Having a balanced and Biblical view of God is something we should all aspire to. Last night’s Bible study continued looking at the subject of anger, but this time, instead of looking at our anger, we looked at God’s anger – something we would often rather not think about!
God is often described as being angry. Words such as ‘wrath’, ‘furious’ and ‘jealous’ are common in the Bible, but it’s important not to imbue these words with an understanding of our imperfect anger which we then transfer to God. God is holy and incapable of our petty, capricious, fickle temper tantrums. His anger is measured and just, never pique or selfish indignation.
Proverbs 6:16-19 TNIV looks at things God hates, such as a proud heart, lying lips, wicked behaviour and (more unusually as far as we are concerned) behaviour which stirs up dissension among brothers. God is angry when we refuse to believe and refuse to obey Him. Think about how His anger burned against Moses (Exodus 4:10-14 TNIV) only when Moses refused to obey and asked ‘send someone else.’ A lack of faith and a stubborn refusal to obey are things God hates.
Deut 29:14-20 TNIV shows us how easily Israel turned away from God and persisted in going their own way. The wilderness wanderings (described vividly in Psalm 78 TNIV) show us a people who were lacking in gratitude, quickly forgetful of all that God had done for them and both stubborn and stiff-necked. They fell at the same hurdles time and time again (often complaining about the lack of food and water and imagining they would perish in the wildernenss instead of possessing the land as God had promised.) Hebrews 3:7-19 TNIV offers a commentary on this behaviour, talking about how they hardened their hearts and were led astray by their sinful, unbelieving hearts and by sin’s deceitfulness. It is this inner attitude, manifested in outer actions, which angered God and caused many to die in the wilderness.
Some people often think of the God of the Old Testament as wrathful but claim that Jesus reveals a new, loving face of God. It’s not wise to believe there are two separate Gods: the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament. There is one God who does not change! In the New Testament, we see that Jesus got angry too. Mark 3:1-6 TNIV is one such example, when He was angry and deeply distressed at the Pharisees’ stubborn hearts and their unwillingness to see a man healed on the Sabbath. They preferred the rules of religion rather than the benefit of God’s love. He was furious at shallow rules which did not reflect God’s heart; as G. K. Chesterton wryly remarked about Puritans, ‘a Puritan is a person who pours righteous indignation into the wrong things.’ When Jesus cleared the temple of money-changers (John 2:13-16 TNIV), His anger was measured and controlled (He spent time making a cord of whips before He drove out the money-lenders), but was nonetheless a declaration that God does not want us to cheat the poor and wants to be accessible and available to all. (A modern-day parallel has been in the news lately with the Archbishop of Canterbury speaking out against the high interest rates of companies like Wonga.com which entrap and cripple poor people – see here for more details.)
God’s anger is holy, moral and an expression of His righteousness. It is a measured response to the sinfulness and stubbornness of men’s hearts. Psalm 7:11 TNIV tells us God expresses His wrath every day, but Psalm 30:4-5 TNIV, Micah 7:18 TNIV and Psalm 103:8-9 TNIV also remind us that God is slow to anger and rich in compassion. He doesn’t bear grudges and doesn’t stay angry for ever, but is merciful and forgiving and pardoning (1 John 1:9 TNIV). We need to be aware that it is indeed a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God and thus live before God with reverence and humility, but we can also be confident that we find love and mercy in God’s Father heart.