? The next day, Moses returns to God (with blood on his hands for killing some of the Israelites once he actually saw their wickedness!) and tells God that, if anyone has to die, take his life but spare Israel. He offers his life as atonement for the people’s sins, though God rejects the offer (Ex 32:30-34). Christians need to offer their own lives for the lives of others, as Paul did through his many afflictions to advance the gospel (2 Tim 2:8-10). Paul prayed that he would gladly accept God’s judgment if only the Jews would come to faith in Christ (Rom 9:1-5). May we be symbols of hope in a world destined for judgment.
Martin Luther King Jr., in a jail in Birmingham, wrote a letter to the white Christian pastors who published a letter to the editor about him. In the midst of a stirring judgment against their inaction and lack of support (even to the point of questioning his tactics or condemning his motives), King held out hope that some would see their error and even join in his cause for justice.
There was a time when the church was very powerful–in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.” But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a week, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are.
But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.Martin Luther King Jr., “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”
As the body of Christ, we must pray for the salvation and protection of our communities. We are a sign of hope but we also must speak judgment about the injustice around us. We are the community saved within the ark of Christ’s sacrifice, but unlike Noah, we are able to captain lifeboats that seek out and save the lost from among our family, our neighbors, and even our enemies. When we speak judgment, it must be the work of the Spirit guiding us and not our own spirits and thoughts judging others. But far more often and far more importantly, we are called to bear the image of Christ, to be signs of hope that bring healing and forgiveness to our communities, our nation, and our world.
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