God’s Anger and His Character

Here’s something that occurred to me not too long ago… I’d like to bounce this off of you to see what you think… see if you can knock any holes in it…

The attributes of God can be divided into roughly two areas: His nature and His character. God’s nature describes what makes Him God (all-powerful, present everywhere, all-knowing, etc.). God’s character describes how He relates to what He has created (good, righteous, just, keeps His promises, loving, etc.). God’s holiness describes the degree of these character attributes: He will not compromise them in any way.

Where does the wrath of God fit into this? We worship a God who gets angry, who violently punishes sin. This was true in the past and will be true in the future (i.e. Revelation 16:1). Is God’s wrath a character attribute of God in the same way that His other attributes are? If I had asked myself this question in the past, I would have probably said “yes”, but now I think the answer is “no”, for the following reasons:

  • God’s wrath is the outpouring of His anger. God is only angry as a result of sin. If there were no sin, He would not be angry. Before there was sin, He was not angry. After sin is put away, His anger goes away. When I was young, I definitely “felt” my dad’s anger at times, yet I would not consider him an angry father. He didn’t have a short temper.
  • God is eternally the same – unchanging (Malachi 3:6, Hebrews 13:8). He has been holy, is holy, and will always be holy. The same can be said of all of His character attributes. But this is not true of His wrath. His anger is temporary (Psalm 30:5, Isaiah 57:16).
  • All of God’s character attributes exist independantly of His creation. Man can do nothing to make God more or less holy, righteous, good, loving, etc. However man can do things to make God angry. If God’s anger is a character attribute, then when man sins, he is changing God to make Him more angry.
  • Unlike God’s character attributes, God does not desire to be wrathful (Ezekiel 18:23, 32, 33:11, Lamentations 3:33, 1 Timothy 2:4, John 3:17, Acts 17:30). It does not make Him happy to condemn man to hell. The legalist/moralist rejoices when a bar, crackhouse, brothel, etc. closes. God and all of heaven rejoices when the owner repents and is saved (Luke 15).

So, while God gets angry, I don’t think His wrath can be considered a character attribute. It is just the result of what happens when man’s sin clashes with His holy righteousness and justice.

If this understanding of God’s anger is correct, it is totally freeing. I don’t worship a capricious God who gets angry with me for no apparent reason (i.e. just because He just so happens to be having a bad day). Sure, there’s a healthy fear of the consequences of disobeying Him, but I had a similar healthy fear of my dad. Perhaps this is one of the main reasons why Jesus wants us to think of God as our Father.


Comments

God’s Anger and His Character — 2 Comments

  1. Here’s another passage that I had thought about for a long time that has brought me to this understanding…

    “… If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on, you know him, and have seen him.” Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you such a long time, and do you not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father. How do you say, ‘Show us the Father?’ …” (John 14:7-9)

    We tend to have this false impression that the Jesus and the Father are different in personality, i.e. the Father is strict and easily angered, while Jesus is loving, forgiving, patient, merciful, etc. Jesus is there to “mellow out” the Father’s attitude towards us so we don’t have to go around walking on eggshells all the time.

    However Jesus tells us that if we have seen Him, then we have seen the Father. In other words, just as Jesus did not live to do His own will but His Father’s, He also lived in such a way as to show us what the Father is really like. Jesus freely loved sinners, because His Father loves sinners. He forgave because His Father forgives. yes, and He also got angry because His Father gets angry – but always with cause. Jesus was merciful, gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in goodness and truth (see Exodus 34:6-7).

    We tend to wear blinders when we read the old testament, because we don’t read and study to see the true heart of God. His love, mercy, patience, forgiveness… it’s all there in the old testament as well as the new (for example Psalm 103). Just think about how God always forgave Israel for their transgressions when they came back to Him, and compare it with what Jesus said about forgiveness in Luke 17:3-4 and Matthew 18:21-22.

  2. Hi Andrew, I really like your discussion about the relationship between the righteous anger and the character of Jesus. thank you brother.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *