A recent Christian trend was to pray something similar to, “Lord, let my heart break for the things that break your heart.” It was usually a prayer asking for increased empathy toward the poor, an increased desire to stop ignoring injustice in the world. It’s a poetic prayer, really. I am sure I’ve prayed it in the past. But recently I have become more attuned to similar statements about God being heartbroken over injustice. It has occurred to me that this statement is not entirely true. God is not sad about the existence of injustice; God is angry about it.
Yet we are far more comfortable with thinking of God as sad, weepy or mournful about injustice. We think of God as shedding tears, wringing hands, looking sullen. We think of God as going through the same shock and sadness we experience during the slow dawning of recognizing how injustice effects real people.
But take a quick read through Isaiah or Amos or the Gospels when the subject is injustice. You will find that God is pretty fond of declaring the phrase “woe to you.” This is not a statement of sadness but of anger wrapped in a pronouncement of judgement. Pay attention to the imagery used: fire, burning, laying cities bare, taking away wealth and homes and land. This is not a description of a sad God; this is the description of a God who is outraged.
Though we are far more comfortable with thinking about God being sad, its important that we acknowledge God’s anger.
It’s important to acknowledge God’s expectation of us. The reason God gets upset over and over again regarding injustice is because God expects better. Time and time again, God says through prophets that we have been instructed to stand against oppression, to care for the fatherless and widows, to give to the poor, to act righteously, to resist bribes, to be more than “religious.” When these expectations are not met, we find the prophets proclaiming God’s judgment. To acknowledge God’s anger is to acknowledge the source of that anger — a reaction to our participation in oppression.
Perhaps this acknowledgement could create a sense of urgency. I imagine we could live with the knowledge that we’ve broken God’s heart. For some reason the idea that God is sad doesn’t necessarily move us to action. I wonder if it would be harder to continue behavior we honestly believe provokes God’s temper.
By this I do not mean to suggest that we should be fearful of God, cowering before the Almighty in an attempt to not make God angry lest we be struck by lightening. I believe in a forgiving, loving, grace-filled, merciful God who wrapped self in flesh and subjected that body to death for us. For all of us. And this is where it becomes important to understand the nature of God’s anger.
God didn’t just die for the rich, the wealthy, the middle class, the educated and all the other categories we use to define who qualifies as “good and moral” people worthy of God’s grace. These categories mean nothing to God. God is concerned about people too many of us would just as soon judge as unworthy. This thinking props up our comfort with participating in oppression. But if we truly understood that God died for all, including those we oppress, perhaps God’s anger would soon become our own. Maybe we could move from being “heartbroken” over injustice to being just as angry as God is over it.
Reading through the prophets has been helpful for me to recognize the validity of anger over injustice and oppression. I am an angry, black woman. What I am not is irrational, fickle or immoral because of my anger over oppression. I am an angry, black, Christian woman and proud of it. I am proud of all those who are angered over injustice and oppression. I am proud of all those who resist, protest, write, march, rap, organize and advocate out of a deep belief that no one is worthy of oppression.
May we be as angry as God at the powers and principalities that let injustice thrive.
Austin Channing Brown works speaking, training, facilitating dialogue or planning strategies in reconciliation. She works at Willow Creek Community Church’s Chicago Campus as their Multicultural Ministry Specialist. This first appeared on her blog, austinchanning.com.
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