I recently met a woman named Gail who grew up in a church that had a very distorted view of God. It gave her the impression that God was angry all the time. Since He was angry at pretty much everything, it ended up being hopeless to relate to Him or please Him. No matter what you did, at the end of the day He would still be angry.
Fortunately, Gail eventually met the true God, and it turned out He wasn’t mad at her after all. In fact, He embraced her, welcomed her home, and threw a big party for her. (See Luke 15 for the details.)
Although I’m generally an admirer of 18th-century preacher Jonathan Edwards, I’m not a big fan of his most famous sermon title: “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Can you imagine putting that on a church sign or billboard today? Definitely wouldn’t be politically correct.
But the main thing I don’t like about Edwards’ sermon title is that it gives the same false impression as Gail’s former church: God doesn’t just “get angry” from time to time, He’s angry by nature. Instead of just being mad at those who sin, He’s mad at everyone, all the time.
What could we call this warped view of God? As Edwards practically says in his sermon title, this is the ANGRY God. Since His anger never changes, you could put a scowling portrait of God on your wall. No matter what you did, the angry scowl would remain.
But oh how the pendulum has swung in our day. Thankfully, there are fewer and fewer churches that promote the ANGRY God theology. But sadly, we’ve adopted a perspective that is not much more accurate: the SMILING God.
Just as the ANGRY God never is happy about anything, the SMILING God never gets angry and never frowns. Everyone and everything is quite OK with Him. “Different strokes for different folks” is the theology of the day, and God could care less about people’s lifestyle choices. People’s behavior is their private, personal choice, after all, and who is God to interfere with their pursuit of happiness?
So if you’re a member of “The Church of the SMILING God,” you probably have a very different portrait on your wall—a God with a huge, unchanging grin.
How did we ever get to such a place, where we adopt a picture of God with an unchanging expression on His face? Is it because He’s actually an UNKNOWN God to us, like the God of the Athenians in Acts 17:23?
You see, if we don’t really know God, we’re prone to paint His picture with some kind of fixed expression that we’ve picked up from our church or some TV preacher. But that kind of God is not a real Person, He’s just a caricature.
The real God can be seen in the real Jesus. He certainly wasn’t the ANGRY God, but He did get angry at times—mostly at the hypocrisy of religious people. And despite some of the pictures of Him that we hang on our walls, Jesus wasn’t the SMILING God either. Yes, I’m sure He smiled, and I bet He smiled quite a lot. But He wasn’t always smiling, and I don’t think He’s always smiling at the SMILING Church today.
The God described in the Bible is a God who has emotions. He’s not angry about everything—far from it. But He’s not happy about everything either.
We may be uncomfortable with the fact that God has emotions. We’d rather put Him in a tight, predictable box. But He’s calling us to discard our tidy boxes and draw near to get to know Him better.
Be wary of any preacher who gives the impression that God is either ANGRY or SMILING at every person and every lifestyle present in a massive congregation or TV audience. Draw near, and find out what God is saying about you. He definitely will SMILE when you do.