God's Anger and Mercy
Micah 7:18
Who is a God like to you, that pardons iniquity, and passes by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage?…

Can God be angry? The ancient philosopher, and the modern man of science, represent the Infinite Spirit as incapable of any emotion. The old Greek thinkers tell you that the Divine existence is passionless and free from pain. Our modern men of science laugh at us if we attribute feeling to the Almighty. They tell us we are guilty of anthropomorphism, and that is a pitiable weakness in their eyes, if not a sin. Not only is it impossible for God to be angry. He is incapable of any emotion at all. And we must admit there is considerable difficulty in reconciling the idea of anger in the Divine nature with any large and spiritual conception of it. Note two considerations —

1. Anger, as shown by man to man, always goes along with some measure of surprise. But God cannot be surprised.

2. In anger there is a desire to put some one to pain. The disobedient child, the careless servant, the treacherous friend, shall be made to suffer for what they have done. But you cannot think of God as desiring to put any one to pain. How stand the facts of the case, and what do they teach? They teach that we, with our triple nature of body, mind, and spirit, stand in the midst of an everlasting order, and live in a universe of unvarying law. This constancy of nature, this unfailing order, this universality of law is the great postulate upon which all our action proceeds, and all our thought. The cause being the same, the effect will be the same always and everywhere. Law is everywhere; facts teach that. But they teach something besides. That to disobey the laws, to violate the order, brings punishment and pain. These two truths are of capital importance in answering the question whether psalmists, prophets, and apostles meant anything when they spoke of the anger of God. We say that the fact of universal law is not the ultimate fact. There is somewhat behind it — not somewhat, but some One. Eternal Power, Infinite Life, God. This law and order we call the will of God. Then if the laws under which we live are to us the declaration of the personal will of the Eternal, then it is no figure of speech to say that the pain and punishment that follow on the violation of the laws are the anger of the Eternal. Anger not vindictive, but righteous. "Sin is the transgression of the law." Of what law? Of the law which unfolds to us the conditions of spiritual life and health for us; the law which stands written in the conscience of every man, which may be spelled out from the sacred writings of all nations, of whose growing clearness and fulness the Bible is a magnificent record — the law which tells us that if we would enter into life, we must keep the commandments. To love God — that is religion. To love man — that is morality. Obedience to this twofold law is the way to the enjoyment and strengthening of the very highest life possible to man. If, knowing this law, you do not obey it, there will come to you a sense of defeat, of unrest, of dissatisfaction, of spiritual weakness and decay, which will be keen and crushing in proportion to your knowledge of your moral and religious duty. This experience is the punishment and pain which always follow upon the violation of God's law. It is His anger. It is anger with a heart of love as its centre. But God does not retain His anger forever. He delights in mercy, He pardons iniquity, He passes by transgressions. Are these things true? In one sense He does not forgive sin. God is Infinite Love and Infinite Law. Forgiveness of sins, as commonly understood, means one of two things. Either it means that when you ask God to forgive you your sins, you ask Him to forbear to retaliate; or it means that you ask Him to save you from the consequences of them. But the first meaning is inconsistent with God's nature as the Infinite Love. What does your request signify? This — that you entreat Him not to serve you as you have served Him. But can Infinite Love ever be suspected of such conduct? And the second meaning is inconsistent with God's nature as the Eternal Law. The law of God — the expression of His will — brings pain and punishment to him who transgresses it. This is the case in all spheres of life, bodily, mental, spiritual. The consequences of transgressions are natural, bound up with the very constitution of things. To pray for the forgiveness of sins is, in many minds, equivalent to a prayer for deliverance from their consequences. But such deliverance would involve a perpetually repeated miracle, the suspension of the action of those very laws which God has placed us under as the conditions of life and good for us. Is He, then, going so to stultify and contradict Himself? In one sense for God to forgive sin is an impossibility. Yet, in another sense, God does forgive sin. God retains His anger only so long as you are transgressing His law. The moment you repent, that moment His mercy, in which He delights, comes to you, bringing healing and remedial blessing on its soft wing. In those spiritual relations between God and ourselves, with which, in the great question of sin and its forgiveness, we are primarily concerned, the central thought of the soul when awaking to a sense of sin, is not the violation of the impersonal laws, but the grieving of the Father-spirit behind the laws, whose expression they are. We dare not attribute to the Eternal such anger as is vindictive, and desires to put the cause of it to pain, but we may attribute to Him such grief over human sin as found its most pathetic earthly expression in the broken heart of Christ upon the Cross.

(Henry Varley, B. A.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? he retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteth in mercy.

WEB: Who is a God like you, who pardons iniquity, and passes over the disobedience of the remnant of his heritage? He doesn't retain his anger forever, because he delights in loving kindness.

God Merciful
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