Anger is an aspect of God’s character that we probably don’t like to think about. It’s also an aspect of his character that we easily misconstrue. People who have had an angry parent, an angry spouse, or anger issues in their own heart can start to view God as having similar kinds of anger issues. He’s mean, disagreeable, easily provoked, and harsh.
Iain Provan, one of my Old Testament profs, has some helpful comments about God’s anger in his new book Seriously Dangerous Religion: What the Old Testament Really Says and Why It Matters. He notes three things about God’s anger:
1. God’s anger is reasoned
God’s anger is not arbitrary, capricious, or spiteful. It’s not the result of wounded pride or having a bad day. God’s anger is his outrage against evil and his passion to bring justice to those who are oppressed. In this sense, God’s anger gives us hope that, since he cares about creation, he will intervene and set things right.
2. God’s anger is slow
God does not blow his top or act rashly like we often do. Provan notes, “God is for his creation, and his anger is always constrained by his compassion and grace. This is why the world continues on its way at all, for, as the psalmist asks, ‘If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?’ (Psalm 130:3).” Ironically, it is God’s being slow to anger that makes Jonah (who is quick to anger) so upset.
3. God’s anger relents
Those who suffer God’s anger can still experience God’s compassion. Micah 7:18 says that God delights in showing mercy (I am not aware of any passages that states God delights in showing anger). Provan says, “There is hope that once an accounting has been made of wrongdoing, there might be a restoration.” This is the news that Isaiah brings to Israel: “For a brief moment I deserted you, but with great compassion I will gather you. In overflowing anger for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you, says the LORD, your Redeemer.” (Isaiah 54:7–8)
Because God’s anger is reasoned, slow, and relenting, Biblical authors can talk about it with frequency while not feeling that it contradicts or obscures God’s goodness.