God Is

Day 35

What About God’s Anger?

Read your Bible: Nehemiah 9:13–31

Spotlight Verse:

You are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love.Nehemiah 9:17b

For many people, the omniscience of God is inevitably tied up with a fear of His judgment.

I’ve tried to show how, in the Bible, God’s omniscience is usually related to His sympathy and mercy and reward. In fact, I’ve attempted to show how all of God’s attributes mean good things for you. But this may seem to tiptoe around an elephant in the room: What about the passages in the Bible that talk about God’s anger?

Whenever you do a study on the attributes of God, you run into passages about God’s wrath. Let’s face it: These verses can be very troubling — especially when His anger destroys people!

Linda Falter wrote a great article about this called “A Beautiful Anger” in Christianity Today magazine. As she points out, some people find the Bible passages about God’s wrath to be a stumbling block to belief:

They choose the “safer” scenario of a universe without God over one in which our lives hang on the mercy of an infinitely powerful force we can’t fully understand, much less control.49

But is a universe without God really safer? And if there really is a God, would I understand all His motives and methods? I think not.

Regardless, it’s still confusing for many. What do you do with the God of some (mostly) Old Testament passages who seems to wreak total vengeance on one group and lavish completely undeserved mercy on another?

One key is to realize that God is always all of His attributes. He never satisfies justice without also being holy and beautiful and loving.

The problem is, we humans usually can’t imagine anger being anything but ugly.

This is another case where human words very inadequately describe God, the Wholly Other. We use words like “anger” and “wrath.” But we often associate these words with losing temper, with going out of control. Because that’s what we do.

But God’s anger is not like yours or mine.

What we call “anger” in God is always infused with holy purpose. God never loses it. So even in His wrath there is compassion, love, patience.

Once again, the historical context is important. See the big picture:

The seemingly random acts of wrath in the Old Testament (although, if you actually chart them out, are surprisingly rare even there) are always called for, in this sense: You may be upset with God for judging those people, but first look at what those people were up to. There was vicious brutality going on that God in His justice and compassion and love was moved to stop. I have a feeling that if I were living then, I’d easily find myself on the side of people like Jonah, who wondered not why God judges, but why God was waiting so long to judge!

Plus, in the Old Testament, God’s discipline is never a surprise. Prophets always warn the potential recipients of God’s judgment.

And repentance is always a possibility. God’s judgments always have a purpose: Restoration. The same hands that punish offer a pull to safety. The pronouncements of the prophets are always mixed with hope and God’s desire for reconciliation.

Finally, always remember that the crucifixion reveals, to the fullest extent yet, the nature of God toward sinners. As Falter writes,

Try to imagine it! The blameless, beloved Son of God is mocked, tortured, and murdered while his Father watches.

…Surely God would need no further justification to manifest his wrath toward evildoers. But, amazingly, this is the point at which God chooses to reveal the strength and beauty of his holy love. The Almighty gives silent assent to the words, “Father, forgive them.”

…God’s silence at Jesus’ suffering is the greatest of all mysteries, and sufficient to muffle all accusations of bloodthirstiness in his character. For if God is a vengeful judge, then what happened at the Cross — or rather, what did not happen — makes no sense. Surely there is no greater sin than to kill the innocent Son of God. Yet God fails to avenge him. Why? Similarly, if God’s assessment of man is that we are all prisoners on death row, then why not be done with it and kill us all?50

It’s because God is perfectly just and also infinitely merciful. It’s this incomprehensibly Perfect One in whom I place my trust.

How does this tie into omniscience?

I believe God is perfectly wise and will ultimately know just how to treat us all with justice and love. God’s final judgments will be unassailably perfect. Precisely because He knows all.

God is… wise and just.

Questions For Reflection

In what ways does human anger give people a false impression of what God’s anger is like?

How can God show wrath toward sin without compromising other attributes like love and grace? How was this accomplished on the cross?