Alice C. Linsley
Recently someone asked about the idea that God becomes angry. The anger of God is a biblical theme found from Genesis to Revelation. An angry God sends the flood. An Akkadian account from 1646-1626 B.C. gives this description: "The flood roared like a bull, like a wild ass screaming, the winds howled. The darkness was total, there was no sun."
An angry God sends fire from heaven to consume the prophets of Baal. God's wrath is to be poured out from 7 cursing bowls on all the unrighteous.
This theme is especially developed in the Deuteronomistic history in which God’s anger is unleashed against Israel's unfaithfulness and disobedience. God allows the enemies of Israel to overcome them as divine punishment. Those enemies include the Assyrians (721 B.C.) and the Babylonians (586 B.C.).
The wrath of God is shown to the faithless Israelites in the wilderness. "Do not forget how you provoked the Lord your God to wrath in the wilderness" (Deut. 9:7).
God's anger is not restricted to the clan of Jacob (Israelites), however. Even the kings of other peoples are held to His higher law. "God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day" (Ps. 7:11).
For the biblical Hebrew, the High God is King over the earth and as such expresses a sovereign's rightful anger when the welfare of his kingdom is threatened. His anger is indignation against all who put his realm in peril. The people of Israel were to demonstrate the beauty of God's reign on earth, but they failed. The Temple which was to be a "house of prayer for all nations" had become a marketplace.
"It was nearly time for the Jewish Passover celebration, so Jesus went to Jerusalem. In the Temple area he saw merchants selling cattle, sheep, and doves for sacrifices; he also saw dealers at tables exchanging foreign money. Jesus made a whip from some ropes and chased them all out of the Temple. He drove out the sheep and cattle, scattered the money changers’ coins over the floor, and turned over their tables. Then, going over to the people who sold doves, he told them, “Get these things out of here. Stop turning my Father’s house into a marketplace!” (Jn. 2:13-16)
Look, the Lord’s day of judging is coming— a terrible day, a day of God’s anger.
He will destroy the land
and the sinners who live in it.
The stars will not show their light;
the skies will be dark.
The sun will grow dark as it rises,
and the moon will not give its light.
And I will punish the world for their evil, and the wicked for their iniquity;
and I will cause the arrogancy of the proud to cease,
and will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible.
The Apostle Paul addresses the relationship of God's anger and love. He writes, "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him! (Rom. 5:8–9).
The theme of God’s anger is also found in African narratives. The anthropologist Charles Kraft once asked a chief in northern Nigeria, "What did your people believe about God before the missionaries came?" In response, the old chief told this story:
Once God and his son lived close to us. They walked, talked, ate, and slept among us. All was well then. There was no thievery or fighting or running off with another man's wife like there is now. But one day God's son ate in the home of a careless woman. She had not cleaned her dishes properly. God's son ate from a dirty dish, got sick, and died. This, of course, made God very angry. He left in a huff and hasn't been heard from since. (Charles Kraft, Christianity in Culture. Orbis Books, 1990, p. 153)
Some African creation stories speak of a time at the beginning when the sky was low. It was necessary for people to be careful while cultivating or pounding grain to avoid striking God's resting place with their hoes or pestles. The Akan of Ghana tell the story of how God once lived on earth, but an old woman kept striking Him with her pestle. Then one day, God withdrew to the sky. The vertical pestle symbolizes the north-south axis and the heavens-earth-under the earth axis.
Another African story tells how "in the beginning death
had not yet entered the world. There was plenty to eat, but a women became
greedy and tried to pound more grain that she was allotted. This required using
a longer pestle. When she raised it to pound the grain, it struck the sky and
God became angry and withdrew far into the heavens. Since then, people must
toil the earth, death and disease troubles the people and it is no longer easy
to reach God." (Richard Bush, ed. The Religious World. MacMillan
Publishers, 1982, p. 38).