God’s wrath is often something we would like to sweep under the rug and ignore: it can be a bit awkward to talk about in a culture that values tolerance and niceness (or at least claims to). But as I have been thinking about anger recently for a research paper and some good in-depth conversations with smart friends, I discovered a way of looking at God’s anger that is, well, kind of beautiful. Read on.
Feelings of anger are part of the common human experience, and psychologists and counselors commonly define anger as an emotional response to threats. With this view, it’s not hard to conclude that anger is based on human finitude. Developing a Christian view on anger requires making the critical decision between identifying anger as an emotion that is tied to the limitations of being human, or as an emotion exercised by God and thus made for a good purpose in spite of the negative effects it often yields in the hearts of sin-corrupted humanity. When considering the anger of Christ portrayed in the gospels, Andrew D. Lester, in an interesting article called Toward a New Understanding of Anger in the Christian Experience, asks, “Did Jesus sin by being angry?” And he responds, “No, it was part of his humanness.” Thus Christ could express this human trait appropriately, congruent with his identity as God. But Lester never acknowledges it as an emotion characteristic of the Creator himself.
But what about the references to Father being angry? Are these merely human language to describe a God who in reality lives in a stoic and detached existence? And if anger is an emotional response to threat, what could possibly threaten God to make him angry? Lester observes in another part of his article that “We extend our selfhood into other people, such as parents, spouses, children, heroes, and friends” Anger can be just as easily aroused in a person by threats to people, institutions, or things that person has become attached to or invested in. And seriously, folks, if a bully punched a kid in the nose, took his lunch money and gave him a wedgie and the kid’s parents stood there watching, but never got angry, what would you think of the parents? Would the kid still believe his parents loved him? We can debate the best actions to respond with, but the emotion of anger in this situation shows loving concern.
I will go a step further than Lester, then, and say that anger in God is his appropriate response to sin. Sin threatens humanity, his creation, and especially the people he has chosen and redeemed out of humanity. He views these people as connected to him, an extension of himself, and so his wrath boils against sin. When unrepentant and unregenerate people act against the people of God, his anger is justly aroused, to the point that he has determined a punishment of eternal death against those who unrepentantly continue to pose a threat to the good order of Creation.
And you know what? This means that becoming angry may be one of the most touching and profound things that God does for us. He has invested himself into the people he has created and redeemed. And he cares so much about our well-being and our destiny that, even though he is not put in any danger when we are threatened, he gets angry because it threatens us! God becomes legitimately angry when the people or things that he has created, claimed and redeemed for himself are threatened - and sin is the greatest threat that can come against any of these things. By showing us a God who gets angry, the Bible shows us a God who cares.