Loving an Angry God

death-for-dostoevsky1I am both opposed to theological systems that have at their heart an angry, wrathful God whose justice much be satisfied – but I am also understanding of those who, having been raised or nurtured in pious settings, take theHoly Scriptures pretty much at face value and are thus discomfited by people like myself who seek to give an account of God that does not include God angrily and wrathfully punishing the deserving (even though He does this in a “loving manner”).

Some of the contradiction between the God of love and the God of wrath first struck me at age 13 – and occasioned my first rejection of Christianity. I know from personal experience that these wrathful/loving accounts of God have their theological casualities.

I am also aware of attempts to treat the wrathful image under the rubrics of  a “Semitic” approach to God. Some of which come from Orthodox sources. However, I find that Semitic witnesses such as St. Isaac of Syria were not nearly so dominated by a so-called “Semitic” understanding.

There are several quotes I wish to offer from the Fathers:

From St. Anthony in the Philokalia (ch. 150, first volume):

God is good, dispassionate, and immutable. Now someone who thinks it reasonable and true to affirm that God does not change, may well ask how, in that case, it is possible to speak of God as rejoicing over those who are good and showing mercy to those who honor Him, and as turning away from the wicked and being angry with sinners. To this it must be answered that God neither rejoices nor grows angry, for to rejoice and to be offended are passions; nor is He won over by the gifts of those who honor Him, for that would mean He is swayed by pleasure. It is not right that the Divinity feel pleasure or displeasure from human conditions. He is good, and He only bestows blessings and never does harm, remaining always the same. We men, on the other hand, if we remain good through resembling God, are united to Him, but if we become evil through not resembling God, we are separated from Him. By living in holiness we cleave to God; but by becoming wicked we make Him our enemy. It is not that He grows angry with us in an arbitrary way, but it is our own sins that prevent God from shining within us and expose us to demons who torture us. And if through prayer and acts of compassion we gain release from our sins, this does not mean that we have won God over and made Him to change, but that through our actions and our turning to the Divinity, we have cured our wickedness and so once more have enjoyment of God’s goodness. Thus to say that God turns away from the wicked is like saying that the sun hides itself from the blind.

Many will say: “Does not Holy Scripture itself often speak about the anger of God? Is it not God Himself who says that He will punish us or that He will pardon us? Is it not written that ‘He is a rewarded of them that diligently seek Him’ (Heb. 11:6)?  Does He not say that vengeance is His and that He will requite the wickedness done to us? Is it not written that it is fearful to fall into the hands of the living God?”

In his discourse entitled That God is not the Cause of Evil, Saint Basil the Great writes the following:

“But one may say, if God is not responsible for evil things, why is it said in the book of Esaias, ‘I am He that prepared light and Who formed darkness, Who makes peace and Who creates evils’ (45:7).” And again, “There came down evils from the Lord upon the gates of Jerusalem” (Mich. 1:12). And, “Shall there be evil in the city which the Lord hath not wrought?” (Amos 3:6). And in the great Ode of Moses, “Behold, I am and there is no god beside Me. I will slay, and I will make to live; I will smite, and I will heal” (Deut. 32:39). But none of these citations, to him who understands the deeper meaning of the Holy Scriptures, casts any blame on God, as if He were the cause of evils and their creator, for He Who said, “I am the One Who makes light and darkness,” shows Himself as the Creator of the universe, not that He is the creator of any evil…. “He creates evils,” that means, “He fashions them again and brings them to a betterment, so that they leave their evilness, to take on the nature of good.”

As Saint Isaac the Syrian writes, “Very often many things are said by the Holy Scriptures and in it many names are used not in a literal sense… those who have a mind understand this” (Homily 83, p. 317).

I understand the care many have to give proper weight to the words of Scripture, and in their experience have only found enemies of the Scriptures who ever suggest alternatives to a more-or-less literal reading. But the sources I quote are great among the Fathers of the Church.

My concern as a brother Christian turns towards my heart and the hearts of others. I understand the intellectual satisfaction found in justice – but I do not find its place within the goodness of the heart. I cannot rejoice in the anger of God nor of anyone else. I weep – or more accurately – when I find that I rejoice in the anger of anyone it should be a cause for weeping. For I am a sinful man and I rejoice at things that should cause my heart to weep – so great is the darkness within it.

The Orthodox understanding of the wrath of God is not an endorsement of universalism. God alone knows who is saved. But it is a call for universal love. For there is nowhere (certainly within the New Testament) that we are commanded to hate. We are to love our enemies. And if that is to be anything more than lip-service then it must first be modeled in the Good God and grafted within us by His grace.

Strangely, I find our century (and the ones preceding it) not overburdened with love, but rather riddled with those who believe their hatreds to be justified. God save me from the man who believes Himself just. I do not stand a chance before him. Rather, number me with the harlots and the publicans – number me with the worst of sinners. Within that refuse of humanity I may find mercy and a heart kind enough to pray for a man as wicked as myself.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.



137 responses to “Loving an Angry God”

  1. fatherstephen Avatar

    Painting: Death to Dostoevsky by Alton Tobey

  2. David Avatar

    I honestly find myself unjust and trust me, you need as much saving from me as someone who finds themselves just. 🙂

    And I appreciate how the quotes you mention turn away a certain negative interpretation of those passages. However, there still seems to me space around those quotes for something along the lines of “loving wrath”.

    There is no evil in such a thing and I ascribe no evil to God in acting according to the divine energy of justice. A judge on a bench may be as good as man can be and make fair pronouncements without evil in his heart. Why not God?

    A mother bear is not evil in protecting her cubs. She acts according to her nature for the good not only of her cubs, but of her species and for the balance of life in the woods.

    A good king might take from one who has wronged another to compensate the victim, again no evil has transpired. A human king might have some warmth of heart, but that doesn’t mean God would not be dispassionate and act similarly.

    Punishment (here is a loaded word I wish we could return to a good and proper reputation) can be quite loving, so then I am forced to interpret passages in scripture which mention God’s wrath and judgment as loving, rather than characterize them as some how more deeply flawed.

    There is a danger I believe in reading a passage in the scripture that says, “God was angry” and saying in your head, “No he was not.” Or “God judged them evil and ordered Israel to kill them” and saying “No, actually he didn’t do that.”

  3. Nathan Avatar


    “for He Who said, “I am the One Who makes light and darkness,” shows Himself as the Creator of the universe, not that He is the creator of any evil…. “He creates evils,” that means, “He fashions them again and brings them to a betterment, so that they leave their evilness, to take on the nature of good.”

    Father, I confess I do not understand waht Baisl is talking about here.

    Also, I thank you for this post. I too, find it hard to comprehend Christians who would rejoice in the anger of God. I like lots of parts of the “Shack” even… Rather, when I see the Saints asking for vengence (“How long…avenge our blood”) I, perhaps in a way that does a disservice to the text (exactly the thing I said it seemed like you were doing in the comments section on the recebt post about the wrath of God), think: “They are crying out for ‘vengence’ in that they want God to preserve and protect their fellow Chrisitans from those who hurt them… they do not want vengence, punitive punishment, or destruction of their enemies – they want the world to be set right – they want shalom.”

    I think this is what Christ modeled, and then Stephen immediately following.

    So again – it seems to me that in this sense the anger can be seen as good, in that God in His love gets angry when people hurt His little kids and so protects them (if not temporally, than eternally, by separating the just from the unjust) – as for the enemies of God, His heart always weeps for them, even as He stands in their presence of those who would not have him in their eternal destination (Rom. 14)


  4. asinusspinasmasticans Avatar

    I think we leave the demons out of our calculations. St. Anthony doesn’t make that mistake. I don’t think Dostoyevsky did either.

    I think we can hate the demons with a clean heart, but I am not wise enough to know where the man stops and the demon begins, so I would prefer to err in blaming the demon and excusing the man, hoping that others will extend the same courtesy to me.

  5. Sbdn. Lucas Avatar
    Sbdn. Lucas


    [I speak for myself, which means very little, I’m sure]

    Nathan: ‘…God in His love gets angry…’

    David: ‘There is a danger I believe in reading a passage in the scripture that says, “God was angry” and saying in your head, “No he was not.” Or “God judged them evil and ordered Israel to kill them” and saying “No, actually he didn’t do that.”’

    To say that God ‘becomes (angry)’ or ‘gets (angry)’ is to imply a change in God. Would you not agree that change in God is impossible?

    It is fundamental to understand that the Scriptures use verbal *imagery* of God that poetically describe Him in economical terms (i.e. a sort of ‘dispensation’). We must keep in mind that the Scriptures act Iconographically–as paint and brushstrokes manifest the Truth of a Person or Divine Event through imagery, so too the words and phrases of Scripture.

    If we examine the Holy Icons, they do not show an historical-literal ‘photograph’ of what the Manifest. The Scriptures function in the same way, they Manifest the Truth–Christ. BUT, how they do that is to use language as the Icons use paint.

    It seems that until the above is understood (I acknowledge that that’s not an easy step), I don’t think one can progress any further in the discussion of how the Scriptures talk about God.

    If one disagrees that the Scriptures function Iconographically–and one is entitled to disagree–I think this conversation cannot go any further.

    Fr. Stephen, please correct me if I err or overstep myself. Friends, forgive me if my words fall short of love.

    the sinner,
    Sbdn. Lucas

  6. Nathan Avatar

    “Would you not agree that change in God is impossible?”

    I do not believe that God’s love changes, for He is reconciled to the world in Jesus Christ. But to say that He necessarily does not get angry (or joyful) because of this consistent, persistent love for sinners (a love which is constantly interested in being with, forgiving, working with them) seems to me a bit too much.

    I think that Jesus is God in human flesh and perfectly images the Father. Therefore, I believe that God becomes joyful and angry – even as this joy and anger always serves His purpose of all sinners coming to a knowledge of the truth, of receiving Him freely as infants – who are willing to be nothing but given to.


  7. Bruce Avatar

    Thank you and God bless you Father Stephen…I loved this sentence.

    For there is nowhere (certainly within the New Testament) that we are commanded to hate. We are to love our enemies. And if that is to be anything more than lip-service then it must first be modeled in the Good God and grafted within us by His grace

    For me, I must return to some simple ideas and beliefs. My primary focus must be a childlike faith that God is Love, God is Good, God fillest all things, even in the midst of circumstances and experiences which attempt to deceive me into a different belief. With this faith, I then have an opportunity to experience His ability to make all things new as I find Him and His Goodness wherever I am. Even in Christ’s death, do we not see clearly how His Goodness, Humility, and Love are revealed despite the deception of weakness, failure, and powerlessness which seems reflected on the surface. Can we really find God in any revealed Truthful way without first believing He Is; He is Good and He Loves me without qualification or condition.

    When I begin to see how much He Loves me, I long for Him. If to know Him means I must obey His Commands and find a Purity from Him, His Love can power me and transform me.

    I think my struggle with this topic is the hidden words that God is really not good, or trustworthy, or loving…but angry, vengeful, punishing, and out to seperate me from Him not unite me to Him. This God is a lie which keeps me dark, alone, and seperated. I must see this as s a lie which threatens what is Eternal from growing in me and transforming me into what He would like me to become.

  8. David Avatar

    Sbdn Lucas,

    The question is what does it mean to say God doesn’t change. Certainly His nature does not change. However, I’m perfectly comfortable (and don’t see the problem) of God answering the prayers of His saints, after all our relationship is cooperative. I like the image of the “dance” of the Trinity that we are invited to join.

    I would be much more troubled by the western “simple” God.

    I don’t think it’s helpful to go back over the “prefiguring” hermeneutic stuff, but scriptures refer to people doing things in the name of God or with His blessing or at the word of His prophets (presumably speaking truly on His behalf).

    I don’t see the problem with a loving God behind the death of pagan priests of Baal at the order of Elijah. I don’t see Him as full of malice, I see Him loving His Israel. I see Him as loving those priests.

    Consider for a moment why death comes to Adam and Eve. Is death a “punishment” in the pejorative? No, it’s to prevent the estrangement from God becoming permanent between God and man. It is a blessing.

  9. David Avatar

    I want to say again, because I thinks worth doubling down on the point, to say God doesn’t change means that He doesn’t “interact” with us seems in contradiction to the whole testimony of the saints. We aren’t dancing with a statue.

  10. Wonders for Oyarsa Avatar

    “It is fundamental to understand that the Scriptures use verbal *imagery* of God that poetically describe Him in economical terms (i.e. a sort of ‘dispensation’). We must keep in mind that the Scriptures act Iconographically–as paint and brushstrokes manifest the Truth of a Person or Divine Event through imagery, so too the words and phrases of Scripture.”

    Of course, I agree. But what I have trouble with here is, if scripture uses such imagery, why may we not? We may certainly say such imagery as we read scripture in the liturgical life of the church, so why not use such imagery in our conversations about God, with the holy fear that must always accompany words about God? (Perhaps Father Stephen would say that this is exactly what he is doing).

    To say God becomes angry may “imply” a change in God, but so would “Jesus grew in wisdom, and stature, and favor”. For that matter, saying that God “ordains all that is” may “imply” predestination to damnation, but that is where a healthy reverence for God and an appreciation for mystery should correct us. Or is that, again, in essence what Father Stephen is saying – that we must never, by saying “God is angry with X and will punish X”, mean “God has changed” or “God does not will the good of X”?

  11. David Avatar

    Now that’s something I never considered Oyarsa. I think partly because it sounds exactly like my old churches of Christ tradition. But perhaps there remains something good about echoing the scriptures.

    If bashing the heads of the children of Babylon is about nipping sin in the bud, then it can mean that when we say it as well. Hrm, I’m not sure I’m comfortable with this either. But it definitely awakens some of my older pathways.

    Lord have mercy, I have been illumined in Baptism, but I’m still a mess. 🙂

  12. Wonders for Oyarsa Avatar

    I think something that Nathan says is important. An immediate rejection of the image of anger with respect to God (on the grounds that it might undermine his transcendence) seems to tacitly smuggle in the assumption that the human is insufficient to house the fullness of God. We are created in his image, after all, and Jesus is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.

  13. saintadele Avatar

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen, for all of your thoughtful posts. This reminded me of one of your podcasts, where you emphasized the phrase “God is good”, and its impact on your life. I find this discussion very refreshing, and a good reminder of why I became Orthodox. I grew up in a more “fire-and-brimstone” type environment, and lived in a perpetual fog of confusion about God. Did He actually love me, or was he angry with me? Ironically, I wound up with a strange theology with salvation coming out of general life performance, a sort of amalgamation between “works salvation” and “sola fide”. If I was chipper enough during Sunday school and didn’t ask pesky questions about church history and faked my way into faith, then I would be saved; if I persisted in my questions and my “sinful ways” (whatever that means), then I risked damnation. Except that I had said the “sinner’s prayer” on many occasions, and so had “assurance” of my heavenly reward (reward? reward for what?!). No wonder I was confused!
    By the grace of God, I found Holy Orthodoxy, and now all I need to know is that God is good, and that I should strive to live a sacramental life in the Church.
    I was full of anxiety when I supposedly had “assurance of salvation” (was I really saved? really? what if I said the prayer wrong?), but now I have a much more peaceful existence, resting in the the arms of God’s grace through His Church.
    Now, if only I could somehow convince all those other poor souls that God really is good…

  14. Paul Maurice Martin Avatar

    I think any theology that takes God’s “personality” too literally gets in trouble. I mean, “He” certainly isn’t just another guy…

  15. laura Avatar

    Growing up, I was taught that when Abraham prayed to God for Lot and the city of Sodom, that God was persuaded to change his mind because of Abraham’s prayer. This was to encourage us to pray more fervently.

    At the time, this troubled me because I wondered whether it was a good idea to sway God to my thinking – certainly his is more “godly.”

    I wonder now how God being unchanging fits in with this passage?

  16. zoe Avatar

    Trying to explain or understand an unknowable God is really an impossibility. I think there is a passage in the book of Isaiah about the clay(humans) asking the potter (God) “what are you making?” Can a clay argue with the master potter? Or can a clay understand what the potter has in mind when he is in his potter’s wheel creating his clay vessels?

    We are but one dot in God’s vast canvas of His creation. “We know in part” St. Paul says. As only a dot in God’s beautiful canvas of creation, how can we see and critique the beauty of the masterpiece much less understand the thought process of the master artist?

    We are shown what God is like through His Son, Jesus Christ and He revealed God’s love by His birth, suffering and death on the cross; His resurrection from the dead.

    “God is love” is the unchanging theme when God created the world (the lamb was slain from the foundation of the world, we know why?

    God is unchanging because he is and will ever be a loving God –“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever”, St Paul writes.

    I can not understand everything about God or what He does and why but I can pray that He may give me the strength to surrender myself with all my sins, doubts, fears– and look up to Jesus Christ as St. Peter has done when fearful waves (of doubts) surrounded him.

    Lord have mercy on us and save us!

    Thank you Fr. Stephen and God bless.

  17. Lucian Avatar

    There is a danger I believe in reading a passage in the scripture that says, “God was angry” and saying in your head, “No he was not.”

    No, Dave, … there isn’t. Just like there isn’t any “danger” in reading “all those passages” about Theophanies, or expressions like “the hands of God”, “the eyes of the Lord”, etc. and “saying in Your head”: “no, God has no form”. The literal interpretation of both these things is called Antropomorphism, and ultimately leads to idolatry.

    Unlike You phreakin’ converts, who come to Orthodoxy as know-it-alls, I’ve been raised Orthodox with an Augustinian understanding (just like everybody else around here), and had no psycho-logical problems with that. But as I grew I’ve realised some inconsistencies within my religion: not emotional or human-logical inconsistencies (i.e., I saw no harm done in punishing the wicked for all eternity, neither logical, nor emotional) … but as I watched more and more religious documentaries or shows on Romanian national TV, some things were said there which at first went unnoticed, but then started to somewhat make sense … and not disparate sense, but rather a consistent, united, coherent, cumulative sense … which went in contra-sense with the other half or part of my religion. So … long story short, when I read Kalomiros, I first went like: “ah, give me a bloody break! This guy’s looking at half the picture, and ignores the other” … but in the days that followed all the things that somehow went either ignored or unnoticed or just labeled as weird singularities made sense all of a sudden … and I had to change (not completely, because some of these things permeated me before) my previosuly-held notions. — And I friendly advice You to do the same. The same went for other stuff, like who the Old One of Days really was: I’ve discovered the bimillennial witness of the Orthodox Church and was ready to accept it and follow it. (I didn’t have to switch religions, but I did have to become more Othodox in my belief system: for the sake of sanity, consistence, and coherence). I was born Orthodox and raised in that faith, I’ve drew closer to it about a dozen yrs ago, and even closer five yrs ago: I see it as a progress in knwoledge and understanding regarding my own faith.

  18. Lucian Avatar

    Bottomline, change comes when You finally understand that history and tradition are not just things to be used against Protestants, but also against Yourself. If Antropomorphism has been condemned in both Judaism and Christianity, and if all the Fathers speak with one voice, regardless of age or locality, that the Godhead is dispassionate, and when all the Icons are painted to express just that: the dispassion on the faces of the Saints, and when all the Sayings and Short-Stories of the Desert Fathers speak of “un-evil-ness” (sorry for the linguistical calque, but it sounds just as weird in Romanian), and when all the Saints — and I’m talking here about the recent ones, from communist prisons, — forgive their enemies and pray for those that torment, torture and persecute them, and when we see this on the pages of the New Testament, in both Christ’s sayings, as well as His deeds and advices, the logical, inherent, unescapable conclusion can nbe just one: the one which is presented so coherently in the Biblical, Scriptural, traditonal, patristical, iconographic data. (In case anyone is wondering, one of the first things that ‘hit’ me was the inconsistency between the Parable of the Prodigal Son and what I then knew about God the Father: who so much *loved* [not hated!] the world, that gave His Only Son, etc. — the Western view, when expressed and explained, makes John 3:16 say the *exact opposite* of what it *actually* says — has anyone ever noticed that before?).

  19. David Avatar

    Lucian, forgive me a sinner.

  20. fatherstephen Avatar


    Yes and Amen!

  21. Lucian Avatar

    Lucian, forgive me a sinner.

    Ego absolvo te in Nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritu Sancti, Amen. + 😐 (Now I’ll give order to the executioners to strangle You to the stake before igniting the flames). 8) — I wasn’t upset at You, man, 🙂 I just wanted to give You the answer You were askin` for (literally!) in Your comments, when You wrote that You’ll really appreciate it if someone were to finally have the guts to tackle some of the issues You were struggling or wrestling with … so here I am, Dave: at Your service. 😀

  22. luciasclay Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    As I study the Western Church and compare it to the Eastern the difference of Legal Sin & Punishment -vs- Purification of the Heart is very obvious at one level.

    But at a deeper level, a level I think is often lost, the punishment is for our purification. We are disciplined as a father disciplines his children. For our own good and to make us better and more pure.

    Since east and west were at one time united, they talked of the same thing in different terms. It seems that they still do talk of the same thing but the difference in terminology from the West so many have lost sight of the reason for punishment/wrath. Its not of anger its of love.

    I watch the elections beginning in Russia today. The questions about whether one candidate is to open to the West or not. I know it will not happen in my lifetime but I hope and pray that some day the Church can again unite.

    Thanks as always for your blog.


    Lucias Clay

  23. Max Avatar

    God is Infinite and One, not Singular and Linear…

    God is in Mexico attending to an orphan while at the same time in China attending to a businessman. He is rejoicing over a saint in Canada while grieving over a sinner in Alabama. He is attending to the growth of a seedling in the Amazon while attending the death of one of your hairs this very moment… 😉

    He is hating the Lie of Satan, while loving the Gospel of Christ. There is no contradiction here.

    To say these are contradictions is to overlook the Infinity of God, trying to reduce Him down to a Singularity.

    God is wrathful toward sin, the Lie of Satan. Who can deny this?

    Those who are attached to the Lie (or refuse attachment to the Truth) will be burned with the wrath that God has patiently reserved for that Lie.

    The Lie will be destroyed, my friends. God will not be compassionate towards it or save it. If you tightly cling to an iron plate which God threatens to melt, won’t you also be burned? And some will be burned by God’s wrath poured upon that plate despite the warning, despite the constant repeated loving invitations to Life.

    God hates the Lie and will separate it from all that is True. So, God hates the Lie, but loves the soul. This is not a contradiction since God is Infinite, not Singular.

  24. Nathan Avatar


    In full disclosure, I am not an Orthodox nor a convert, although I am certainly interested in Orthodoxy. I am a Lutheran.

    Does not the expression “the hands of God” indicate that God, like us, in some sense, really made, shaped, formed, created (though from nothing)? And does not the expression, “the eyes of the Lord” indicate that God, like us, in some sense, really sees? And does not the expression that God gets angry when people destroy the simple faith and lives of the little ones indicate that God, like us, in some sense, really gets angry? (and we are told not to sin *in our anger*). I’m not claiming my anger is so righteous by the way, though I do believe I have beheld it.

    I am not sure what “un-evil-ness” means exactly, but it sounds like what I believe about God, particularly, in the context of this discussion, when He cleared the temple in righteous anger, out of love for His people who had lost sight of God and their charge, regretting all the while that it needed to be done.

    You go on to say:

    “and when all the Saints…forgive their enemies and pray for those that torment, torture and persecute them, and when we see this on the pages of the New Testament, in both Christ’s sayings, as well as His deeds and advices…”

    And all of this I can give a hearty Amen to. This is indeed the character of God.

    In any case, I think that you have overstated your case about anthropomorphism.

    Further, could you explain your take on John 3:16 a bit better?

    Thank you.


  25. Wonders for Oyarsa Avatar

    Forgive me, if I continue being obtuse, but how can one categorically reject “anthropomorphism” and remain Christian in our thinking? God is not only man-like, but the Son of Man himself – Mary is theotokos. Father Stephen, you yourself talk of how infinite the heart of man is. In man, God has shaped something more than sufficient to reveal himself in fullness. I understand the need for discipline. I understand the need to distinguish between man in his distorted enslavement to death and man as he is alive in God. But whatever concerns we may have about erecting and maintaining a consistent theological framework, it just seems to me that we must never say “this thing is too human to apply to God”.

  26. Lucian Avatar

    And does not the expression that God gets angry … indicate that God, like us, in some sense, really gets angry?

    Not according to Patristic teaching. (As I said, there was no intrinsically-logical reason for me coming to these conclusions; just exposure to theo-logical teachings of my own little religion).

    could you explain your take on John 3:16 a bit better?

    If say the Gospels would have somehow been lost, and one were to re-construct the direct teaching of the Gospel(s) (i.e., of the Evagelium) based on the Evangelical preaching of what they view as being “the Gospel”, John 3:16 would have to read: “for God so hated the world in His righteous wrath, that He gave His only Son, etc”.

    Another puzzling thing was that Jesus said “be ye holy EVEN AS your Father in Heaven is holy”: not *more*, nor “in a *different* manner”: and this included forgiving our trespassers, loving those that hate us, blessing those that curse us, praying for those that persecute us, doing good to those that do us harm, etc. — This was internal inconsistency #2. Then there was the problem with God hating the sin while loving the sinner (that’s even part of the Christian ABCs: it’s hardly something particularilly Orthodox, or some super-duper-hyper-high-and-hidden theological statement, etc).

    Internal inconsistecy #4 was “My justice/righteousness is not like your [human] justice/righteousness” (OT); “for the anger/wrath/rage of man doth not work the ruighteousness of God” (James); and then there was the problem of God’s constancy or unchanging-ness or un-altered-ness: “the Father of light, in which there’s neitehr change, nor shadow, nor alteration”, which is also a constant theme in patristical writings, alongside dispassion, therefore how could He have then passions like wrath or anger, or how could we, Orthodox, then think of prayer as chaging something in God? (His mood or His disposition). Then there was this constant leit-motive in which so many Othodox prayers ended: “for You are a God that does not remember evil”: yet He somehow never forgot Adam’s sin, etc. — Well, You get the drill; … and I’m stopping here, ‘cuz I’ve done enough proselytism already … 🙁 (which, BTW, is something I really hate … just like hitting or makin’ a move at women, or becoming a salesman: You know, the kind who have this fake American smile from one ear to the other, theeth showing, trying to maneuver people, etc). — “I’m only sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel”, and I only like preaching (or explaining) to the choir.

  27. Lucian Avatar

    God is not only man-like, but the Son of Man himself – Mary is theotokos.

    Quite. So, … how would You describe Jesus? How many prostitutes did He delapidate? (John 8:1-11) How many publicans did He kill? How many sinners did He hate? How many wicked did *He* spit upon? (Matthew 26:67; 27:30; Mark 14:65; 15:19) And exactly just how much fire and brimstone did he rain upon His blasphemers, mockers, tormenters, and executioners? (I want to know the *precise* quantity, expressed in kilo-grams and cubic meters).

    Furtermore, [and this is the most fundamentally important theological question we might *ever* dare to ask ourselves]: why does no Jesus-movie star Bruce Willis in the main role? “Die Hard 3: 3 Days Later“ — Jesus coming back to life to kick some Pharisee’s @$$ (and probably hit them in the head with the Cross also…).

    Apropos, here’s another internal inconsistency: since all of the divine attributes are in common, save the personal ones, of course, … how come that we’re dealing with a sort of romantic dramatic conflict within the (otherwise united) Trinity? Is ‘love’, by any chance, amongst the personal attributes of the Son? (Not according to the Fathers). Or, if the Trinity has such severe internal conflicts, why does any foundation-stone of any Orthodox church has the following words enscripted on it: “with the will of the father, the help of the Son, and the working of the Holy Ghost, etc.”? — Did the Fathers condemn Marcion just so that we might resurrect his teachings? 😐 Thirdly, why do we teach (against the mono-thellists and monoenergists) that will and action are rooted in the nature, only to add soon afterwards, that the Father and the Son, though of the same nature and essence (Niceea, 325 AD), have somehow different wills and actions: love and hate, damnation and redemption, etc.

    These were the ever-growing problems that I became more and more aware of during the yrs prior to ever reading Kalomiros’ work.

  28. anonymousgodblogger Avatar

    But can we get back to the issue of God’s joy?
    Is it in the same category as the issue of God’s anger?
    Or is it a different issue?
    My hunch is that it’s a different issue.
    Didn’t Jesus mean what he said about His joy being in us, and our joy being full?
    Isn’t God’s joy eternal?
    Doesn’t it say in the Psalms that His anger (or as we are discussing it, His chastisement) is for a moment, but His favor (joy?) is forever?
    When we speak of God being dispassionate, I don’t think it means God isn’t joy itself…

  29. Robert Avatar

    And the Phrase of the Day Award goes to….Lucian, with “Unlike You phreakin’ converts”

    ROFLOL. Oh man my stomach is hurting. Ouch. Good stuff. How do you do it without sinning? What is the secret?

  30. Lucian Avatar

    Ezekiel 25:17, “Pulp Fiction”, and the Western view of God. 😀

  31. Lucian Avatar

    How do you do it without sinning? What is the secret?

    Salvation by works is just something we invented to torture Protestants with — nobody here really believes it. 😀 Orthodox are saved by the bell. 😉 (otherwise none of us wopuld “make it”) — That’s why our Churches have bell-towers on top o’ them. 8) — Now hush! And don’t tell that to anyone (to paraphrase the ending of the Apocalypse of Peter). 😐

  32. Tim Avatar

    Forgive me, a sinner. These are great and wondrous mysteries, yet I (a recent western convert to Orthodoxy) am not ready for solid food. I confess I do not understand; the quote from St. Anthony makes it seem like he viewed God as some sort of impersonal “automatron”. I am used to hearing Orthodox people speak about God in terms of intimate personal/communal relationships, so the quote was shocking to me. Perhaps my own sinfulness keeps me from seeing beauty and personal intimacy in unaffected dispassion. But isn’t there are God-likeness in being moved to mercy, in hearing the plight of others and feeling their pain?

    “The scales of Your balance are Grace and Righteousness:
    how and when they are balanced, You alone know.
    Though they may not seem to be balanced, they are balanced just the same
    since they are not divided against the One Lord of all.”
    (Ephrem the Syrian, Faith 12:4)

    Your explanations are clear, but I can’t wrap my head around it yet. Perhaps God will reveal it to me. Lord have mercy.

  33. Robert Avatar

    Dear Tim,

    The point you are overlooking is that joy, mercy, anger and the like are anthropomorphisms: for lack of words to describe God we humans out of necessity use language which really only apply to ourselves. If we take these words literal we err, for God is not a human. We end up misreading scripture, such as Lucian points out John 3:16 becomes heresy.

    Take your time, this too God will reveal to you, fret not. Rely on Him, you have a good heart and you are in a good place.

  34. Max Avatar

    God is not a human?

    Not only is God a Human in the fullest sense, but these “traits” you list are not all merely created aspects as you suppose – they are aspects of God’s Own Image. Man was created in God’s Image bearing these Eternal aspects… the characteristics of God.

    I apologize for drawing my lines so pointed, but God is Love – compassionate sharing giving joyous personal caring self-sacrificing feeling Love – and that is not a mere anthropomorphism, my friend. If you’ve stumbled upon or reasoned yourself into imagining a god other than this, it is not the True God, that is, the Lord Jesus Christ.

  35. Lucian Avatar

    Max and Oyarsa,


    God incarnate, Jesus Christ, not only that did not possess these anthropo-morphic characteristics, but both His human and divine traits were diametrically opposed to them: that’s simply NOT the way in which the Son revealed the Father to us. Furthermore, these anthropomorphic attributes do not belong to man proper, but to *fallen* human nature, corrupted by death and tainted with sins and passions. Christ is God’s Face and Image: not fallen man. To read these traits back onto God means to fashion an idol in our own image, instead of letting ourselves be conformed to the Image of God, in which we were innitially made. I’m afraid I can’t make it clearer than that, and -for a layman- I did a lot of preaching on this poor Priest’s blog, so …


    if You want to have even more fun, feel free to visit my blog: there’s plenty of more such snarky stuff where this came from. 🙂 (Hope Father Stephen here won’t pick up on it; I mean, I really don’t want to face excommunication any time soon, or somethin`… ). 8)

  36. Lucian Avatar

    On a more serious note, I would recommend each and every one of You gents here, reading this, to watch the 2001 movie “The Believer“, starring Ryan Gosling.

  37. David Avatar

    I must apologize again Lucian. I must be doing something wrong, because when I use Google to search the writings of Church fathers available online, I find quite a wealth of references to God’s wrath.

    It must be that it’s the limited text available online and my desire to proof text that leads me to misread those that I’ve found.

    I’m sure if I listed them, you could explain my error concerning each one, or enough so that the rest might be dismissed as anomalies.

    But then my point is not to defend my position, for I have none. I have only confusion and struggle to offer. This has always been the case and will probably remain so until God’s chosen time.

    I should thank you for one thing. Your churlish insults reminded me how little hold I have on my pride. Actually, I think it was Fr Stephen’s acclamation that I found most painful to bear.

    I suppose I’m only experiencing your love as wrath because of my sin.

    As I said, pray for me, a sinner.

  38. Max Avatar

    The Lord Jesus Christ was not dispassionate toward the Pharisees. In fact, he called them children of the devil and described them with other words that we can be sure were delivered with a corresponding tone.

    Christ was not monotone… he was not a robot or an empty-faced cartoon character.

    Christ laughed and smiled. He strained to lift the heavy wood as he worked as a carpenter’s son. He responded to His mother emotionally and conveyed His love for her in like fashion. He was hurt deeply and felt pain physically. He tasted death. This is the true God.

    God is not so far off that He is unfeeling and so alien to us… that would be a void and no god. We are made in God’s Living Image and that Image is not mangled beyond recognition as some teach.

  39. Lucian Avatar

    Your churlish insults reminded me how little hold I have on my pride

    When did I ever insult You? 🙁 Sorry if my peculiar sense of humor got lost in the translation, somehow… (I have nothing against You; why would I?) 😐 Again, sorry. 🙁 (BTW, are You still experiencing worship-problems for not having a service-book handy?)

    I mean, I’m no-where near dispassion or theosis, David … but I honestly don’t have anything against You, and the last thing I wanted to do with my light-hearted approach to the question was to sadden or upset anyone… including You…

    Christ laughed and smiled.

    When? No, seriously! Except for the rather uncanonical Gospel of Judas, when He outright rolls on the floor from laughing, there are no other references to such an event in the our four canonical Gospels…

    The Lord Jesus Christ was not dispassionate toward the Pharisees

    Yes, He was.

    In fact, he called them children of the devil and described them with other words that we can be sure were delivered with a corresponding tone.

    Christ, as the doctor of our souls and bodies, delivered the diagnostic with a serious tone and in a serious manner, showing their very serious and critical spiritual condition … He wasn’t exactly “callin` `em names“, Max, if that’s where’s You’re gettin` at … 😐 At one point, He even cried for Jerusalem, that’s how grief-stricken He was by the hardening of their hearts, and the knowledge that they would not end up very well if they continue to do so, but rather only self-destruct… 😐

    Christ was not monotone

    Yes, He was. (James 1:17) — though, I would add, definitely not “boring” if that’s what You mean… 🙂

    he was not a robot or an empty-faced cartoon character

    …if that’s the way You want to describe the God of steadfast and perfect Love, who pours rain upon both the good and the bad, and who lets the Sun shine upon both the saints and the sinners…

    God is not so far off that He is unfeeling and so alien to us

    Of course not; who ever told You that He were? 🙁 “God is Love”.

    and that Image is not mangled beyond recognition as some teach

    I’m not a Calvinist, Max, if that’s what You had in mind…

  40. Lucian Avatar

    And David,

    please stop being so hard on Yourself… 🙁 as I said in my previous comments, it took me years and years to “realise” the obvious… just have patience and let it time… we all *grow* in the faith; it’s not exactly like we’re “born” with it from day one, as it were… OK? 😉 Courage! 🙂

  41. Max Avatar

    There are no references in the Gospels of Christ washing his hair, but we can be sure He did… So, to claim Jesus did not laugh or smile because “it’s not in the Bible” is a weak argument.

    Christ weeps and laughs, since He himself said, “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.” Laughing is a blessed thing…

    Jesus repeatedly called certain people hypocrites. That’s name-calling, especially in a religious context.

    If James 1:17 proves Jesus was monotone, then we can also say Jesus never went from a serious tone to weeping… but we know that isn’t true.

    As you know, I was describing the Lord Jesus Christ Who is not an empty-faced cartoon character or a robot. He was not stuck in serious monotone mode since we know He wept one day and got physical with the money changers’ property another day…

    A change in tone does not entail a change in nature. God is good. He does not vary or turn in this fact… He is constantly good.

  42. Lucian Avatar


    do You know what dispassion means? 😐 — because it seems that that’s the reason You constantly keep misconstruing what I’m actually saying… and caricaturing them.

    Did He hate Pharisees? Did He hate money-changers? How many Pharisees did He haunt after His resurrection? How many money-changers did He managed to murderize with His whip? Did He tell Saul on the road to Damascus to persecute Pharisees instead of Christians after regaining his sight back?

    There are no references in the Gospels of Christ washing his hair

    Except for Matthew 3, Mark 1, and Luke 3 You mean… 😀

    Jesus repeatedly called certain people hypocrites. That’s name-calling, especially in a religious context.

    He called them like that because that’s what they were … not because Jesus was “pissed” at them. For the actual meaning of the word hypocrite in the world in which Christ lived, see Abp. Lazar Puhalo’s video HERE. I think You’ll find it very interesting.

  43. Anastasia Theodoridis Avatar

    It would be well, in this discussion, to recall the distinction between God’s eernal, changeless Essence, and His Uncreated Energies. Somebody (St. Basil the Great?) points out that these latter do have ends, as when that which God foreknew (foreknowing being one of the Energies) comes to pass.

    God indeed acts and interacts with us – but not without having foreseen every detail before He even created us. And never with any change of attitude toward us. Infinite, unconditional, self-sacrificial love is His unfailing stance toward us.

    IF He ever becomes angry with us, it’s like the anger of a parent toward a small child who has run out into the street in front of a car. Or the anger we feel in watching someone destroy himself with alcohol or drugs. That is, anger not proceeding from self-serving, not venting our passions, but expressing our love. Such was the anger Jesus displays in Mark 3:5; it is born of compassion. “And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, he saith unto the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched [it] out: and his hand was restored whole as the other.”

  44. nathan Avatar

    Wow – I find this conversation absolutely fascinating. Max’s and Lucian’s back and forth are quite revealing of some very interesting differences.

    Let me just say that as a Lutheran Christian I find several of Lucian’s points to be true of some lines of thought present in Western Christianity, but not all. I, for one, think that Oyarsa and myself have put forward a picture of God (and I don’t know if Oyarsa is Orthodox or not, but of course I have come out of the Western tradition) that is, as he/she? said “disciplined”, and fitting. Let me add that when I read Kalomiros (sp?), I certainly do not see the Christian persons or teachings that I was nurtured in.

    Father, have you ever done any posts on “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”. Maybe it seems unrelated, but it is what I am thinking about as I read through all of this (I’m not sure if I could explain exactly why I seem to think it is connected).

    Anastasia – great comments. I do indeed think that God is unchanging, namely in this way: “Infinite, unconditional, self-sacrificial love is His unfailing stance toward us”. I don’t see how that would necessarily preclude anger, punishment, wrath, etc.


  45. Lucian Avatar

    God is Love – compassionate sharing giving joyous personal caring self-sacrificing feeling Love – and that is not a mere anthropomorphism, my friend.

    No. It’s not. It’s a divine attribute, or energy.

    As I’ve already said in my yet-unpublished comment, which is still trapped somewhere in comment-limbo, while awaiting moderation, You seemingly don’t know what the word dispassion means. Which is OK. (But please correct this, … OK?) — That is, if You’re Orthodox; otherwise please forgive me for bothering You for no reason…

  46. Lucian Avatar


    here’s a link for the Lutheran in You: 🙂


  47. Max Avatar

    I think my usage of the word “dispassionate” was evident.

    Christ was not without a holy sense of Godly passion, born of love, toward the Pharisees… His anger, as was noted above, when He sensed obstinate disbelief among people who had every advantage to believe, was not born of the lusts and passions of the flesh, but of the Holy Spirit in Him.

    The problem I see many times among some God-seekers is that they imagine God to be so far removed from humanity that He has no idea what it means to be human, which is very far from the Truth. This is why I had to respond here.

    What is most telling in my mind that you (Lucian) may want to reassess your idea of God is your comment that Christ did not smile or laugh. Joy is one of the aspects of the Spirit and smiling, rejoicing, and even laughing are manifestations of Joy. Christ most certainly laughed and smiled when they brought Him the children who were, more than likely, smiling right back at Him. It’s not a minor thing. Think of all the holy saints who, when they received the Holy Spirit, rejoiced and praised God.

    Show me someone who can rejoice without cracking a smile and I might buy into your ideas. But, when you see the Lord Jesus coming on the clouds with all the saints, if you have love for Him, it will be a gloriously beautiful and joyful time.

    A few smiles might be exchanged in the Kingdom of God, wouldn’t you say?

  48. fatherstephen Avatar

    46 Comments. Some humor. Some occasional theology.

    A couple of theological notes:

    When Christ became man and took on our nature, it comes complete with passions, only the passions are not disordered. The passions are only sinful when they are disordered. But, for instance, when Christ suffered on the Cross He truly suffered. And in formal doctrine we understand that what He knew in His humanity He shared with the Divinity. Thus the Orthodox formula is: “One of the Trinity Suffered in the Flesh.”

    God truly loves us, but what we know of love cannot compare with the reality of the love of God. It’s just greater beyond our knowing. But of course He loves us.

    A verse I have been surprised no one has cited:

    Luke 6:35 But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil.

    Apparently God is kind to the evil. We know God only as He has been made known to us in Christ. Christ makes known to us that God is kind even to the evil. And commands us to be the same way.

    St. Silouan said that you only know God to the extent that you love your enemies. This is the only measure of the spiritual life. May God help us all.

    Please be kind to one another as you discuss all of this. It apparently needs lots of discussion.

  49. Handmaid Anna Avatar
    Handmaid Anna

    I wish that I could remember where I recently read that our brother is our life. This simple little saying has profoundly effected how I try to relate to others as God has commanded that we do so. I’m slowly and painfully becoming more aware in my heart on how I look at another person. Thanks be to God!

  50. Robert Avatar

    “It apparently needs lots of discussion.” — yes Father Stephen it does, as this topic brings to the fore the differences between Western and Orthodox theology. There is an awful lot of confusion about this, and quite frankly I find it next to impossible to effectively communicate with non-Orthodox Christians about this.

  51. Robert Avatar


    Yes I do believe they are “mere anthropomorphisms” — this is not to say they are not true, or not to be used, but it speaks to the inherent limit in our language when describing God’s attributes. When we encounter such language in scripture, or when we ourselves use them, we must be aware of their proper usage and the limits. We cannot take them literally so as to limit God and fashion Him in our image. As Fr. Stephen aptly points out:

    “God truly loves us, but what we know of love cannot compare with the reality of the love of God. It’s just greater beyond our knowing. But of course He loves us.”

    I hope that clarifies.

  52. Karen C Avatar
    Karen C

    Dear Father, bless!

    Thanks for tackling this again. Yes, apparently it needs much discussion! 🙁 It is a hard thing for us to grasp, this dispassion of God. It doesn’t denote boring monotone, being neutral, or imply a lack of interest or concern. But as humans we live in such a state of change that it is hard for us to conceive of anything that does not change as not being somehow quite inanimate! And, of course, God is Life itself, and Love and Truth. I think there is also an OT verse that says that God is angry “every day.” Whatever the “anger” of God means, I think we could all agree that it is not the changeable and reactive and ultimately self-serving passion that it is in us fallen humans.

    Like Fr. Stephen, I’ve come to the conclusion that the explanation that best fits the full biblical data, especially considering the life and teachings of Jesus, is that what the Bible calls God’s wrath is in fact the active love of God as it is experienced by those who reject it. It is not necessarily wrong to talk about God’s wrath using the biblical language and metaphors except perhaps that I suspect the modern world view and understanding of the nature of the Christian “God” is so weak and distorted compared to that of the Church at the time of the Church Fathers. The more recent Anselmian satisfaction and Reformed penal theories of the Atonement have introduced paradigms and concepts quite foreign to the gospel into our thinking about the meaning of the gospel events and so distorted our understanding compared to that of the Fathers that perhaps it would be well to be a bit more judicious about this in our modern cultural context than the Fathers were in their writings. If faced with the same context, I suspect those Fathers would be boldly proclaiming much the same thing as Fr. Stephen!

    Like Fr. Stephen I have experience that bears out what harm an insistence on understanding God’s wrath as “justly” punitive can do to the Christian (or non-Christian) soul. The results are to render the soul that accepts this “wrathful God” as worthy of reverence impotent in loving its enemies and to turn the gospel on its head in the name of fidelity to God. The sensitive souls that instinctively recoil at this distortion of the Christian God and so reject any form of traditional Christian faith as a result are also unnecessarily alienated from the Church and her teachings. The result, in short, is nothing less than spiritual death.

    Regarding God’s punishment as discipline, this is closer to the mark and yet even here I believe the reality Scripture seeks to describe with this metaphor is that the unpleasant and painful natural consequences of sin (ours or that of others) and which is intrinsic only to sin, God uses in the lives of those who love Him in a way that furthers their salvation.

  53. handmaidleah Avatar

    Psalm 22 [KJV]
    1 My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? [why art thou so] far from helping me, [and from] the words of my roaring?

    2 O my God, I cry in the daytime, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent.

    3 But thou [art] holy, [O thou] that inhabitest the praises of Israel.

    4 Our fathers trusted in thee: they trusted, and thou didst deliver them.

    5 They cried unto thee, and were delivered: they trusted in thee, and were not confounded.

    6 But I [am] a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people.

    7 All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, [saying],

    8 He trusted on the LORD [that] he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him.

    9 But thou [art] he that took me out of the womb: thou didst make me hope [when I was] upon my mother’s breasts.

    10 I was cast upon thee from the womb: thou [art] my God from my mother’s belly.

    11 Be not far from me; for trouble [is] near; for [there is] none to help.

    12 Many bulls have compassed me: strong [bulls] of Bashan have beset me round.

    13 They gaped upon me [with] their mouths, [as] a ravening and a roaring lion.

    14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels.

    15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death.

    16 For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet.

    17 I may tell all my bones: they look [and] stare upon me.

    18 They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.

    19 But be not thou far from me, O LORD: O my strength, haste thee to help me.

    20 Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power of the dog.

    21 Save me from the lion’s mouth: for thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns.

    22 I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee.

    23 Ye that fear the LORD, praise him; all ye the seed of Jacob, glorify him; and fear him, all ye the seed of Israel.

    24 For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath he hid his face from him; but when he cried unto him, he heard.

    25 My praise [shall be] of thee in the great congregation: I will pay my vows before them that fear him.

    26 The meek shall eat and be satisfied: they shall praise the LORD that seek him: your heart shall live for ever.

    27 All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the LORD: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee.

    28 For the kingdom [is] the LORD’S: and he [is] the governor among the nations.

    29 All [they that be] fat upon earth shall eat and worship: all they that go down to the dust shall bow before him: and none can keep alive his own soul.

    30 A seed shall serve him; it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation.

    31They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done [this].

  54. handmaidleah Avatar

    Our Lord was quoting the Psalm from the Cross. The prophecy of His death is there and I am sure therre are other reason beyond my very limited knowledge.

  55. Bill Tickel Avatar
    Bill Tickel

    Just this morning, I read this passage from St. Issac of Syria in my “Daily Readings in Orthodox Spirituality”:

    An elder was once asked, “What is a compassionate heart?” He replied:

    “It is a heart on fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals, for demons and all that exists. At the recollection and at the sight of them such a person’s eyes overflow with tears owing to the vehemence of the compassion which grips his heart; as a result of his deep mercy his heart shrinks and cannot bear to hear or look upon any injury or the slightest suffering of anything in creation. This is why he constantly offers up prayer full of tears, even for the irrational animals and for the enemies of truth, even for those that harm him, so that they may be protected and find mercy. He even prays for the reptiles as a result of the great compassion which is poured out beyond measure — after the likeness of God — in his heart.”

    At the risk of unintentional sophistry, this seems to me to be the point. The scriptures make it clear that God has wrath, but it is *His* wrath, and not ours, and is part of the mystery. It has taken me the longest time to purge myself of anger at the state of an increasingly apostate world, and replace it with sorrow, which is a completely different thing. I still have far to go, but at least I understand my error now. For many years, I was convinced that not to feel anger (and somehow act on it in the political sphere) was to be guilty of an antinomian disdain for God’s Law. I now see that attitude as a calcifying self-righteousness that shuts out God’s entry into the “interior.”

  56. fatherstephen Avatar

    My dearest brother Bill, what a good word. May we all know God in His fullness and in the true depths of our heart.

  57. Eric John (PNW) Avatar
    Eric John (PNW)

    I think these questions as difficult as those in the area of Theodicy (i.e., why evil is present in the world of a good and just God), and perhaps is a subset of that long-as-the-ages discussion.

    I am too, too young in the Church to feel qualified to fully reconcile some of the strong words of, say, the Psalms, or Old Testament records of Hebrews being instructed to level cities, with the commands of Christ and the teaching of St. John about love.

    I think there is something to be said about anthropomorphisms as applied to the Father, whom no man has seen except the Son. God walking in the garden in the cool of the day surely is one such poetic description unless it refers to a physical manifestation of Christ before the Incarnation similar to that of Abraham and the three strangers (but even then, is that God walking in a literal sense??). His anger, wrath, what have you, are others.

    I think that, as to the Messiah, the Second Person, Incarnate, he certainly weeps and I think it not impossible or impious to think he laughed or even was angry, but without sin (thinking of St. Paul’s “be angry, and sin not.”). But maybe I’m wrong about that.

    I think there’s a mystery in it.

    But whether God has wrath as we think it (I don’t think he does but I think it could feel like it, and I wrote some thoughts about that here), I believe my Lord’s example of a loving God, even to the point of death on a Cross when he could have had legions of Angels deliver him and have revealed himself in his glory to the dismay of his creatures – this is all we need to know of about the demand on us and what sort of God we serve.

    I am as curious about these seeming ‘problems’ as another, and poor Fr. Stephen as a priest charged to teach and preach, I am sure is constantly asked the terrible “but why, then?” questions of our age which will not rest until all is answered to satisfaction.

    But forgive me if I’m wrong to say this: sometimes I think we just need to stand silent before the whirlwind as did the Righteous Job, and realize the only answer is not a logical argument, but Emmanuel, God inexplicably, almost unbelievably, made flesh and having dwelt and yet dwelling among us.

    Today is St. Ephrem the Syrian’s day and he has somewhat to say on this:

    The thief gained the faith which gained him,
    And brought him up and placed him in paradise.
    He saw in the Cross a tree of life;
    That was the fruit,
    He was the eater in Adam’s stead.
    The fool, who goes astray,
    Grazes the faith, as it were an eye,
    By all manner of questions.
    The probing of the finger blinds the eye,
    And much more doth that prying blind the faith.
    For even the diver pries not into his pearl.
    In it do all merchants rejoice
    Without prying into whence it came;
    Even the king who is crowned therewith
    Does not explore it.

    Please forgive me for going on and on – and for any presumption – pra for me

  58. Max Avatar

    I think one should be careful not to say that everything “anthro” is foreign to God as if the Eternal Image of God were not incorporated into the human being. We know we possess attributes of the Eternal God because we know we are created in God’s Image.

    Going on step further, God can walk… no pun intended. That is not a mere anthropomorphism, nor are other attributes of God that are like human attributes. So, God indeed shares particular traits with us.

    Just as it may be a fault to assume our descriptions of God are perfect and exact (like trying to describe a masterpiece painting with words) I think it’s possible to err by going to the opposite extreme of assuming that God is completely beyond anything we can describe with words or experience as humans. We know this extreme assumption about God is untrue since man is created in the Image of God.

    Some employ reason, not to convey God’s Word about Himself or to convey His feelings or attitudes towards man, but to try and prove one thing: “God is completely unknowable.” It’s like running up against a dogmatic agnosticism where reason is disallowed and God’s Word is transformed into static. This dark dogmatic extreme (which is foreign to Christ) is like staring into a void and expecting to find light.

    On the contrary, God is knowable because Christ is knowable and said, “And this is eternal life, that they may know You…” We know God through His Word if we seek and He graciously opens our mind.

  59. Karen C Avatar
    Karen C

    “God is knowable.” Yes, and those who have come to know Him best testify that He is love and that in Him is no darkness at all. These biblical statements are pregnant with a meaning most of us, including me, are very far from fully experiencing. Obviously, there are great limits to what our discussion and words can express. Ultimately, we have to experience God’s love for ourselves in order to better understand its implications in the present discussion. I echo Father Stephen’s prayer. May God have mercy on us all.

    Father Stephen and Bill, amen and amen!

  60. David Avatar


    I accept your apology because I don’t want to sin about that too. But you are being either kind or blind. I think it would be unwise for you to advise me, as you say to “not be so hard” on myself. If anything I am not hard enough on myself as is clearly evident in my posts.

    I was intending to get up this morning and ask Fr Stephen if he would be kind enough to delete my posts on this topic, but I see now that I’m but a small drop in this conversation so such a request is no longer necessary.

    All I can add at this point is that my Bishop and my spiritual father do no use The River of Fire in catechism, nor do they require believing that Christ never laughed or that God has no wrath as a shibboleth. I have to answer to them, not you.

  61. fatherstephen Avatar

    Max, the Orthodox would say “God is unknowable but you have to know Him to know that.” There is a mystery and not a one-sidedness here. We know the Father because we know and love the Son. But our knowledge of God must be guided not by intellect alone, but by the living experience of the Word of God as lived and taught by the Church through the ages. It is not for us to start from scratch on these things. There is no dogmatic extreme here – except to some. It is the Light of Christ shed abroad within us that we might know Him.

    But you cannot look at man, as he is and say, “This is the image of God.” The only man who ever fulfilled (truly fulfilled) that intention of God, is Christ Himself, the Second Adam. He alone is also “fully man.” Thus it is to Christ we look both to see who we are to be and who God is.

  62. fatherstephen Avatar


    It is a wise man who listens to his priest and his Bishop and holds their words of greater import than those of a blog or it’s comments. Hold fast to such wisdom.

  63. William Avatar


    You said: “I think it’s possible to err by going to the opposite extreme of assuming that God is completely beyond anything we can describe with words or experience as humans.”

    Actually, I read exactly that “opposite extreme” in so many of the fathers all the time, particularly in someone who shares your name, St. Maximus the Confessor. All cataphatic theological statements must be balanced with an apophatic understanding. We can speak of God’s wrath and anger and joy, and we can use anthropomorphic terms to describe God. However, except when referring to Jesus Christ in his human nature, we must understand that these terms don’t mean what they mean when we use them in reference to other human beings. God in his essence is incomprehensible and as Maximus says, he is “fully excluding the notion of time and quality in that he is inaccessible to all and not discernible by any being on the basis of any natural representation.”

    Maximus is not alone in making a statement like that. It is a clear component of the patristic witness.

    Also, I agree with Lucian that you do not seem to understand what dispassion means, because you associate it with notions of robotic monotony and lack of joy and love and zeal. This is a misunderstanding of the patristic term “apathia,” which has been translated “dispassion,” “detatchment,” “inner freedom” and “purity of heart.” It is not to be confused with indifference or coldness, but it is to be associated precisely with genuine love. Maximus writes “dispassion engenders love,” a phrase that has also been translated “love is begotten of dispassion.” It is indeed necessary for love to be dispassionate or else it is an incomplete, biased or selfishly corrupted kind of love that is less than agape. Such a love suffers and rejoices.

    Elsewhere, Maximus illustrates such a suffering love while discussing divine justice:

    “Those wise in divine things say that there are three justices: human, angelic and divine. The human, they say, has law and kindness in sensible things of this world; the angelic is the sharing without envy of divine knowledge. Divine justice, they define it as suffering for sins.”

    A lot has been said since one of your earlier comments, but I have to go back to the place where you said “God is not a human? Not only is God a Human in the fullest sense, but these “traits” you list are not all merely created aspects as you suppose – they are aspects of God’s Own Image.”

    Well, yes, God the Son is human, and fully so, but his humanity is not confused (nor separated) from his divinity. God the Father and God the Holy Spirit are not human. When you say “not only is God a Human in the fullest sense,” obviously, you’re referring to Christ, but if you’re saying that the Trinity is human because God is human, then you are (probably unintentionally) dipping your toes into Sabellian waters.

  64. William Avatar

    Clarification: When I said above that “such a love suffers and rejoices,” I was referring to agape, not to corrupted love. I see that the way I wrote it could be read the wrong way.

  65. William Avatar

    Some quotes in reference to God’s anger, judgment, justice, etc.:

    From St. Isaac the Syrian:

    That we should imagine that anger, wrath, jealousy or the such like have anything to do with the divine Nature is something utterly abhorrent for us: no one in their right mind, no one who has any understanding (at all) can possibly come to such madness as to think anything of the sort about God. Nor again can we possibly say that He acts thus out of retribution, even though the Scriptures may on the outer surface posit this. Even to think this of God and to suppose that retribution for evil acts is to be found with Him is abominable. By implying that he makes use of such a great and difficult thing out of retribution we are attributing a weakness to the (divine) Nature. We cannot even believe such a thing can be found in those human beings who live a virtuous and upright life and whose thoughts are entirely in accord with the divine will — let alone (believe it) of God, that He has done something out of retribution for anticipated evil acts in connection with those whose nature He had brought into being with honour and great love. Knowing them and all their conduct, the flow of His grace did not dry up from them: not even after they (started) living amid many evil deeds did He withhold his care for them, even for a moment.

    “If someone says that He has put u with them here (on earth) in order that his patience may be known — with the idea that He would punish them there mercilessly, such a person thinks in an unspeakably blasphemous way about God, due to his infantile way of thinking: he is removing from God His kindness, goodness and compassion, (all) the things because of which He truly bears with sinners and wicked men. Such a person is attributing to (God) enslavement to passion, (supposing) that He has not consented to their being chastised here, seeing that He has prepared them for a much greater misfortune, in exchange for a short-lived patience. Not only does such a person fail to attribute something praiseworthy to God, but he also calumniates Him.”

    “A right way of thinking about God would be the following: the kind Lord, who in everything He does looks to the ways of assisting rational beings, directs thought concerning judgment to the advantage of those who accept this difficult matter. For it would be most odious and utterly blasphemous to think that hate or resentment exists with God, even against demonic beings; or to imagine any other weakness or passibility, or whatever else might be involved in the course of retribution of good or bad as applying, in a retributive way, to that glorious (divine) Nature. Rather, he acts toward us in ways He knows will be advantageous to us, whether by way of things that cause suffering, or by way of things that cause relief, whether they cause joy or grief, whether they are insignificant or glorious: all are directed towards the single eternal good, whether each receives judgment or something of glory from Him — not by way of retribution, far from it! — but with a view to the advantage that is going to come from these things.”

    From St. Maximus the Confessor:

    On God’s wrath:

    “The wrath of God is the painful sensation we experience when we are being trained by Him. Through this painful experience of unsought sufferings God often abases and humbles an intellect conceited about its knowledge and virtue; for such sufferings make it conscious of itself and its own weakness. When the intellect perceives its own weakness it rejects the vain pretensions of the heart.

    “The wrath of God is the suspension of gifts of grace — a most salutary experience for every self-inflated intellect that boasts of the blessings bestowed by God as if they were its own achievements.”

    Maximus on judgment:

    “By a single infinitely powerful act of will God in his goodness will gather all together, angels and men, the good and the evil. But, although God pervades all things absolutely, not all will participate in Him equally: they will participate in him according to what they are.

    “All, whether angels or men, wh in everything have maintained a natural justice in their disposition, and have made themselves actively receptive to the inner principles of nature in a way that accords with the universal principle of well being, will participate totally in the divine life that irradiates them; for they have submitted their will to God’s will. Those who in all things have failed to maintain a natural justice in their disposition, and have been actively disruptive of the inner principles of nature in a way that conflicts with the universal principle of well-being, will lapse completely from divine life, in accordance to their dedication to what lacks being; for they have opposed their will to God’s will. It is this that separates them from God, for the principle of well-being, vivified by good actions and illumined by divine life, is not operative in their will.”

    On God’s justice:

    “God is the sun of justice, as it is written, who shines rays of goodness on simply everyone. The soul develops according to its free will into either wax because of its love for God or into mud because of its love of matter. Thus just as by nature the mud is dried out by the sun and the wax is automatically softened, so also every soul which loves matter and the world and has fixed its mind far from God is hardened as mud according to its free will and by itself advances to its perdition, as did Pharaoh. However, every soul which loves God is softened as wax, and receiving divine impressions and characters it becomes “the dwelling place of God in the Spirit.”

    There are plenty of others like this, but this will do for now.

  66. Vincent Avatar

    I would like to bring up some points that personally bother me about what has been said during this discussion. I don’t mean to be offensive or confrontational. I simply ask these questions in the fashion in which they enter my mind and with the same force with which they assail me. So here it goes! And again please excuse me in advance if my post sounds a little rough.

    I have read over and over in some of these posts that the person who writes is a sinner and that they wish for God’s mercy on themselves and of course on others. This is all well and good. But what about real evil! I mean real evil! what about the unrepentant murders of children and whole societies. What about those who kill and tourture all over the world. I don’t mean the stuff you read about in books that does not really afffect you. I mean the real deal horrors that so many in our society have no real understanding of because they never have had to see it or live it. In saying I am a sinner do you put yourself in the same catagory as a man who kills and mutilates children or women or men for that matter? What are we really taking about? Watch the video of Al queda cutting off a man’s head and then picture that being done to your youngest child and tell me if you are a sinner just like that man who commits such a deed. I am sorry to be so graphic but I work in a job where I have seen unamaginable evil and not in video’s but up close and personal. I have seen the victims and the destruction done to their lives. For me a God of justice means something real. If this is not so then what do we base are ideas of justice on? Then why do we have courts and police and jails? Most Americans live a fairly Disneyland existance with little direct exposure to evil, when was the last time you saw a member of your own family murdered in front of you or heard their screems while they are disembowled. When I read the Old testament and the new I find a God who says these crimes will not go unpunished. Though the world exualts murderers and rapists it will not remain so, justice will be had. Men all men and men of goodwill yearn for it! Tell me it is not so! Tell me that when you see the horrors of the world perpetrated against the innocent your heart dose not cry out for justice. If justice is not real if the very concept of it is not derived from the eternal in us then from where does it come? Is it a deception or the product of an evil mind or will. Or is it a truth an eternal truth.

  67. David Avatar

    Fr Stephen, I have no wisdom, I simply cling with bleeding fingers to the rock because everything else is beyond my power and understanding. There is a certain video online of an Elder and he says that the only way to walk straight is to have two walls. On the one side the fear of death and on the other the fear of God.

    May He keep my footsteps straight and give me strength, because on days like today I cannot even lift my feet! Pray for me!

    I would like to say I obey my spiritual father out of some maturity or knowledge. But no, I do so because everything else is death.

  68. William Avatar


    I do put myself in the same category as all those “real” sinners you describe, for the same things that motivate them also motivate me. That I don’t have any intention or particular inclination to actually carry out the crimes you have graphically written out doesn’t exonerate me. Only the mercy of God does as I ask for and accept it.

    Still, this is not a way of saying that all those crimes will not have their consequences. There will be justice, I believe, but it just won’t be due to God’s literal “anger.” It will be due to the sinner’s refusal of God’s grace, which is one reason why those crimes occur in the first place.

    I realize the simplicity of my rapidly written answer. God’s justice is beyond our comprehension, but when we see in full, I believe we will not find it to be unsatisfactory to our own redeemed sense of justice. And none of this is to say that, in this world and in our societies, we should not prosecute and punish the evil destruction of human persons that we find all around us. This is a primary reason why governments exist, according to St. Paul.

  69. Max Avatar

    “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” [James 4:6]

    He will punish evil and reward good. The Lord Jesus Christ spoke clearly on these things. It’s not some complicated secret that only those who have many years of meditation and experience can understand. It’s as clear as day and even a babe can understand it.

    Those with good sense in Christ know that God smiles as well as frowns – very literally.

    God was born of a Virgin… and then He smiled at her.

  70. fatherstephen Avatar


    It’s a good sentiment. Though Christ smiling at the Virgin (which I’m sure he did many times) is not Scriptural, just post card. To pierce in knowledge to the very heart of God is not a proud thing, but a humility that few known (certainly not me). But I read the words of the humble and trust what they say as they speak out of the fullness of the Church. More Orthodox have been martyred than all other Christians together.

    I met a monk in the Holy Land, whose Orthodox monastery, since the 4th century has produced many martyrs. His statement to me, “We are monks. We have no enemies.” That, is a Christian. But if you do not know God in such a manner, you should be careful about lecturing others about Who God is and How He is. Simply quoting the Scriptures is not an assurance of knowledge. Humility includes listening to the testimony of the saints through the ages whose lives have shown us the fullness of the reality they knew. It is to be respected. May God bless you.

  71. Max Avatar

    It’s more than a good sentiment or mere speculation. It’s the truth. 🙂

  72. David Avatar

    Vincent, I don’t mean to belabor a point William has already made, but I have murdered many in my heart.

    I have applauded at the deaths of thousands, while I denied the image of the Divine in them. I was a hang-em-high advocate for an inhumane prison system. And having been through the Los Angeles Riots I was perfectly happy to see whole neighborhoods burn.

    I have been in fact proud of wars and used my vote and my voice to further violence. That some might say I was excused because they were “just” wars and some how that makes me different, doesn’t change the damage to my soul.

    I would not say that I’ve become a pacifist. It is a fallen world and wars seem at least inevitable and probably qualify as necessary. But I repent of statements I’ve made in the past that certain countries should be “bombed back into the stone age” or “nuked to glass”. These are REAL atrocities even though they ONLY happened in my heart.

  73. Lucian Avatar

    But what about real evil! I mean real evil! what about the unrepentant murders of children and whole societies. What about those who kill and tourture all over the world. I don’t mean the stuff you read about in books that does not really afffect you. I mean the real deal horrors that so many in our society have no real understanding of because they never have had to see it or live it.


    were You by any chance refering to something like this:



    the Patristic teaching concerning the Godhead being dispassionate is not optional or up for grabs. (And Kalomiros didn’t “invent” it: and neither did I). — As I said, … just take Your time, and continue living out Your Orthodox life as usual. 🙂 Take care, and God bless! +


    I’m affraid I’ll have to ask You again: are You Orthodox? (If You aren’t, then I’ll stop “pestering” You). My hunch is that You’re not, since You don’t have the slicest clue as to what words like dispassion or anthropo-morphic mean (in Patristic parlance) … in which case please accept my sincere apolgies for bothering You in the first place … 😐

  74. Max Avatar

    Lucian: 🙂

  75. Evan Avatar

    Great Post father Stephen and some really good comments as well!

    It’s a great scandal that when non-christian & many christians who live in Western Countries think of Christianity it is invariably coloured by this western tradition of an angry god, who seems to love some and hate others. Could this be a major reason why this form of ‘Christianity’ if in fact it is Christianity, is driving people away from god. This may sound harsh, but If I had to choose between this angry god of the west and secularlism I’d choose Secularlism.



  76. Bruce Avatar

    This paragraph from St. John of Kronstadt ( a 19th ceentury Orthodox saint) helps me to more deeply understand both the passion and dispassion of our life in Christ.
    ‘My Life in Christ’, page 99

    Believe steadfastly and always remember that you have a dual nature, that there are two men in you, the one carnal, diseased by passions, old, of the Devil, seeking carnal things and setting life upon them; you must mortify the old man within you and not satisfy his sinful, persistent, sickly lamentations; whilst the other man in you is spiritual, new,healthy, of Christ, everywhere seeking Christ, living by Christ (instead of by worldly desires), and finding peace and life in Christ, wishing for nothing in this world but Christ, and counting earthly blessings but dung, in order to win Christ.(Philippians 3:8) As we must despise in every way the requirements of the former man because their fulfillment destroys the soul, so we must fulfill in every way the requirements of the latter because they lead to true and eternal life. Let every Christian learn this, and labor to actually fulfill what he thus learns.

  77. Duke Avatar

    Thanks, Lucian, for the link to the story about Richard Wurmbrand.

    Many of us who were brought up in Calvinist circles were taught about God’s wrath through sermons like Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Unfortunately, this leaves one with the impression of God that is incompatible with the God that is revealed in the lives of those in prison with Pastor Wurmbrand.

    Edwards says things like this:
    “The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire…”

    Then, when He finally casts you into hell (heaving a sigh of relief, it seems),

    “He will have no regard to your welfare, nor be at all careful lest you should suffer too much in any other sense, than only that you shall not suffer beyond what strict justice requires.”

    God is apparently bound to His great cosmic wrath by something ouside of Him–divine justice.

    “The sword of divine justice is every moment brandished over their heads, and it is nothing but the hand of arbitrary mercy, and God’s mere will, that holds it back.”

    This is who I was taught that God is, and I’ll bet I’m not the only one.

    “When the great and angry God hath risen up and executed his awful vengeance on the poor sinner, and the wretch is actually suffering the infinite weight and power of his indignation, then will God call upon the whole universe to behold that awful majesty and mighty power that is to be seen in it.”

    Personally, I found Kalomirios’ River of Fire to be a welcome antidote.

  78. zoe Avatar

    Mt. 17: 5: “While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.’”

    St. John 2: 5: “His mother saith unto the servants, whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.”

    Both the Father (God) and the Theotokos (Virgin Mary) tell the disciples to listen and do what Jesus commanded them to do.

    At times it is easy to get confused by asking and wondering about too many un-answered mysteries (questions) instead of following Jesus commandments. I think asking and wondering about the mysteries of God is healthy but it becomes unhealthy when this prevents me from obeying and doing his commandments as proclaimed by Him (Jesus)
    through the authority of the Church (Christ’s body).

    Like everyone else, I am tempted to pry on the mysteries of the OT but it is more peaceful for me to listen to the Church teachings about it and God. It is enough to know God through what Jesus Christ revealed about Him (God). Loving an angry God, for me, is to know Christ in his suffering and death on the cross and his resurrection from the dead.

    I understand that “angry God” is a projection of our own sinful passion onto God.

    Thank you Fr. Stephen for your clarifying responses to comments.

    Lord have mercy on us!

  79. AR Avatar

    Yet, I don’t believe that Jonathan Edwards or any decent Protestant theologian saw God as subject to passions in any absolute or objective sense. His works on Charity and Its Fruits, and his understanding, related in Freedom of the Will and Religious Affections, of holiness as “beauty” and love as “an afinity to being” gave me the impression that he understood God’s nature to be opposed to non-being or evil and disposed to being and good. For me it was only a step from that to understanding that what we experience as God punishing us for our sins (and what Edwards so graphically described in this way) is in the more absolute sense simply us running up against an immovable timeless opposition to the evil residing in our hearts. Thus that which burns us when we have bound ourselves to evil is the very same disposition which hates what undoes us and therefore always wills our good.

    I think we have to start by realizing that our experience of God is completely different from God’s “experience of Himself.” Then we are free to ask the question of any passage of scripture, “Does this statement about God relate a man’s experience of God or does it attempt to describe God in a way that is closer to how he knows himself?”

  80. zoe Avatar

    Humans are very presumptous being. I’m sure I’m not alone in this kind of behavior or frame of mind: When someone look at me with wrinkled brows or voice raised I immediately presume that this person is mad at me. When in reality this person is just trying to get his message accross and through my distracted brain. Perhaps I have been behaving this way when I keep misunderstanding God’s saving acts as “wrath”.

    Father Stephen, since I converted to Orthodoxy and read the Psalms as included in the daily prayer, like for example, today’s morning Psalms reading is Psalm 63, where in verse 9 it says “But those who seek my life, to destroy it, shall go to the lower parts of the earth. They shall fall by the sword; they shall be a portion for jackals”; I see the destruction that is referred here as the destruction by God of my persistent and pernicious sins for which I’m praying to him to destroy since I’m too weak to destroy them myself. Applying the Psalms this way is the only way I can understand and not be mislead by the human perception of an angry God. Please correct me if I’m in error. I trust the guidance of the Orthodox Church teachings for which I will always Praise God.

    Father bless.

  81. Karen C Avatar
    Karen C


    Fr. Stephen’s post, properly understood, is not denial of Psalm 73 (72 LXX) see especially vss. 16-17, which I’m sure resonates with your comments. But I think you have not perhaps really considered what it would be like to go into the Presence of a God Who is this holy Love in an unrepentant state. To say that this God is not “angry” in the sense most of us think of is not to say such an experience will be devoid of real suffering! For reasons I don’t have time to go into here, it is precisely the experience of the loving mercy of God that is capable of evoking the kind of remorse and spiritual suffering that Scripture’s descriptions of hellfire describe in the unrepentant sinner–certainly not the “angry God” of Jonathan Edward’s sermon.

    “In saying I am a sinner do you put yourself in the same catagory as a man who kills and mutilates children or women or men for that matter?”

    Yes, absolutely. Not only that, but also by my own sinful complacency I am complicit in the sins they commit. The degree to which that is true only God or those far more spiritual than I can accurately judge. Sharon Begley wrote a very sobering article in the May 21, 2001 issue of Newsweek of which I kept a copy called “The Roots of Evil.” It reports on the dynamics that render a human being capable of committing the kind of atrocities we have witnessed in the last few decades of human history. As I said, it is sobering reading when you consider how many factors outside an evildoers’ control can contribute to their fall from grace. Certain kinds of stress and lack of nurture in early childhood can actually damage the brain and create a pathological self hatred that renders a perpetrator by extension incapable of empathy or compassion for others as well. Social pressure and ideological brainwashing can create a capacity for evil even in those not so damaged to rationalize that those outside their “group” (however that may be defined) are subhuman and even evil. I would suggest the final temptation is to do this with the perpetrators of violence. Would we have recognized these perpetrators as subhuman or evil after their births? The humanity (God’s image) within them still exists, though deeply damaged it still exists, and we are called to honor the seed of humanity still contained in even the worst perpetrator. This we cannot do without God’s grace. As an Orthodox called to “forgive all by the Resurrection”, I cannot agree with Begley’s conclusion (though this is not to say there should be no social or governmental consequences to criminal behavior, neither does it mean I naively treat human beings so damaged as benign). Because of the individualistic and abstract and fragmented way we have been taught to perceive our social and spiritual world, it is not evident to most of us how profoundly connected as human beings we are with all the rest of humanity. But I believe it is neither an exaggeration nor magical thinking to say that by my own sinfulness, I am complicit in some degree in every evil perpetrated on the planet. There is a real spiritual connection between all of us, and how each of us responds or fails to respond to God’s grace literally affects the whole rest of the world. To accept this by faith even though we may not see it is the beginning of our salvation. To fully comprehend it such that we can truly forgive all by the Resurrection and love even our enemies is Life indeed! May God continue to heal in you the wounds inflicted by the violence you have witnessed.

  82. Karen C Avatar
    Karen C

    AR, for your benefit I would like to amend my previous post to read: ” . . . certainly not the ‘angry God’ of Jonathan Edward’s sermon, as He is popularly construed by many. . . . ” Your points about Jonathan Edward’s theology are well-taken, but unfortunately, there are not many who understand the fully nuanced position (and certainly not those outside the faith), and when more educated folk reinforce the biblical truthfulness of this sermon without its full context being so explicit, I think they may inadvertently reinforce a false image of God. Thank you for elucidating more clearly for those of us not well schooled in this area.

  83. Stephen W Avatar
    Stephen W

    Karen C.,

    It is interesting that you mention certain “evildoers” as having damaged their brains to some degree or another. I work with individuals who have damaged brains through personal choices and circumstance as well. Often times both. I agree with the things that you said and find it more and more difficult to make judgments on others because, I will never fully understand the mental obstacles that many have in their way and have often times been born into. There seems to be patterns that we develop- both good and bad- that shape our brains and even change it’s physiology, thus making it more and more difficult to break out of the cycle of sin and making one more susceptible to evil acts. I think you spoke correctly in stating that we were not born evil. It is not over night that one commits acts of seemingly pure evil. It also seems that we are all capable of the highest or the lowest state possible under the right/or wrong circumstances. I heard a
    monk once speak of the physiological changes which occur in the brain through repetition. I believe that this means, when we repeat sins over and over again, they physically change the form of our brains. Many Holy men and women in the church have discerned this and this is one of the reasons that the Orthodox use repetition such as the Jesus prayer and prostrations. Not as a mantra or magic but to reform and shape our bodies and minds and condition ourselves to receive God. I see families, with whom I work, that pass on patterns of life that do them harm, which goes back at least several generations. They don’t seem capable of change and I often rack my brain because I can’t help them, at least through my job. All I can do is pray that the Lord would have mercy on them. Once I see this it becomes difficult not to include myself in the same categories and realize that I may in the end be worse off because I fail to realize the full potential that I have
    been given. Union with God and others.

  84. Duke Avatar

    AR, you’re a better person by far than I. I have to admit, your take on Edwards makes me think, “Huh, I must’ve missed that sermon.” It’s generous of you to interpret Edwards this way, and perhaps you interpret him correctly, but I’m not that smart. I read “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” and see someone telling me that God despises me. I don’t see someone telling me this:

    “If I who am a sinner can love you so much, imagine Christ, Who is Love incarnate, how much He loves you! And all the Christians whom you have tortured, know that they forgive you, they love you, and Christ loves you. He wishes you to be saved much more than you wish to be saved. You wonder if your sins can be forgiven. He wishes to forgive your sins more than you wish your sins to be forgiven. He desires for you to be with Him in heaven. He is Love. You only need to turn to Him and repent.”

  85. David Avatar

    Edwards is frequently misunderstood, particularly that sermon. A quick Google and you can find some interesting details left out of most impressions of him and his theology.

    In fact, the more I look at Puritans the more they appear to be misunderstood. Honest lovers of God but lacking the 1600 years of Church wisdom to guide them. Perhaps there are stories of early Christian attempts at asceticism that went wrong through lack of spiritual guidance and because of spiritual delusion. Yes?

    Coming from a tradition that constantly remade itself every Sunday morning and insisted every Bible study began with a clean slate, I can see how we simply relived the same errors (Arianism, Gnosticism, etc) that the Church had put to rest so many years before. We were doomed to repeat the first 200 years of Christianity over and over.

  86. AR Avatar

    Duke, I don’t contradict you. Many of Edwards’ gospel sermons are hurtful when taken literally, and he doesn’t do a good job of indicating that there might be another level. Everyone likes to talk what they know, and since converting to the Church I’ve had little occasion to air my familiarity with Edwards. Silly of me.

    I think I meant to say that no one, even protestants, should believe that God is subject to passions in any literal objective sense.

    God allowed Edwards’ treatises to be a stepping stone to Orthodoxy for me. For you they were more like something that you bounced off, rather painfully. In both cases God’s will was done and that is the real story.

  87. Nathan Avatar


    A lot has happened. Hope to get caught up and comment later on.


  88. Duke Avatar

    AR says: I think I meant to say that no one, even protestants, should believe that God is subject to passions in any literal objective sense.

    Perhaps, but I bet many Christians do deep down think “Now God is mad at me…now God is pleased with me. What did I do to make God mad…Now God is smiling at me,” Etc, etc, etc.

    I can understand where you and David are coming from, but you are both more theologically astute than I. I never saw the delicate nuances in it, nor did I ever think I might be misunderstanding him. This seems straight forward to me:

    “Yea, God is a great deal more angry with great numbers that are now on earth: yea, doubtless, with many that are now in this congregation, who it may be are at ease, than he is with many of those who are now in the flames of hell.”

    Sounds like God is angry. I unfortunately have not “bounced off” of it; rather I drag great suitcases of this horror around with me. It’s only in Orthodoxy that I’ve begun to believe that God does not indeed “abhor” us. I know that this sermon was intended to “…be for awakening unconverted persons in this congregation….” but what does it say about who God is? How does one love such an angry God?

  89. Max Avatar

    Whatever your point of view, hopefully you can reconcile it with the God of Abraham Who rained down fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah… the God of Moses Who sent the angel of death to take the lives of the firstborn in Egypt and drown the armies of Pharoah… the God of Elijah Who… do we need to continue?

    God has the power to destroy any devil or sinner He wishes… or do you think He is unable to act in any way that demonstrates opposition to or disapproval of evil?

    You might not accept that God ever directly attacks evil or a minister of evil or anything that causes evil, but if you believe God is Omnipotent, you must accept that He has all the power and all the right to attack and judge these if He so chooses.

    In other words, you might not believe that God ever demonstrates righteous displeasure through executing judgment on sinners, but you CANNOT deny that He has the power and the right to do such a thing.

  90. fatherstephen Avatar

    I do not deny God anything. But I also know how the Fathers interpreted the passages you mention. If you are reading the Scriptures without the guidance of Holy Tradition then you’ll not arrive at the Truth. The Ethiopian Eunuch needed someone to interpret, as do we all. God can do whatever He wills. But He happens to be a good God, who is kind to the ungrateful and the evil, according to Luke 6:35.

    I don’t know anything about rights. It’s not a Biblical concept.

    Christ is the power of God (not fire, not brimstone). But God is free and can do whatever He pleases.

  91. Max Avatar

    OK, let’s use the word “authority” instead of the word “right” here since you believe “authority” is a biblical concept. All the same… God has the power and authority to treat sin and sinners as He chooses.

  92. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Max, it is really quite easy to make the reconciliation you think proper, but the first step is in recognizing that the Incarnation changed everything, renewed everything and started everything over–making it impossible to know in any rational, objective sense what actually occured prior to His coming. We surmise what happened based on how we are now. That is one of the reasons why the Church has always used the NT and the person of Christ to interpret the OT, not the other way ’round.

    The Theanthropos, the God-man, that is Jesus Christ in Whom and by Whom the Law is fulfilled said from the Cross: “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” His Word flows both forward and backward in what we recognize as time. He also instructed His disciples not to call down the fire from heaven.

    He made/makes all things new. All things. God is not linear.

    Whatever is our just fate due to our sins, Jesus softens the blow because He took on Himself our iniquities and bears them still. I suspect that the occurences in the OT are more like we would suffer today if He had not yet come. In any case, we still have a taste of them internally if no where else–yet the immediate consequences we suffer due to our sins are far less than they would be if He had not come. We have all been, to a certain extent, reborn from on high. The Chrisitian life entails allowing the Holy Spirit to maximize that rebirth and transformation.

    Would you not agree?

  93. Max Avatar

    “making it impossible to know in any rational, objective sense what actually occured prior to His coming”

    I disagree with that. For example, we know David played and sang music before Christ came. The list of things we know happened before His coming is nearly endless…

    “He made/makes all things new. All things.”

    I agree with that, but we still wait for the Completion (both personally and universally) which is yet to come, the Hope of Glory.

  94. Bruce Avatar

    Is it possible that if Christ has called us not to judge each other; that this should also apply (in much greater magnitude) to God.

    In truth, I have an incredibly difficult time,even with God’s help, in accurately judging myself…my motives, my level of rigorous honesty, my ability to forgive. I find it even more difficult to believe I can accurately judge another human being true beliefs.

    Given this, how in the world do I think I can judge God. Don’t I need to learn to simply trust God and ‘know’ experientially that He is Good and He is God and I’m not. In the final analysis, do we not to remind ourselves that our judgements are those of a creation and our ability to accurately judge the Creator are not in our job description.

    Proverbs 3:5-6

    5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart
    And do not lean on your own understanding.
    6 In all your ways acknowledge Him,
    And He will make your paths straight.

  95. William Avatar

    The God of Abraham who rained down fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah gave the residents of those cities an opportunity to repent. The God of Moses who sent an angel to slay the Egyptian firstborn children and livestock and who closed the waters over Pharaoh’s armies gave Pharaoh and his subjects many opportunities to free the Hebrew people. The God of Elijah also provided those who opposed him the opportunity to repent.

    The God of Jonah gave the Ninevites the opportunity to repent, and they took it, and they found the mercy that is continually available to all people (these were Gentiles).

    In all cases, it was and is hardness of heart that brought and brings down what is called the wrath of God. The quotes I provided above from St. Maximus the Confessor explain how some hearts soften and some harden when encountering the continual outpouring of God’s good energies and how God’s wrath is to be understood as the suspension of the gifts of grace. It is not always a complete suspension of these gifts (for then we would cease to exist!), but always, we are to trust that we are dealing with a good God whose every action or suspension of action is meant for the good of all. How any “wrath” can be for our good is perhaps a mystery to us, but it is no mystery to God and it is the clear teaching of the fathers.

    The question set before us is not so much the question of plumbing the depths of the mystery of God’s authority to wipe us off the face of the earth with brimstone or whatever, it is whether we will repent of our sins and whether we, as Bruce illustrates with his quote from Proverbs, will trust in the Lord with all our heart. How can we trust him if he is angry every time we sin and we know our sins are neverending? We can only trust him if we know that he is good and merciful at all times and because he always provides the opportunity for repentance to each and every human soul. He proved this goodness by emptying himself in Christ Jesus and assuming our lowly condition and raising our nature into the unfathomable heights of his own divinity (making him incomprehensible, though still knowable, even in his humanity). He is indeed a good God, and no OT story of the unrepentant reaping the fruits of their own unrepentance changes this fact!


    You ask: “Perhaps there are stories of early Christian attempts at asceticism that went wrong through lack of spiritual guidance and because of spiritual delusion. Yes?”

    The Messalians come to mind.

  96. zoe Avatar

    I’m glad that Bruce and William bring the topic of REPENTANCE and TRUSTING God. I think this message of REPENTANCE is missed by a lot of us when reading OT passages. Jesus Christ reiterates this same message in the NT (Luke 13: 1-5) when the people were contemplating the news that Pilate killed some Galileans and mingled their blood with their sacrifices; and the eighteen people who got killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them.

    Luke 13: 2 And Jesus answering said unto them Suppose ye that these Galileans were sinners above all the Galileans, because they suffered such things?
    Luke 13: 3 I tell you nay, but except ye REPENT, ye shall all likewise perish.

    Luke 13: 4 Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem?
    Luke 13: 5 I tell you nay: but, except ye REPENT, ye shall all likewise perish.

    Do we read God’s wrath or Jesus indifference to what happened to these people? I think these verses convey the same OT message of REPENTANCE not God’s wrath.

  97. nathan Avatar

    AR says: “I think I meant to say that no one, even protestants, should believe that God is subject to passions in any literal objective sense.”

    Duke: “Perhaps, but I bet many Christians do deep down think “Now God is mad at me…now God is pleased with me. What did I do to make God mad…Now God is smiling at me,” Etc, etc, etc…. It’s only in Orthodoxy that I’ve begun to believe that God does not indeed “abhor” us. I know that this sermon was intended to “…be for awakening unconverted persons in this congregation….” but what does it say about who God is? How does one love such an angry God?”

    Thanks to everyone who has commented here. First, off, I don’t believe that God is mad at me, but loves me wildly, and believe it or not, I only learned this growing up in a serious Lutheran environment (where I was told have certainty and confidence that I was in a stable and secure relationship with God was not a sin, or proud, or presumption, or inappropriate). Second, yes, why don’t we talk about the imporance of repentance in all of this (last post): what do you think about God’s righteous (i.e. “dispassionate” as has been expressed here) wrath existing to exercise justice in this sense: that though he loves His whole creation, good and evil, and never ceases to be reconciled with all men (always ready and eager to forgive, and in fact forgiving – although sometimes not telling persons this, as they are not ready to receive it), He is especially concerned to preserve and protect (love), in this life and the next, the little ones (particularly those who are children with true faith and those with child-like [not childish] faith) who are harmed, spiritually and physically, by those who persist in unrepentance. He usually does this by allowing/permitting other unrepentant sinners to exercise their fleshly (passionate) wrath againts them (punishing one unrepentant person with another), but finally actively does this Himself in human flesh when Jesus appears on the last day, weilding the sword. So “vengence” can be primarily understood as simply “setting the world to rights” (since God desires all persons to come to faith and takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked), by God’s working in the world, with all of its free will.

    So in doing this, His first goal is to protect and preserve the faith and life of the little ones, while He also desires that the unrepentant who are being stopped, perhaps killed, come to a knowledge of the truth in the process. This seems to make sense and not to disservice to the Scriptures (which seem pretty clear), while being sensitive to the sentiments and concerns expressed by the early Church Fathers who William has quoted, for example.

    And as for the Church Fathers, I prefer Cyril of Alexandria, who as best as I can tell, from my reading, would fit with my view. I don’t believe the concept of “the consensus of the Fathers” is nearly as clear and concrete as we would often like it to be.

    I hope some one will take up my gauntlet. Unfortunately, I cannot comment again until Tuesday.


  98. jpschock Avatar

    Nathan: Nice post. We can always count on you for a thoughtful, irenic, counter-perspective. Have a nice weekend! -Jason

  99. nathan Avatar

    Father Freeman,

    I must say that in your most recent post (Understanding anger), I take no offense. But I think I do disagree and believe that civil conversation among brethren in Chrsit is valuable.

    I spent some time composing a response to that post, but then realized that you did not want comments. For respect of your wishes I will not impose my comments on you here, although I must say I urge you to reconsider this.

    In Christ,

  100. Sbdn. Lucas Avatar
    Sbdn. Lucas


    Have you read the Kalomiros “River of Fire” essay that Fr. Stephen posted?


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  1. Greetings, Father Stephen, Thank you so much for this reflection and all of the tremendous amount of work you have…

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