God’s Anguish

Posted on March 4, 2020

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By David Ettinger

Israel Forsakes God
As usual during the period of the Judges, Israel was in another cycle of sin as “they did evil in the eyes of the Lord” (Judges 10:6). This evil came in the form of idol-worship. To punish them, God “sold them into the hands of the Philistines and the Ammonites, who that year shattered and crushed them” (vv. 7-8). The heathen oppression of the Hebrews would last 18 years.

Unable to endure any more hardship, “the Israelites cried out to the Lord, ‘We have sinned against you, forsaking our God and serving the Baals’” (v. 10). God at last agrees to help His Chosen People as “he could bear Israel’s misery no longer” (v. 16).

Wounding God
It was God Himself who inflicted deserved punishment on His spiritually-wandering children, but it came to a point where even He – the Creator of Heaven and Earth (Genesis 14:9) – could stand it no longer. Despite all their sinfulness, disobedience, and forsaking of Him, God nevertheless anguished over their suffering: “he could bear Israel’s misery no longer.”

Later in Israel’s history, as the Northern Kingdom of the now-divided nation was wallowing in idolatry and indulging in the odious practices which accompanied it, God again was anguished. In Hosea Chapter 11, we see the Lord reasoning with His people to stop and turn back to Him. He explained how He had loved them from childhood and “led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love” (v. 4). To Israel, God was “like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them” (v. 4).

Despite all this, the Hebrews would not repent. And though they deserved to be destroyed, God could not do it. With a breaking heart, He tells them: “How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? … My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused” (v. 8).

Oh the passion and sorrow in His heart! Israel had wounded God deeply, and He was not above expressing it.

What About Us?
Is it really possible that such lowly and evil creatures as us can wound God emotionally and bring anguish to His heart? If the above verses are any indication, the answer is “yes”!

When we sin and God needs to punish us, is it something He delights in? According to the Judges passage, absolutely not! Rather, “he could bear Israel’s misery no longer.” When our disobedience drags on and on and He has no choice but to discipline us, does it get to a point where He can no longer bear it? I believe so.

When we continue to neglect God’s great love for us and live any way we please, does it cause Him sorrow? Knowing we are undeserving of His love, is it possible that a thought enters His mind where He says, “I should cut you off”? Perhaps it does emotionally, but if so, we can well picture Him saying in the same breath: “How can I give you up? How can I hand you over? My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused.”

Anguish to Joy
It should be no surprise that God feels anguish; after all, He created us in His image (Genesis 1:27). This does not mean we look like God, but that we have the capacity to think, feel, and act in a Godward manner. God gave us personality – intellect, emotion, and will – and this personality is based on His own (though sin has distorted it).

Because we know what it feels like to be wounded and experience anguish, we must be more empathetic to God’s feelings, though this is difficult to grasp. Yet, we have these two passages – and others throughout Scripture – reminding us that God can be anguished, and it is we, His children, who are doing the anguishing.

Knowing this, may we strive to cease bringing anguish to Him, but rather joy, gratitude, and honor!