“He is jealous for me, loves like a hurricane, I am a tree
Bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy
When all of a sudden I am unaware of these afflictions
Eclipsed by glory and I realize just how beautiful You are
And how great Your affections are for me.”
How He Loves, John Mark McMillan
The image of Jesus is rarely angry in many minds nowadays; it is like we expect Him to accept everything that happens by or to us with a sad smile, give us a hug and tell us to make up and be nicer next time. There was more to this man, and an infinity more to this God; He is a jealous God and when you hurt, His love is angry and painful and powerful.
“But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion for them, because they were distressed and scattered, as sheep not having a shepherd.”
Matt. 9:36 (ESV)
Jesus stood there and took it all in, all the pain and suffering, all the loss and feelings of abandonment, all of the hurt felt by His people, and He was moved by compassion. We have downplayed what this means. Compassion. Seems like a pretty ordinary word, but here in the Gospel of Matthew it is not ordinary.
You have to remember that Matthew was Jewish, the term Christian didn’t appear immediately, and the early church certainly didn’t think they were turning their backs on the Old Testament; quite the opposite. When the Gospels were written they were from a belief in Jesus fulfilling it all, that they had found their messiah. The Jewishness of the writing is often forgotten, but shows us so much more within the text. “The Jews esteemed the bowels to be the seat of sympathy and the tender passions, and so applied the organ to the sense.”* In the same way as we suggest thoughts are from the brain, and feelings of love are from the heart (even if we know biologically the heart has very little to do with it), the sense of empathy, of feelings towards others, was set deep in your gut.
What does this have to do with anything? Because the word compassion comes from this root: the bowels. More specifically it describes the vehement, violent, drawing of the bowels, affecting them so powerfully it causes pain. Quite literally it is the tearing of the gut. This is what Jesus felt. Not some small amount of pity, not a few wet eyes, but a physically violent reaction deep inside of His body to the suffering He saw in His people. He did not only suffer on the cross, He suffered for every one of us as He saw our pain.
This is not unusual for God. We are His children and He is a jealous God.
He said, “Surely they are my people,
children who will be true to me”;
and so he became their Savior.
In all their distress he too was distressed,
and the angel of his presence saved them.
In his love and mercy he redeemed them;
he lifted them up and carried them
all the days of old.
Isaiah 63:8-9 (NIV)
We are often told, and sometimes sing, that God is unchanging. So if He is unchanging does that mean that He is not affected by our pain, our pleasure, our prayers? No! The exact opposite. He is a parent, and that means from the moment of our conception He has suffered us, suffered for us, and is distressed by our distress. Any loving parent will tell you the number of times they panicked over their child, worried for their safety, jumped at their cry, shed tears over their pain. So your loving Father does the same, weeping angry tears, and feels His gut tear out of pain for you.
Why? Because you are His child and you are precious to Him.
So why does God get angry? Because He is love. Because He is just. When you are harmed He feels for you. You were created with purpose and potential and whatever gets in the way of that causes God anger, causes Him pain. There is such a thing as righteous anger and it is aimed at those who harm the children of God.
So when someone tells you that you are worthless: how dare they? When they put you down and hurt you: how dare they? When they cast out those in need, widows, children, those in pain or danger: how dare they?
They harm God, they harm His creation; how dare they. This Lion will roar, He will cry hot tears of pain as His son’s gut tears apart with empathy for His people. He covers us, forgives us, loves us, and continues to suffer for us. He is unchanging in that His love never fails and is powerful. You don’t dare fight that hurricane, or forget that glory, and so when people harm you remember your God: He is furious and when you remember how much He must care you can begin to feel righteous anger for those in pain.
Believe in God’s love, believe in His love for you, and go do something about His people’s pain. Those who stand against: how dare they.
* Commentaries are wonderful and this particular quote is from Clarke’s Commentary, found in part here.