A 2006 Baylor Religion Survey found that Americans have very different opinions about whether God is inclined to be angry.
According to the Baylor study:
? 23 percent believe in a God of goodwill who
shows up in our lives and is not inclined to
? 31.4 percent believe in an authoritarian
God who is very involved in our lives and
apt to be angry when we don’t do what He
wants us to do.
? 24.4 percent believe in a critical God who,
although not so involved with us, will show
His displeasure by punishment in the
? 16 percent believe in a distant God who is
neither involved with us nor inclined to
? 5.2 percent say they are atheists.
The results of this survey cause me to wonder how much the people in these categories have been affected by a misunderstanding of the Bible.
The Bible describes a God whose anger is an important part of His story. From Genesis to Revelation, God expresses not only love but also anger. Moses writes about a time when God was so angry with the children of Israel that He threatened to destroy all of them and start over (Deuteronomy 9:8-20). David, the songwriter king of Israel, later wrote that “God is angry with the wicked every day” (Psalm 7:11), and the last book in the Bible pictures a resurrected Lord bringing the wrath of God against a world in rebellion (Revelation 19:11-16).
The God of both testaments, however, is slow to get angry. He is the opposite of irritable parents whose flash points of anger say more about their own frustration than about their child’s need for correction. The Father in heaven never loses His temper because He has had a bad day or because, in exasperation, He doesn’t know what else to do. Over and over the Bible describes Him as being “ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abundant in kindness” (Nehemiah 9:17; see also Psalm 103:8; 145:8; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2; Nahum 1:3).
The God of the Bible is so patient that He risks being misunderstood. His reluctance to enforce quick justice allows many to conclude that He isn’t watching, or that He doesn’t care (2 Peter 3:3-4). Yet by the time the last pages of the Bible are written, they reveal a God who waits as long as He does to give us time for a change of heart (Romans 2:4).
God takes no pleasure in the death of those who reject Him. Many centuries before Jesus’ birth, a Jewish prophet declared that God takes no pleasure in the death of His enemies. Specifically, the prophet Ezekiel declared, “‘As I live,’ says the Lord God, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?’” (33:11).
Now, as then, God’s heart grieves over the end of those who refuse His offer of pardon and sanctuary.
When Jesus expressed “woes” on His enemies, He was more sad than angry. The “woes” He expressed to those who hated Him were not expressions of angry self-defense. They were expressions of lament, regret, and distress (Luke 11:42-52).
By “woes” of grief and alarm, Jesus put the Pharisees on notice that they were in danger of being accused and condemned by the very laws in which they took so much pride. So He said to them, “Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; there is one who accuses you—Moses, in whom you trust” (John 5:45).
God is too loving not to be angry. His anger, slow as it is, remains as evidence that He cares about the harmful things we do to ourselves and to one another.
The opposite of anger is not love. The opposite of anger is to be uninvolved and indifferent. It is because God loves so much that He feels such a mixture of grief and anger toward those who refuse to come to Him—at the expense of themselves and others.
This slow-forming, brokenhearted anger is what finally resulted in the terrible flood of Noah’s day (Genesis 6:1-6). Later, God’s judgment fell on Sodom and Gomorrah after the sins of the twin cities created conditions of oppression and hard-hearted violence (Genesis 18:20-21; Ezekiel 16:49-50). Still later, God’s reluctant anger fell on Jerusalem, who, according to the prophet Ezekiel, fell into such spiritual disgrace that she made Samaria and Sodom look good by comparison (16:51-52).
Nowhere, however, is the heart behind God’s anger better understood than when:
Jesus turned the wrath of the law against Himself. Because of the love that would not allow Him to be uninvolved or indifferent to us, the Son of God took the punishment we deserved (2 Corinthians 5:21). When Jesus said from His cross, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46), that was our hour of judgment. In that moment, our guilt was being punished. God’s anger against all that is evil and harmful in the world was falling on Himself instead of us.
Most amazing is that according to the New Testament, the One who will sit in judgment of the world in the last days is none other than the same Jesus who suffered in our place (Matthew 25:31-34; John 5:22-27; Acts 10:42-43; 17:31; 2 Timothy 4:1).
If this is true, if the anger of God will flash in the eyes of the same One who cried and died for us, then how would we answer a survey that asks how inclined God is to be angry?
Does this sound like a God who is uninvolved or uncaring—or in any way unworthy of our fear, trust, and love?
Father in heaven, thank You for helping us to see that if we are condemned, it is because of our refusal to be rescued. If we end up experiencing justice instead of mercy, it will be because we have rejected You, who so loved the world that You gave us Your only begotten Son, so that “whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). —Mart De Haan