Pastoring & Leadership

God’s Anger and Mercy

James Fields

From the beginning, God’s merciful character has been exemplified alongside his anger, and rarely apart from it. After the events in Genesis 3, that caused mankind’s separation from God and changed our relationship with him—God does something remarkable. In his anger, God takes the time to serve mankind with his mercy and grace.

God’s Mercy in Pronouncement Against Sin

At this point in the creation narrative, anger, resentment, and bitterness could have been inserted, but as our holy and righteous Judge, God had every right to punish Adam and Eve’s sinful disobedience. After communicating the consequences for sin, the story takes a surprising twist: “The Lord God made clothing out of skins for Adam and his wife, and he clothed them” (Genesis 3:21). Through God’s pronouncement against sin, we also see his mercy.

God does for humanity what it could not do for itself; he provides clothing for Adam and Eve by killing an animal in order to make a “covering” for their nakedness and shame. God is both our Judge as well as our Justifier. He never offers judgment without mercy.

God’s Mercy in Protection from Sin

In Genesis 3:22–24, his mercy continues: “Since man has become like One of us, knowing good and evil, he must not reach out, and also take from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever. So the Lord God sent him away from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove man out, and east of the garden of Eden he stationed cherubim with a flaming, whirling sword to guard the way to the tree of life.” Our merciful God is protecting Adam and Eden from themselves and the temptation of creating an eternally sinful and irreconcilable world by eating from the tree of life. Through God’s protection from sin, we also see his mercy.

God’s Mercy in His Omniscience

While Genesis 3 chronicles mankind’s first sin against God, Genesis 4 accounts our first sin against mankind, telling us the story of Cain and Abel. The Bible chooses to describe these two brothers through their vocation: “…Abel became a shepherd of a flock, but Cain cultivated the land”. At first glance, this small, minor detail of Cain and Abel’s vocation does not seem of any significance but it is. At this point in the narrative, man has not been given the command by God to eat flesh (see [Gen 9:3](genesis 9:3)).

This is significant, because it helps us understand Cain’s anger towards his brother, Abel. Cain is tending “the things which will preserve and sustain life”—cultivating the land. Abel is tending to sheep. At this time in history, sheep were not being used as a source of food. Genesis 4:3 says: “In the course of time Cain presented some of the land’s produce as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also presented [an offering]—some of the firstborn of his flock and their fat portions. The Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but he did not have regard for Cain and his offering. Cain was furious, and he was downcast.” This eventually led him to assassinate Abel, which is the first sin against another human being recorded in the Bible.

How will God respond now? Sin has not only affected our relationship with him, but now is bleeding over and affecting our relationship with one another. God’s response to Cain’s sin may indeed surprise you. Even before Cain chooses to kill his brother, God’s mercy is seen: “The Lord said to Cain, ‘If you do right, won’t you be accepted? But if you do not do right, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must master it” (Genesis 4:7). God is offering Cain an escape from sin by warning him of its desire to rule over him.

As our omniscient (all-knowing) God, he compassionately offers Cain a way of escape, even before he commits sin. After Cain kills his brother and God pronounces divine judgment by making him a “restless wanderer on the earth” (Genesis 4:11–12), God continues to show mercy by listening and responding to Cain’s concern: “Since you are banishing me today from the soil, and I must hide myself from your presence…whoever finds me will kill me” (Genesis 4:14).

Cain has no confidence his request will be answered. Yet, he makes his petition before God and hopes he’ll be merciful. Despite his anger, God responds to Cain’s request with mercy. He says: “In that case, whoever kills Cain will suffer vengeance…and he placed a mark on Cain so that whoever found him would not kill him.” (Genesis 4:15). Without God’s presence, one would expect Cain and his family would surely die. However, according to Genesis 4:17–22, Cain’s lineage is not only sustained, but both he and his descendants are fruitful. Through God’s foresight of sin, we also see his mercy.

Anger and Mercy Simultaneously

As an African American man, I often ponder how I am to respond to the injustice I experience in this world. May we maintain a teachable spirit to learn from how God reveals himself in Scripture. Just as our God can simultaneously exude anger and mercy, so should his people. Let us exude righteous anger at the things that would make God angry: racism, sexism, police brutality, sex trafficking, etc…

As a Christian community, we have to be careful not to exclude God’s mercy from our anger.  Through Scripture, these two realities are incomplete without one another. Do those who have offended you deserve mercy? No, they don’t. Am I asking you to simply forgive and forget? No, I am saying something better: be angry, yet leave room to extend mercy.

As we have seen throughout Genesis, mercy is never given to those who deserve it. Rather, mercy is extended to our “enemies”—those who have been found guilty before God and us. Romans 5:8 says: “God proves his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us!” Am I telling you not to be frustrated or angry at the injustices you see and experience? Absolutely not! If I did, I would be a hypocrite, because I am also frustrated and angry. I am calling you to imitation and not to intimidation.

In all of your anger and frustration, don’t forget God; don’t forget Jesus; don’t forget mercy. Throughout life’s difficulties, one of the greatest delights of a parent is to see their child imitating what they’ve been taught.

Question: How is God calling you to imitate him? Who is God calling you to extend mercy to?

Disclaimer: RAAN is an organization committed to providing a variety of Reformed voices a platform to share their content. While our contributors subscribe to the basic tenets of Reformed thought, they offer a diverse number of opinions on various topics. As such, our staff members may not share our contributors’ opinions and publishing this content shouldn’t be viewed in such a way.

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