What we believe about God’s nature shapes not only how we relate to him, but how we understand our own identity as his people. This is perhaps why the depiction of God being angry and even wrathful in the Old Testament Prophets is confusing to those trying to reconcile his anger with what Scripture teaches us about his compassionate, loving nature. What many fail to see is the picture that the Old Testament Prophets paint of a God so passionately in love that he is hurt and angry when those he loves reject him. If God were apathetic towards his people and their rejection of Him and his ways, then he could not truly be seen as a God of love. Yet even in his anger God’s desire is always to reconcile his people to himself. God’s nature is not anger; his nature is love that is so strong it is sometimes provoked to anger.
An inability to reconcile God’s love with his anger arises out of misconceptions due to flawed comparisons. Greek philosophy taught that a perfect being could not become hurt or angry with his creation. In the first century, Philo, a Jewish philosopher applied this Stoic understanding to Yahweh God. This same misconception was perpetuated by C.H. Dodd in the twentieth century who explained God’s anger and wrath not as emotions but as metaphors for the consequences of sin. Dodd and others like him picture a God devoid of dignity who, in the name of love, allows his creation to disregard his holiness and sin against him and each other. This kind of teaching also clearly dismisses Scripture which describes God as having numerous emotional responses including what we may think are negative emotions such as anger and wrath. God clearly describes himself as an intensely emotional being who of his own will makes himself vulnerable to the actions and attitudes of his people. In the Old Testament God refers to himself as jealous for the faithful love of his people using the Hebrew word qana. Qana describes not only an emotional state, but an emotion which registers physically as the face turning red. This clearly is not a God who is apathetic or who casually overlooks the rebellion of his people.
In modern times misconceptions can arise when a perspective is colored through personal experiences of anger. Human anger is usually retaliation against those who have caused hurt and results in a loss of self-control. However, in Scripture God’s anger is never a result of his loss of self-control, nor is he motivated by vindictiveness. Rather, God’s anger is initiated by his justice and responds to sin with the correct judgment
In order to have the correct perspective on the anger and judgment of God, it is important to see the big picture. First we must understand that “God is love” (I John 4:8) and every action that he takes is rooted in his love nature. Whether he is showing compassion or punishing the wicked; both actions are motivated by love, not anger, hatred or vindictiveness. Secondly, that God can be provoked to anger means that he is not apathetic to injustices perpetrated on his creation. Neither is his judgment eternal, but someday he will completely cleanse the earth of wickedness and establish his Kingdom on the earth where he will rule as the “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end… with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this” (Isaiah 9:6-7).