Passages: Is. 9:8-19; 2 Corinth. 1:1-11; Mk. 4:35-41
Ընթերցուածքներ՝ Եսայ. Թ 8-19; Բ Կորնց. Ա 1-11; Մկ. Դ:35-41
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!
Liar; cheater; arrogant; prideful; vindictive; manipulative and ignorant. One by one, all he heard was insults and lies directed to him by those he had once trusted, those who he had cared for. False claims and fabricated stories accusing him of horrible crimes. How would we feel if those who we loved and cared for acted this way with us? How would we feel seeing our own family, our parent, or friend stand before us and make false claims? We would feel upset and hurt but most of all angry. Angry as to why all these wrongs are being done towards us; angry that those whom we trusted and loved, now accuse us of evils which we never did. In the 19th century, St. Nectarios, a Greek Orthodox Bishop and monk was a victim of such a crime. This monastic teacher and priest, who dedicated his life to serving his community, his flock, his faithful, stood by and heard countless false accusations by other clergy and so called faithful who acted out of jealousy and spite. And though St. Nectarios was later exonerated and recognized as a saint, in that moment as a person, I cannot image how hurt, how angry he felt listening to those words of insult. Anger towards those people, and perhaps even anger towards God. Yet, when we read the life of St. Nectarios and many of the other saints in the Church, we see that though they felt anger and many of the same emotions we feel daily, they never lashed out, they never sought revenge and they never held a grudge towards those who hurt them. After all, as Christian’s we are called to be forgiving even in the face of hate and anger.
So how do we understand when we read, in the Holy Scripture’s about God’s anger? What is God’s anger, or His wrath? In Isaiah today we read, “For all this his anger is not turned away and his hand is stretched out still… Through the wrath of the Lord of hosts the land is burned…” If we merely read those words, we would conclude that something made God angry and that God is not only angered but that He is also vengeful, “his anger is not turned away.” The wrath or anger of God is always an interesting topic when it comes to our understanding of faith. Many people read Isaiah or other such passages and find it difficult to understand how God, who is loving and compassionate in the New Testament and calls us to forgive, is so equally angry and wrathful in the Old Testament. However, my dears, our understanding of such passages and images starts by how we comprehend anger – what is anger? Is anger an emotion? Is anger a reaction? Can anger be justified? Is anger only destructive or can it be constructive? If we look at ourselves in the mirror and think back to when we are angry, for whatever reason, what are we like? We are not rational most of the time and if we act out of anger, we are most definitely emotional. We might be right to be angry because we are hurt. Anger is a response therefore it is not wrong to feel angry but what is it that we do with our anger? Some use their anger to destroy and seek vengeance while other’s focus their anger and emotion and rise above the situation to be stronger or better. What about God’s anger? Is it emotional? Is it reactionary? Is it justified and is it constructive or destructive?
When we read all of Isaiah and other such passages in scripture where we see God’s wrath, it is clear to see that God’s anger is never random or petty. Nor is the wrath of God an emotional reaction by Him towards us. Rather, for example, in Ch. 9 we read of how again Israel is disobedient to God and therefore, the consequence of Israel’s disobedience is God’s anger – that they will fall to their enemy. And rather than trust in God and turn back to Him in times of suffering, they continued to deny God ultimately being led astray and into chaos; And that’s just in this chapter of Isaiah. Through the disobedience of Israel, God is insulted. Those He loves and cares for, reject Him and tell lies about Him. However, we see that God’s wrath or anger is not what causes the Israelites to stray. Though God is angry, that those whom He loves have turned away by their own actions, it is ultimately their destructive choices that brings destruction to them. Therefore, the punishments from God, God’s wrath, which we read about is not a reaction of God’s anger but a consequence of Israel’s actions, of our own actions. God is not punishing us with sickness, pain, or even death – those are all consequences of the sinful life we have lived and choose. And yet, there is more because we read that “his hand is stretched out still”. What does this mean? What is this image? A hand that is closed like a fist to strike or a hand that is open.
In the Gospel today we read of the Christ calming the storm. We all know this story very well. We’ve seen the icons or seen the movies. What do we often see in the icon of this story? A boat, the storm, the disciples being tossed back and forth. What about Jesus, what is he doing? Often times, we see him standing on the boat and he has his hand outstretched over the storm. Yet, in none of the accounts of the Gospel stories do we read that Christ stretched out his hand and calmed the storm. Rather, we read, “And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; and they ceased, and there was a calm.” (Luke) “Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm.” (Matthew) “And he awoke and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.” (Mark) (Matthew 8:23-27, Luke 8:22-25) And yet, all of us know this story from seeing Jesus standing on the boat, stretching out his hand to calm the storm. My dears, Christ rebuked the storm, meaning Christ Jesus, God the Son, showed anger towards to the storm in the same way God the Father, rebukes us, shows anger towards us when we are disobedient.
God’s anger is not vindictive or spiteful nor is it pleasureful. Rather, when God is angry or we read of God’s wrath, it is His love that is present, a love that sees how hurt we are, how lost we are because of our own choices that He stretches out His hand to rebuke. What does rebuke mean? The simple definition means to criticize. But looking deeper, when God rebukes us, it means He reveals and makes known to us our sinfulness, our consequences, and our weakness. That is what rebuking means – to diagnose and make known our sinfulness and the resulting consequences that will happen if we continue on that path. Unlike false accusation that other’s may make towards us which is done to hurt us, God’s rebuke and accusation is spot on and shows us our sickness. Why? Is God trying to insult us or hurt our feelings, or to force us into submitting to Him? No. Rather, by knowing our sinfulness, ultimately, we are given control over how we react and given the option to turn to God to be healed. In the same way, when a doctor diagnoses a sickness and tells us the course of treatment, we choose to reject or accept that path. What do we do, when God rebukes us my dears? Do we turn further away, or do we seek healing, love, compassion and peace? Do we humbly recognize our brokenness, our choices that give rise to storms in our life or do we react out of anger?
St. Nectarios knew the false accusations against him had no power over him, because he recognizes that as sinful as he is, his true peace and healing comes from God. God, who knows our sinfulness and yet, because of His love for us is present to heal us, strengthen us and lead us out of the storms we are surrounded by. His hand is outstretched over us in compassion and care not retribution. Is our anger therefore, the same as God’s anger? No, my dears, for in the anger of God is also the love of God and it is not the anger of God that punishes us for our sin, but it is we who punish ourselves by choosing sin as we reject God’s love and instruction.
Come to God my dears, even if we have given Him cause for anger. Come to God even if we think we are so lost that there is no redemption for us. God, our Heavenly Father, calls us and beckons us with an outstretched hand that is open to bless us and not closed to strike us. Our Lord God reveals to us that no matter how much we have sinned, or how this world hurts us, no matter how angry we feel, no matter who or what tries to define our worth based on lies, arbitrary concepts or anything else, no matter the storms in our lives, He loves us, He wants us, He will heal us and reveal to us who we truly are. May we turn to Him and call upon His Holy Name in prayer, regardless of language or place. For it is prayer my dears, that St. John Chrysostom teaches, “prayer is a place of refuge for every worry, the foundation for every cheerfulness and a protection for all sadness. Pray, trust and love the Lord God for “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1) now and always, Glory to God, Amen!