Does God Really Get Angry?

Now the LORD was angry with Solomon because his heart was turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice, and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods; but he did not observe what the LORD had commanded.
 – 1 Kings 11:9-10 (NAS)

Now the LORD was angry with me on your account, and swore that I should not cross the Jordan, and that I should not enter the good land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance.
– Deuteronomy. 4:21 (NAS)

The Bible does tell us that God gets angry (Numbers 16:22, 22:22; Deuteronomy 4:21; 1 Kings 11:9; 1 Kings 11:9; 2 Chron. 28:9; Psalm 60:1; 80:4: Ecclesiastes 5:6). This is obviously an anthropomorphic statement (in biblical narrative anthropomorphism is describing God with human actions or feelings) that helps us understand how God is relating to and interacting with us as human beings. The reason it has value is that while God is so transcendent it is impossible to relate to Him, God has created us in His image. He has given us the capacity to relate to Him once He has revealed Himself to us. God has done so by having the writers of divine Scripture use (anthropomorphic) statements so we understand how God relates to us and the activity of our lives.

The word angry, when referencing God’s anger is described in a couple of ways: first, anger is described as “a nostril, nose, face, or anger”. The idea here is that we know when a human being is angry because it shows on their face. The way a person glares at someone by squeezing their eyelids, gritting their teeth, wrinkling their nose – you can tell they are upset. This is the way the writers describe God anger. Secondly, anger has the idea of “to burn or be kindled with anger,” which has a more emotional description (maybe) because it uses our internal feelings to help us understand how God feels about such things like sin and evil.

The struggle with anthropomorphisms is that while we as humans typically lose control and lash out at people when we are angry, God does not act in the same as we do. God does not “lose control” and lash out at people so anthropomorphisms have limitation. He will judge, punish or discipline those who sin or do evil. When you think about it this is both necessary and appropriate even though our first impulse would be to say God is out of line. If God is holy, perfect and pure then sin ought to make Him angry; evil should make Him angry: abuse should make God angry. How can God be just if He is indifferent to and apathetic towards true evil and wrongdoing? It is not hard for us to accept that God is angry with those who really do evil things, but as the verses above indicate, God can and will be angry with His own people when they sin and do wrong too.

Now the problem is that an angry God is not the same thing as a God who becomes angry. God is not defined by anger but there are times He may become angry. If we fail to understand that it is appropriate for God to be angry with sin, moral evil, injustice, hatred, selfishness, envy and such, then we are in danger of creating a “straw-man” argument about an unloving God and creating a caricature of God that is not God. For example: If I see you get angry over an injustice but extrapolate that experience to suggest that you are an angry person, you might have something to say about it… you might even be angry with me for suggesting such a thing. In your mind your anger is totally appropriate for that situation but it is totally untrue to define you as an angry person. Getting angry at times does not mean anger defines your character. One could suggest that our world is so polluted with sin and evil that God must be angry all the time… another day perhaps…

It is no wonder that even the idea of God being angry does not mesh really well with our North American Christianity nor a “tolerant” culture. If God actually loves us then shouldn’t He just forgive our sin; the most popular reason – How can a God of love punish people for having problems? But we prejudice the process. If we see a flaw in others we usually relate it to a character issue. When people see a flaw in us we usually justify it as circumstantial (1 Cor. 4:3-5). God is the ONLY one who can discern the true, intimate nuances of things hidden in our heart (1 Corinthians 4:5; Hebrews 4:12-3).

Brad Little