Is God Angry?

The long-standing view of God is that He is an angry school master, ready to bring the full weight of His wrath upon us at the slightest provocation. His holiness, it has been thought, necessitates His rage, but somehow Jesus persuaded the Father not to smite us– as if Christ were a poor boy begging his father not to hit his mother any more. As a counter response to this warped view, the trend in our age is to paint a picture of God as being so loving that He would never be displeased or disappointed by anything we do (as Paul Young suggests in The Shack). "God is love", we quote the Scripture, but then proceed to fill out the picture of what "love" looks like by using our human examples. But it is not human love that leads us to understand what God is like; it is God's love that sheds light on what Love is.

The pages of Scripture (particularly in the early history of Israel and in the later in the prophetic passages) are full of examples of God's anger toward sin and His destruction of sinners. There is very little doubt that God gets angry. We also understand that His anger is rooted in His justice. He can't tolerate sin and still be called "Holy". But is His anger the last word? How does His anger interact with His love? Based on both Old and New Testaments, here are some thoughts:

1. God's Love Comes First.
"But you, O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness." Ps. 86:15 (NIV)

In Deuteronomy, when Moses is giving Israel a recap of the law and final reminders before they enter the Land without him, he reminds them that that God did not choose them because of their righteousness. In fact, as Moses goes to great lengths to remind them, they are a "stiff-necked" (stubborn) people (Deut. 9:6). But God chose them and set His affection upon them…just because (Deut. 10:15). This is grace at its clearest: God chose us before we had anything to say or do about it. Before the law was given, God chose Israel. Before they had the chance to obey, God rescued them from Egypt. As Andy Stanley points out, the law was never meant to be a means to a relationship with God; it was always designed to be proof of it. God's love always comes first; in theological words this is called the "primacy of grace". 

2. God's Anger is Superseded By His Love.

"For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning." Ps. 30:5 (NIV)

Before Moses restates the Law in Deuteronomy 5, he reminds them of the seriousness of the sin of idolatry. Why idolatry is such a big deal to God is the subject of a different blog, but for now what we need to notice is that God warns of a punishment by exile (Deut. 4: 24-28). If you're familiar with Old Testament history, you know that exile indeed is what they got for their sin of idolatry. But what is remarkable is how God, even while warning them of His judgment, promises His grace if they repent (Deut. 4: 29-31). He will not forsake His covenant, made to them out His love. In Deuteronomy 5, while listing the commandment against idolatry, God reiterates that idolatry will be punished to the "third and fourth" generations (which is about what they got in exile before returning to their land), but His love goes on for "a thousand generations"– a metaphor of unending love. Even in the Old Testament, God showed Israel that His love would always supersede His anger. Punishment? Yes. But love that redeems and restores in the end? A more resounding "Yes".

3. God's Love Does Not Ignore His Justice. 

"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him! For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation." Rom. 5: 8-11 (NIV)

Sin cannot go unpunished. God's justice requires it. This is maybe the biggest difference between our love and God's– and maybe the best reason why we can't use human love as a lens for interpreting God's love: God's love is not a glossing over wrong; it is a covering over sin: a covering that, just as it did in Eden, requires bloodshed. Here is where our thinking can get weird. Jesus didn't step in and sway the hand of an angry Father. God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, because They are in Their very nature Love know that Their Love will always triumph over anger; collectively and communally They knew the only Way for that to happen: for Jesus to take on human flesh, die for our sin, and rise again, conquering sin and death once for all. The Father didn't not kill the Son for us. In Jesus' own words, "no man takes my life; I lay it down" (Jn. 10: 11, 15, 17, 18).

4. Our Enmity Toward God Is The Real Issue.

"You yourselves are a case study of what he does. At one time you all had your backs turned to God, thinking rebellious thoughts of him, giving him trouble every chance you got. But now, by giving himself completely at the Cross, actually dying for you, Christ brought you over to God's side and put your lives together, whole and holy in his presence. You don't walk away from a gift like that! You stay grounded and steady in that bond of trust, constantly tuned in to the Message, careful not to be distracted or diverted. There is no other Message—just this one. Every creature under heaven gets this same Message. I, Paul, am a messenger of this Message." Col. 1: 21-23 (The Message)

It is no longer God's anger toward us that stands in the way of our coming to God– thanks to Jesus! It is now our anger, our choice to be a rebel, to live as an enemy of God, our refusal to bend the knee that keeps us from Him. If we are in a hostile relationship with God, it is not because He has made us His enemy but that we have insisted on making Him ours.

So, if we ask the question in the present tense– Is God Angry?– the answer is "no". But the answer is "no" not because He never gets angry since He is "love" (as Rob Bell more than hints at in his DVD "The Gods Aren't Angry"). The answer is "no" because His love ALWAYS finds a way to trump His wrath without violating His Justice. And that Way– once and for all– is Jesus.

Thanks be to God!

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19 thoughts on “Is God Angry?

  1. Great word my friend. It’s interesting how there’s always a tendency to avoid the hard parts of God like His anger or wrath, yet explaining them away or trying to ignore them denies the very character of God.
    God’s anger is just and I would even say good. If it didn’t make God angry to see a child abused or a woman sold as a sex slave I would question the validity of serving such a god. Without promise of future judgment there is absolutely no hope for the present.
    God’s judgment and wrath mean we don’t have to worry about getting justice ourselves, someday it will all be made right.

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  2. It’s really sad to say, but in South Africa we only really hear about the pretty, rainbow and flower God… the God that is just love. about 80% of South Africans consider themselfs ‘christians’, because they were only tought that way.
    We have some kind of un-spoken tradition that we do, some of the more well-known artists/musicians come together about once a year and record an album of ‘gospel’ songs. I’m not questioning or judging this intent, but it seems as though it’s only emphasizing this precept that God is a brand.
    I’ve had a really hard time trying to get to know the fear that we’re supposed to have for God and I believe it’s because our culture does not promote ‘fear’.
    I can only pray that our ‘truths’ will be tested and corrected.
    Thanks for your knowledge in this subject! I really enjoyed your words.

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  3. Thanks so much for clarity on this fallacy, that the emerging church is trying to sell! It is causing much confusion, especially among the younger and newer Christians. I appreciate you ministry and for sharing the truth!

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  4. Thanks, Glenn for your blog. I don’t question your motives but I hate that some will take it to reinforce their condemnation on believers for believers sin.
    I question why some in the Church still want to reinforce His anger at sin to believers. I grew up in a church where the teaching made me never feel secure in my salvation so I constantly repented in fear of judgement not thankful for redemption. Jesus became our High Priest to cover all of it because God is merciful. Heb 2:17
    The only reason to reinforce the anger of God is to remind everyone of the new covenant grace that is poured out to those that believe in Jesus. Sin is it’s own punishment now and God’s wrath is stored up for the Day of Judgment when every knee shall bow.
    It’s the kindness of God that brings men to repentance. Rom. 2:4.
    When was that last time that you introduced yourself by telling people about all of the things that you hate and will not tolerate? Do that a lot I can guarantee that you don’t have many friends unless they hate the same things. That’s not a loving friendship that is a bond based on intolerance. Why would a loving God build His Church on intolerance?
    So yes – sin carries a punishment and God cannot stand the sight of sin because He is holy but He forsook Jesus and put all of the sin, death and disease on Jesus so that their is no more wrath for those that believe and have the Spirit living in them.
    Thanks again Glenn.

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  5. The love of God is probably the no. 1 most important thing that us Christ followers need to get a grasp on, and I appreciate you writing about it. But what is the point in bringing other names christian authors into it in a negative light, when both of those guys are legit. That’s not loving them, dude. I don’t think it’s helping anyone else out either.

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  6. Thanks all for the comments.
    Jeff, I completely agree with you. My intent was not at all to stress God’s anger…I think if you look at the points I’ve listed I stress that Love is pre-eminent, that Love supersedes anger, and the Love triumphs in the end thanks to Christ! Furthermore, I tried to make clear that it is not God who is hostile toward us; it is we who have insisted on rebellion (“we” as in those who refuse to believe…and for them, that choice will be their self-destruction.). Anyway, we’re on the same page. I certainly hope nobody uses this to beat someone over the head with anger! That will be the opposite of what I was trying to achieve!
    Steve…I’m so sorry if you were offended my mention of names. Please note, though, that I did not attack them or their character; I did not judge their motives or their heart. I simply mentioned that some of the ideas they SEEM to believe are worth questioning. If a person publishes a book or produces a teaching DVD they are putting their ideas out on the table, open for discussion and debate. As an author, I understand that. (Actually, if you want to read comments that weren’t about ideas but were actual personal shots at my motives, read the handful of negative reviews of “Secondhand Jesus” on Amazon! Yikes!) Steve, we are supposed to investigate ideas, especially those put forth in the public by teachers. The Bereans were praised for investigating the Apostles’ teachings for themselves. Paul addressed false teachings and false teachers in Galatians and told Timothy to do the same in his congregation in Ephesus. I’m not trying to be mean here, and I certainly hope it did not come across that way. I don’t know what Paul Young or Rob Bell fully believe about God. But they each make statements that insinuate something that may not be true. I love Rob’s Nooma stuff and enjoyed “Velvet Elvis”. But in “The Gods Aren’t Angry”, he heavily insinuates that Jesus did not die in our place for our sins…call me crazy, but if that is what he believes, that’s heresy! Now, the caveat is that I don’t know that that is what he believes and that’s why my blog didn’t attack him or call him a heretic. I simply pointed out something he seemed to hint at and called it into question. I believe that is a loving thing to do: it is out of love for the Church that we must be willing to wrestle with the ideas that are published and distributed by the teachers of our age. I’m not trying to create strife, just thoughtfulness.
    peace.

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  7. Great job with the calculus of God’s nature. With you all the way. I’m probably more concerned about those who distort God’s nature by teaching that God’s posture toward all humans is his wrath, than I am about those who teach too far in the other direction about God’s love. Your teaching strikes me as being the right balance.
    However, I wonder if the dominant quality of God’s nature toward us–the “starting point” of our understanding his posture toward us as humans–is neither his wrath nor his love, but rather his goodness. Justice leads to his wrath and condemnation based on the Law, and mercy leads to his love and forgiveness based on his grace, but both are acts of ultimate goodness. The Law is good, but only because it reveals our need for grace and a savior (who covers our sin so God’s justice, which is good, is satisfied). I’m not going to wall for the idea (yet), but it seems that Genesis 1-2 could be an indication of God’s basic posture toward his creation (“it was good” because he is good). I won’t try to make the biblical case for that here, but just thought I’d throw it into the equation for consideration.

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  8. Good balance presented, Glenn. As most of us seem to interpret God from our own experience of life and church, this unfortunately becomes a tricky subject.
    However, God’s Word is clear that He loves us deeply and HAS done everything for us! It is healthy for all Christians to understand God’s view of righteousness to be able to comprehend His judgement.
    Hebrews 11 credits many Biblical examples with the gift of “faith” that was “accounted to them as righteousness.” I firmly believe that as long as we are in pursuit of pleasing God through demonstrating faith in Him- and that varies based on what He gives us to walk through in life- that He sees
    righteousness in us and judgement is averted. Therefore its not about the accomplishment OR the LACK of accomplishment of righteousness…its about the Pursuit of it. I strongly believe “the means” is MUCH bigger than the end to God. (Probably because He knows if we pursue Him correctly, we’ll probably end up right where we should?) Kinda opposite of the way we think as humans – we’d rather think that the END justifies the means. But God DID say that His ways are higher than ours, His thoughts higher than ours. Our faith in Him, when it is strong OR weak, is our salvation and righteousness. Good news!

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  9. It’s amazing that even in the OT, the “angry” God still gave people multiple opportunities to repent before judgment–He gave Achan several opportunities to confess and receive mercy before he was finally punished. (Josh 7:10-26)
    Also, you mention that “Jesus doesn’t step in and sway the hand of an angry Father.” Why, then, is Christ called referred to as a “Mediator” several times? I think of a mediator as someone who works to effect an agreement between two parties– I don’t disagree with your statement, but I’m having trouble reconciling this language and your assertion.
    Thanks!

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  10. Interesting and amen. I think we also have to bring in God’s patience when speaking of his anger i.e. wrath. “What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath–prepared for destruction?” (Rom 9:22) and “The LORD has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble.” (Prov 16:4)
    I may have misunderstood but God’s wrath cannot be “superseded” by any other attribute He possesses, because He would in that moment cease to be God. He is complete. All of His attributes are working in perfect balance at all times. His love and His justice will be revealed in equal power. To the elect; His love, to the vessels of wrath; His justice.
    I don’t think that it is His wrath taking a back seat… but rather, His patience balancing his anger out.
    Blessings.

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  11. I believe people and churches go from one extreme to the other, either God is so angry that he is waiting to zap you and stomp on you or the other extreme is he is up stairs saying everything is ok.
    I believe that he is a God of wrath and judgment, but he sent his son to show us his love. We a lot of time feel condemned because of our sin and go around feeling God is angry with us or is out to get us and we forget about the mercies that are new every morning.
    “The war is over” by Andrew Wommack is a very good book that really teaches it in balance.

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  12. @m-dahlke@hotmail.com
    Not to make this what it is not and chase our tails, but please do not use Rob Bell to be the voice of the emergent church. That is like saying Al Mohler speaks for Evangelicals. We are many, many voices all working toward one thing, Christ and him crucified.
    It is like C.S. Lewis put it. In a large house there are many rooms, each room has a different conversation going on, but each is joined by a large banquet hall where we all gather and worship and learn from the God who created us. Many voices, one goal.

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  13. hey david….just a thought on your question about love superseding anger….i don’t think God’s anger is an attribute…it’s an emotion; it’s a response…but not an attribute. his justice is an attribute; his holiness is an attribute. his love….is his essence. in every biblical example i can think of, his anger is not final….he always makes a way out of judgment…think of the wicked ninevah and what jonah knew to be true about God…that he would relent and no punish them if they repented.
    to all: my point is that God is not the one angry at us…present tense. for those not in Christ, it is they who insist on living in rebellion toward him…but he, as paul said, has reconciled the world to himself. he has offered peace– at the expense of his own life.

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  14. Thanks Glenn, for being willing to tackle hard topics with intellectual honesty. I don’t think as finite beings we will ever truly come to a place where we understand and are comfortable with everything about God. If we do, perhaps we aren’t worshipping the ominpotent all powerful, omnipresent God, but some other god of our own making.

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  15. Good point… both His emotions and attributes are in perfect balance. I am certainly beyond grateful that I am on the side of the scale that receives His love.
    As Terra rightly pointed out… the antinomies of God e.g. Lion and the Lamb, Beginning and the Last, Perfect Mercy and Perfect Justice must be accepted by faith, “without faith it is impossible to please Him”…

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