Does God Get Angry? #145
Hello friends, and happy Friday to you! Today’s intro is a little shorter than most because my Thursday has been a day absolutely full of meetings and Zoomings, and I am beginning the recording process quite late. Our Bible passages include Numbers 31, Psalms 75-76, Isaiah 23 and 1 John 1. We are back in the Old Testament today – so OT fans rejoice! Our question of the day is a tough one, and the answer might be a little hard to swallow. For this question – and every question we get to – be sure and check my answers with the Word of God. Today’s question is a big one, but won’t get a super long treatment, so this is one that is worthy of some extended time in the Word for you to study on your own. Before we drill down to the question, let me begin in a roundabout sort of way.
Is it possible for a person to embody two emotions or characteristics that seem quite opposite? For instance, we often consider strength and gentleness to be opposites. Consider Lennie from John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. He is the stereotypical brute, right? Big, strong, bulky, unintelligent, and so far away from gentleness that he accidentally kills multiple cute animals and even a woman in the book. He simply does not know his strength, and has no ability to control it. That said, Lennie is a stereotype, right? It is actually possible to be strong AND gentle, though I admit that it is rare. One can also be rich and humble, poor and haughty, weak and bold, powerful and unassuming, and loud, but impotent. Can one be angry AND merciful? Angry and good? Angry and just? Angry and kind? Angry and righteous? Angry and moral? Consider those questions for a moment, as we read our two Psalms passages for the day.
Speaking of oxymorons, we live in a world that can be both beautiful and brutal; a country that can offer both tremendous opportunity, and yet also grind down the poor and needy. There are many good people in the world, but also many that are vile, selfish, broken, predatory, and downright dangerous. I taught college classes for several years at an institution in Birmingham that was part detox center, part women’s shelter, and part halfway house. Most of my students were former or current drug addicts, and they were some of the best students a teacher could ever want to teach. Hungry for the Word of God, filled with great questions and the kind of curiosity that is a delight to teach and interact with. I loved my time teaching there! I would estimate that around 75 percent of my students were current or former addicts, and roughly the same percentage – give or take a few – were physically or sexually abused at one time in their lives. Perhaps by husbands, family members, strangers, or whomever. So many of those wonderful women had been preyed on by awful people. Perhaps that’s part of your story too – you’ve been abused physically, sexually, emotionally or otherwise. That is a hard thing, and you need to know that there is no shame in that part of your past. You didn’t earn that abuse, and you didn’t deserve it. For those that know the pain of abuse, an evil was done to you. A painful, horrible evil that causes wounds that last for a long time.
We live in a world with lots of sin and lots of wounded people. What should our response be to evil? What is the righteous response to those who abuse, kill, hurt, and profit off of other’s misery? I vividly remember one of my students – Elizabeth – telling me how her preacher father had abused her so many times. I was filled with anger against that man, and I believe that angry was righteous and justified. The man who should have nurtured and protected and loved her had instead wounded, abused and scarred her. Anger is the appropriate response to such evil. It is the ONLY just response.
And here we find ourselves at today’s question. Does God get angry? And the answer is a resounding yes. God gets angry. Unlike us, however, God does not get angry at petty things, but at real and significant acts of evil and injustice. In the same way that a person can be strong and gentle, or intelligent and humble, we need to realize that God is abounding in love, mercy and kindness AND that He is just and holy and angry at sin and evil. He is not sometimes merciful and sometimes angry (like a human might be) He is ALWAYS just and ALWAYS merciful. To help us understand this deep concept a little better, let’s again here from Dr. Wayne Grudem, the excellent systematic theologian:
It may surprise us to find how frequently the Bible talks about the wrath of God. Yet if God loves all that is right and good, and all that conforms to his moral character, then it should not be surprising that he would hate everything that is opposed to his moral character. God’s wrath directed against sin is therefore closely related to God’s holiness and justice. God’s wrath may be defined as follows: God’s wrath means that he intensely hates all sin.
Descriptions of God’s wrath are found frequently in the narrative passages of Scripture, especially when God’s people sin greatly against him. God sees the idolatry of the people of Israel and says to Moses, “I have seen this people …; now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them” (Ex. 32:9–10). Later Moses tells the people, “Remember and do not forget how you provoked the LORD your God to wrath in the wilderness … Even at Horeb you provoked the LORD to wrath and the LORD was so angry with you that he was ready to destroy you” (Deut. 9:7–8; cf. 29:23; 2 Kings 22:13).
The doctrine of the wrath of God in Scripture is not limited to the Old Testament, however, as some have falsely imagined. We read in John 3:36, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God rests upon him.” Paul says, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men” (Rom. 1:18; cf. 2:5, 8; 5:9; 9:22; Col. 3:6; 1 Thess. 1:10; 2:16; 5:9; Heb. 3:11; Rev. 6:16–17; 19:15). Many more New Testament verses also indicate God’s wrath against sin.
As with the other attributes of God, this is an attribute for which we should thank and praise God. It may not immediately appear to us how this can be done, since wrath seems to be such a negative concept. Viewed alone, it would arouse only fear and dread. Yet it is helpful for us to ask what God would be like if he were a God that did not hate sin. He would then be a God who either delighted in sin or at least was not troubled by it. Such a God would not be worthy of our worship, for sin is hateful and it is worthy of being hated. Sin ought not to be. It is in fact a virtue to hate evil and sin (cf. Heb. 1:9; Zech. 8:17; et al.), and we rightly imitate this attribute of God when we feel hatred against great evil, injustice, and sin.9
Furthermore, we should feel no fear of God’s wrath as Christians, for although “we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Eph. 2:3), we now have trusted in Jesus, “who delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thess. 1:10; cf. Rom. 5:10). When we meditate on the wrath of God, we will be amazed to think that our Lord Jesus Christ bore the wrath of God that was due to our sin, in order that we might be saved (Rom. 3:25–26).10
Moreover, in thinking about God’s wrath we must also bear in mind his patience. Both patience and wrath are mentioned together in Psalm 103: “The LORD is … slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger for ever” (Ps. 103:8–9). In fact, the delay of the execution of God’s wrath upon evil is for the purpose of leading people to repentance (see Rom. 2:4).
Thus, when we think of God’s wrath to come, we should simultaneously be thankful for his patience in waiting to execute that wrath in order that yet more people may be saved: “The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise …” (2 Peter 3:9–10). God’s wrath should motivate us to evangelism and should also cause us to be thankful that God finally will punish all wrongdoing and will reign over new heavens and a new earth in which there will be no unrighteousness.
Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 2004), 205–207.