Malankara World

Sermons Based on the Lectionary of the Church

Angry and yet forgiving: Thoughts of Nineveh Lent

by Rev. Fr. K. K. John

Key verse: "Is it right for you to be angry?" Jonah 4:4.

Anger is a strong emotion. English language has three words (1) anger (2) wrath and (3) indignation purporting the similar meaning and yet wrath conveys great anger and indignation is anger caused by injustice, misconduct etc.

Anger and wrath are most commonly used in the Bible. In the practical sense it can be made in two categories namely, righteous anger and unrighteous anger and indignation would fall in former category. Animate beings are biologically endowed with a feeling that responds to an unfriendly situation as a tool to impose limits or stop. Since it is God-given gift it is good but untimely or uncontrolled or excessive use will be misuse that will create more calamity than good.

Anger management is essential tool for the growth of Christian virtues. It should also be accompanied with the gift of forgiveness. Book of Jonah is a perfect example where both anger and forgiveness in right perspective work together for good.

The book of Jonah begins with a commission by an angry God. God is angry because the people of Nineveh were wicked. Wickedness is explained as ungodliness, evil and perversity of mind. Wickedness is basically a state of mind for all sins are first conceived in the mind before it manifests into action. First mention of wickedness is found in Genesis 6:5 in connection with sexual perversion that angered God and judged them with great deluge. Genesis 19:23 explains homosexual indulgence is wickedness which defiles the whole land which God never tolerated but destroyed the defiled land with all its inhabitants. Genesis 39:9 conveys a specific case of sexual immorality between two private individuals. Joseph asked, "How can I do this great wickedness (to sexually indulge with another's wife) and sin against God?" Although David committed adultery with Bathsheba, wife of Uriah, David confessed he sinned against God, Ps 51: 4.

These unravel a great practical principle; when one sins with another human being it is not only with that human being one sins but also with God, the creator, because in every act of sin there is misuse of God-given emotional faculty against the very purpose for which such faculty is endowed. This is a standard of God, people often forget; whether it is anger, adultery, physical abuse, cheating, exploiting, slandering or any such towards another individual, it is sin against God. Wickedness is abomination, Pr 8:7. "Wicked shall perish by his own wickedness," Pr 11:5. Thus wickedness mentioned in Jonah 1:2 needs be considered basically as sexual perversion that people indulged in among other things.

Human beings struggle between the two opposing forces, good and bad, morality and immorality. These are evident from the emanation of human history. God is understood in human terms and thus spoken as possessing emotions and feelings like human beings. Wrath or anger of God is always for right cause and hence righteous for it is the immutable attribute of God that He cannot lie, nor arouse to anger without legitimate reason. Though in biological sense anger is caused by certain chemical imbalance depending upon what one eats, thinks or hereditary, the fact that humanity is susceptible to untimely and uncontrolled anger is the aftereffect of Adam's fall.

When there is deviation from the original intent of creation God interferes to reinstate the order. It was the wrath of God that judged Adam, Eve and Satan in the Garden of Eden. Wrath of God caused the huge flood in which the whole wicked generation was destroyed. God's wrath judged Sodom and Gomorrah; He rained upon them brimstone and fire from heaven until they were ruined, Gen 19:24. Wrath of God destroyed Korah and his supporters, Num 16. God's wrath was kindled when people made molten image and worshiped it, Ex 32:10.

God is spoken as "slow to anger," Ps 103:8, Neh 9:17, Jon 4:2. Being slow to anger is Godly virtue that everyone needs to practice. At the same time it is necessary to know that God never compromises with continued violations of God's moral standards. Sexual immorality, idolatry, infidelity, etc are most detestable sins and God will be eventually angered if humanity persists in such wickedness. Fire and Brimstone that ruined Sodom Gomorrah, Tsunami, sudden and unnatural deaths and earthquake that takes away thousands of lives, or the mass-killer AIDS might be termed as natural calamities or epidemic by an environmental scientist or atheist, but for a theist there is hand of God in all these for a specific purpose. Despite various biblical and historical accounts of God's intervention in the history to judge the erring humanity, people still do not heed to warnings and continue to defy God.

Righteous anger is expected of a faithful. When there is injustice, exploitation and immorality a virtuous one cannot be silent. Great souls like Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr are synonyms of righteous anger.

One fine example of righteous anger is recorded in Exodus 2:11-12. Moses saw that an Egyptian was beating a Hebrew. Moses slew him. Whether or not the action was justified at that point, his intention was above reproach. Moses had a strong inclination to do right thing at all times. He was greatly concerned about the suffering of his people. I believe that God chose him to deliver Israelites out of bondage of Egypt because of his unquestionable commitment to his God and people. Num 12:3 says, "Moses was very meek above all men upon the face of the earth." This is a complete vindication of his attitude toward justice and fairness.

Another instance we have in 2 Sam 12. David surreptitiously killed Uriah a trusted servant to hide his own adultery with his wife Bathsheba and took her as his wife. When he thought everything was safe, God sent Prophet Nathan to make known the sin David committed. Nathan cleverly employed a story to draw King David's attention to justice. "David's anger was greatly kindled against the man," and instantly pronounced judgment, v5. Certain amount of hypocrisy cannot be ruled out in his sudden retort. Yet, David's true repentance when Nathan bluntly pointed to him, "Thou art the man," v7, needs be acknowledged. David instantly repented and said to Nathan, "I have sinned against the Lord," v13. Since it came from a truly contrite heart Nathan replied, "Lord has put away your sin, you shall not die," v13. True repentance and confession has positive effect of forgiveness. Psalms 32 and 51 bear testimony of David's extreme agony and remorse.

John the Baptist is another shining star in the horizon of righteous anger. He braved to question the immorality in the royal house at the cost of his life.

There are a few instances when Jesus Christ was angered. His triumphant entry into Jerusalem Temple was also an occasion of wrath. "He drove out all those who bought and sold in the temple, overturned the tables of money changers and the seats of those who sold doves," Mat 21:12. Next day on the way to city he was hungry. "He went near a fig tree by the road and found nothing but leaves, and he said to it, Let no fruit grow on you ever again, immediately the fig tree withered away," Mat 21:19.

Mark gives more details. First, it was before cleaning the temple. Second, the tree withered next day. Third, it was not the season for the figs. Why Jesus looked at the fig tree knowing it was not season for figs? Some people think in literal terms saying it throws light to the full humanity of Jesus and it was natural to hunger. But there is no reason to believe that Jesus expected fruit in a tree out of season. Thus we should look into other options.

Those who are familiar with growing fig tree will also know that it is peculiar to fig tree to sprout fruit and develop it before it sprouts leaves. Therefore when there were leaves it was natural to expect fruits in it. In other words, leaves without fruit are unnatural and non-seasonal. "Words of Jesus are entirely symbolical. There is no reason to suppose that Jesus was really hungry or expect to find figs," says Dummelow.

Fig tree is symbol of Jewish nation, Hos 9:10. Jewish nation projected itself righteous but in reality it was full of defilement. There was more of hypocrisy than righteous conduct in the religion which Jesus decried very often.

Situation is worse in Christianity now, I suppose. By cursing the fig tree he condemned the hypocrisy of Jewish religion; their failure to bear fruits of repentance and acknowledge Messiah when he came and declared, "Repent and believe in the gospel for the Kingdom of God is at hand," (Mark 1:15) though they religiously waited for the coming of Messiah and indicated his choice of gentiles, shift of salvation for the whole humanity.

Jesus showed anger at the hardheartedness of Pharisees, Mk 3:5. He portrayed himself wrathful through parables of judgment and Second Coming; Mat 7:23, 18:34, 24:51, Lk 12:46. St. Paul warns, God's anger falls upon those who follow lust of the flesh, Eph 2:3. Anger of God abides upon those who reject the Son, John 3:36. False teachers provoke God to anger, Eph 5:6. Examine how truthful is what one learned or practices for if one persists in falsehood he/she attracts God's wrath; beware, faction fighters, dissenters and heretical doctrines!

Second aspect of anger is unrighteous anger or say, human anger, which Jonah expressed. He had no reason to be angry. He felt so out of his pride and fear, for God did not execute his prophesy. Is Jonah alone in getting angry unnecessarily and for selfish reasons? We all sail in the same boat. People will get angry when their ego is hurt and blindly resort to all unchristian means to defame, slander and do away with the offender be it spouse, parents, siblings or priest. Faction-fight within the Church and parishes and Kerala politics are best evidence of this scenario.

Earliest example of human anger is Cain. Cain got angry at God for God was not pleased with his offerings. God gave him an opportunity to correct himself and exhorted him to do good. A pertinent question is; what is our attitude regarding 'our offerings' to God. Do we give to God wholeheartedly and willingly? God required Moses to build Tabernacle in the same manner and design as God showed him on the Mount Sinai. God told Moses to "accept offerings from every man that gives willingly and with his heart," Ex 25:2. Do we surrender our whole being or do we reserve some for ourselves like Ananias and Sapphira, Acts, 5:1-10. Do we fail in our pledges before God? Num 30:2, Deut 23:21-23. How do we conduct ourselves in worship services? Are we fully committed or half-hearted?

Many of our faithful are more like Ananias and Sapphira because (1) they are not regularly attending and have so many reasons to justify, never realizing that they are doing a disservice to their children (2) they have a prefixed place in the sanctuary, mostly at the extreme back. Some men are habitually basement parties (understanding), (3) some others are standing outside (outstanding), (4) some are mere observers, never open their mouth to glorify God as if it were other's job, (Thirunama keerthanam paduvanallengil navenikkenthinu Nadha), (5) some people never volunteer for house-keeping and such other activities, (6) some people are bent upon finding fault with achen and office bearers, (7) some find no time for their children to sit in Sunday school instead, they send them to nearby places unmindful of what they teach there and the list goes on.

Being lukewarm is not a good quality. Church of Laodicea was vomited out of the mouth of God because they were lukewarm. "You are neither cold nor hot, I wish you were cold or hot," Rev 3:15-17. Note: This does not support extremists. God detests both extreme and lukewarm attitude when it comes to worship services. Cain persisted in evil and got angry at Abel for no reason and that led him to commit heinous crime. Jesus said whoever is angry without cause to his brother is in danger of judgment, Mat 5:22.

Now let everyone examine how does one justify his/her anger against spouse, siblings, neighbors, friends, etc and correct if one does not meet divine standard. Anger is the cause for many other severe sins such as violence, strife, murder, separations, etc. When one is angry poison flows in his/her veins and thus it is detrimental to one's own wellness. It is the most fertile soil for devil to work with and make one commit many other sins. St Paul admonishes, "Be angry and do not sin, do not let sun go down in your wrath," Eph 4:26. Spouses must take this advice very earnestly and make sure that they sort out differences before they go to sleep. A virtuous Christian should not be ashamed to apologize or to forgive to one's own spouse, siblings or kids.

God taught Jonah a lesson by raising a gourd which protected him from scorching sun and then suddenly destroying it to cause him anger again. Jonah was consumed in anger. God showed him that his anger was unreasonable comparing his pity for the gourd. "You feel pity for the gourd for which you have not labored, neither made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night. Should I not spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are there more than 120,000 persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand and also much cattle," 4:10-11. This is a great example of a longsuffering, slow to anger and merciful God.

The book of Jonah begins with an angry God, pronouncing judgment upon an erring nation, carrying out his plan in a most startling manner, employing a highly indifferent person, involving gentiles and creatures, bringing out glorious result and ends with supreme lesson of forgiveness. "He visits iniquity of fathers upon the children unto third and fourth generations of them that hate me and showing mercy unto thousands of them that loves me and keep my commandments," Ex 20:5, 34:7. Can we sincerely forgive when one deliberately offends us? Sibling rivalry emanating from jealousy and pride is nothing new. Jesus said to Peter, to forgive unlimited times, Mat. 18:21.

It is more important how often one repent than how often one sin. Forgiveness is a favor of restoring the sinner to his original position. It should be extended only upon showing sings of repentance. Both the thieves on either side of the cross were not pardoned but the one who confessed and implored forgiveness. Forgiving without due repentance is futile. Neither do some feel necessity of forgiveness nor do they get it; that is today's travesty.

Jonathan Edwards spoke conspicuously, 'O sinner, consider the fearful danger you are in! It is a great furnace of wrath, a wide and bottomless pit, full of fire of wrath, that you are held over in the hands of God, whose wrath is provoked and incensed as much against you and against many of the damned in hell. You hang by a slender thread with the flames of the divine wrath flashing about it and ready every moment to singe it. The misery you are exposed to is that which God will inflict, to the end that he might show what the wrath of Jehovah is. God has had it on His heart to show to angels and men, both how excellent His love is, and also how terrible His wrath is,' titled, 'Sinners in the hands of an angry God,' on July 8, 1741.

Congregation was said to have so traumatized that some clung to railings for fear of sliding into the fire of hell. Such attitudes towards gospel and sermons are a foregone glory; does not occur in these days instead, the speaker may be even evicted out. Some people do not like to hear about sin. They are comfortable with a god who is unmindful of their deeds. But the unchangeable truth is; the God of forgiveness is also the God of wrath and judgment and sinner have no escape but to repent and turn from their evil ways.

Christian love demands forgiveness. We can forgive only when we recognize that all human beings are liable to make mistakes. 'To err is human and to forgive is divine,' said Alexander Pope. It is obvious in the Lord's Prayer that our sins are forgiven only proportionately to how much we forgive others. If we do not forgive we also will not be forgiven. A forgiving spouse can save a marriage and avoid many miseries that follow.

Standard Oil Company of John D Rockefeller suffered a loss of 2 million dollars because of the unwise action of his deputy. All were so nervous that day to face Rockefeller. Finally his immediate deputy gathering strength entered the chamber of Rockefeller who was seen scribbling something. Trembling, the deputy said, 'Sir, you might have heard what happened...' Rockefeller handed out the paper he scribbled. It was a list of good deeds of the person who made the error. He said, 'His good points outweigh the loss. We will therefore forgive him.'

Abraham Lincoln, after the civil war, had a friendly chat with some prisoners of war. His deputies grew irksome and suggested to him that they had to destroy the enemies early. Abraham Lincoln quipped, 'Yes, we will destroy our enemies by making them our friends.' Are these not worthy examples for every Christian to emulate? 'There is no valor in vengeance,' Shakespeare.

Forgiveness of God and forgiving to fellow beings still remains a glaring need. Forgive others and receive His Forgiveness. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness," 1 John 1:9.

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