I Thought the 'Church' Was Past Using Guilt to Motivate?
As part of our "Ask Pastor Dave" blog post series, a parishioner wrote in to ask...
"In your recent devotional message, God appears to have human / mortal emotions of wrath, displeasure, etc. How can this be if God is perfect; if God is love? (I think it was John who wrote, 'God is love. If one abides in love, one abides in God.') I thought the 'church' was past using guilt to motivate."
I agree with you: we understand God to be love. But as I try to remind my boys all the time, the opposite of love is not anger, displeasure or wrath. The opposite of love is disinterest. If I don’t care about you, I have no reaction when you act in ways that are unfaithful or destructive (unless you hurt me, or someone I love). If I love you, I will be angry and displeased. Wrath may even arise. Because I want the best for you, I get angry with you when you make that unlikely or impossible.
Here’s how I think about it: God’s anger is actually necessary for grace to be meaningful. If God isn’t angry with us when we disobey, then forgiveness doesn’t mean much. (Forgiveness for what, if it doesn’t really mean all that much to God?) If God is angry, then grace and forgiveness mean everything. They are signs of how deep God’s love runs.
I try hard not to use guilt to motivate faithful behaviors. I don’t find it life-giving or effective. In my devotional message, I was trying to get at the heart of grace. When it comes to repentance, guilt does motivate. If I feel no guilt, then I feel no need for forgiveness. If I do feel guilt, it makes the experience of God’s love even more profound.
My favorite section from this week’s devotion is:
God experiences such joy at our return precisely because God experiences such pain when we wander away. When we absent ourselves from God, God’s wrath is stirred. Yet God aches in longing for our return, and celebrates with abandon — is filled with joy — when it happens.