On July 8, 1741 Jonathan Edwards wrote and delivered a sermon that was entitled ‘Sinners in the hands of an ANGRY God.’ It was part of what many have come to call the Great Awakening. The sermon focused on the wrath of God and was a well-intentioned effort to prompt people to enter the Kingdom of God by emphasizing God’s anger at sin, but according to Brian Zahnd—this effort to emphasize God’s anger with sin became God’s anger with the sinner.
If you’re willing to be stretched in some healthy directions, Brian Zahnd’s book, “Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God” may be just the book you need to spend some time with this summer. I read it and it cracked my heart open even wider to the love of God. Zahnd will definitely stretch you as you consider the love of God, how we read Scripture and the depth of God’s mercy. A healthy corrective for those who by personality or background emphasize God’s holiness over and against his love.
What becomes obvious in Zahnd’s book is the theme of reading the Older Testament and understanding God by looking at the crucified Jesus. The depth of God’s self-sacrificing love in Jesus tilts the reader into the deep ocean of God’s mercy, kindness and unconditional love.
Here is a brief portion of the book that slammed the point home so strongly for me. It is an easily missed point when we read the gospels without paying close attention to what Jesus omitted from an Older Testament passage from the prophet Isaiah:
“On the Sabbath, Jesus went to the synagogue and was invited to read from the Scriptures:
“And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll
and found the place where it was written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to
proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the
oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ And he rolled up the
scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue
were fixed on him.” (Luke 4:17–20)
Did you catch what happened? Do you see what Jesus did? While reading from the familiar passage of Isaiah 61, Jesus stopped midsentence and rolled up the scroll! It would be like someone singing the American national anthem and ending with ‘O’er the land of the free.’ Everyone would be waiting for ‘and the home of the brave.’ Jesus didn’t finish the line. Jesus omitted the bit about ‘the day of the vengeance of our God.’ Jesus edited Isaiah like this:
“…to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God.”
(p. 40–41 – Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God).
The impact of this omission is huge! Jesus came to demonstrate and reveal to us that we are in the cross-hairs of God’s love. The good news of the gospel is that there is a new King in town and his name is not Caesar—it’s Jesus! This King has a Kingdom—he has a rule and reign. The government of his rule is characterized by love.
Does holiness matter? Absolutely! But right living does not qualify us to be recipients of God’s love. Right living is a response to his love, and it matters!
Thanks be to God that we are held by the hands of love. God’s hands are good and his love for us is immense! We need to live with that reality front of mind and at the center of our hearts.
Our world could use a fresh emphasis on the God whose hands are reaching to all of us…out of love! This biblical idea and teaching of Jesus could change the world! As the people of God, we have an obligation to live in a way that reflects the God of love, grace and mercy. Anger doesn’t attract people—it repels them!