“Who knows the power of your anger?
For your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you.”
I’m going to go to make a generalization I’ve no right to. Here it is. One of the good things about aging is that, through the years, we simply grow less angry—Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, and Grumpy Old Men notwithstanding. Old bucks like me have less testosterone, less dignity to protect, less turf to maintain, and therefore fewer reasons to boil over.
Hairlines aren’t the only thing to recede, so does quarrelsomeness. Aging means fewer people notice us. There’s just plain fewer risks. That reality doesn’t make you mad, just bad-tempered. Being peevish isn’t necessarily being wrathful.
Maybe I’m wrong about that.
Last night I was mad. Last night, I used language I shouldn’t have, even to my daughter, who didn’t have it coming, who had nothing to do with why I was boiling over. Last night—memorably, I might add—this old guy was spitting fire.
This morning I could still throw flames; in fact, I just sent out an e-mail I probably shouldn’t have. But I’ve calmed down a bit now, a bit; and thinking about that rare chunk of rage at arm’s length this morning is helpful when reading this strange verse from Psalm 90: “Who knows the power of your anger? For your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you.”
It’s helpful because normally it’s easy for me to be embarrassed by the OT’s occasionally draconian Jehovah. I find it hard to know that hellfire God, maybe in part because at my age I don’t know all that much anymore about rage myself. Wrath may be one of the seven deadlies, but it’s not one I spent all much time repenting. I’m too old.
Not last night. The provocation, basically, was injured pride—I was convinced that certain people didn’t respect me. That explanation is half truth. What blew my cork was that I didn’t get my way. We’d worked our duffs off, but the whole project shipwrecked because someone in authority thought maybe someone else might be hurt. Honestly, the whole story is not worth a story.*
But my wrath is worth a story when I think about this line from the venerable 90th Psalm. Here’s what I’m thinking: maybe the OT God isn’t a far cry from who I am. If I read the whole Exodus narrative, it seems that what God wants more than anything is not to be an also-ran. In the panoply of gods running kingdoms in the Fertile Crescent, he doesn’t want to be just another graven image.
“Who should I say this God is?” Moses—the writer here—asks of this God.
“I am the always,” he says.
End of story.
And when people create golden calves of whatever size and extremity—this God, Jehovah, spits and fumes and, sad to say, often enough people die. He’s like me that way. Sort of. But nobody died last night, I’m happy to say.
Oddly enough, I wonder if I don’t think of God as human enough. If I were him and people didn’t really give me the dignity I’d deserved, I’d be mad—like I was last night. Maybe all that anger—it’s behind me now—maybe even all that blasted wrath is helpful. You think you got dissed?—just think of Him. And it happens on a daily basis, too. Shoot, hourly.
That’s more than a little scary. And that’s only half of it, this verse says. That’s not even the whole story. Your wrath is everything we can imagine, Lord—that’s what Moses says.
And then some.
And a great deal more.