Strong emotional reaction of displeasure, often leading to plans for revenge or punishment. There are many words for anger in Hebrew; in Greek orge [ojrghv] and thumos [qumov”] are used more or less interchangeably.
The Anger of God Unlike pagan gods, whose tirades reflect the fickleness of their human creators, Yahweh “expresses his wrath every day” because he is a righteous judge ( Psalm 7:11 ). At the same time, God is merciful and not easily provoked to anger ( Exod 34:6 ; Psalm 103:8-9 ).
God may choose to display his wrath within historical events, as in Israel’s wilderness wanderings ( Psalm 95:10-11 ) or the Babylonian exile ( Lam 2:21-22 ). But his wrath will be fully expressed on the dies irae, the day of wrath at the end of the age, when all wrongs will be punished ( Zeph 1:14-18 ).
John the Baptist warns of God’s fiery judgment ( Matt 3:7 ). Jesus will execute God’s wrath at his second coming ( Rev 6:15-17 ). While the wicked already stand under God’s condemnation ( John 3:36 ; Eph 2:3 ), by sinning, they continue to store up wrath ( Rom 2:5 ; 9:22 ). But God in his mercy sent Jesus to turn away his anger by a sacrifice of propitiation ( Rom 3:25 ; 5:9 ; 1 John 2:2 ; 4:10 ).
Some have doubted whether a God of love can experience anger toward his creatures. The Jewish philosopher Philo championed the Stoic idea that a perfect being by definition could not become angry. In the twentieth century, C. H. Dodd held that “wrath of God” is merely symbolic of the fact that sin has consequences. But such viewpoints reveal more about the writers’ theological assumptions than the consistent teaching of the Bible.
Human Anger The Bible usually portrays human anger as sinful. Cain’s ire would have been turned to good if he had repented and offered an acceptable sacrifice. But by nursing his wrath against a holy God and the righteous Abel, he ends up committing murder ( Gen 4:3-8 ).
“Refrain from anger and turn from wrath” — so warns Psalm 37:8. In contrast with our modern emphasis on the constructive uses of anger, Proverbs urges us to think carefully before expressing anger ( 12:16 ; 14:29 ; 19:11 ), to be patient ( 16:32 ), and to show restraint ( 29:11 ). Angry people cause conflicts ( 29:22 ; 30:33 ) and continually get themselves into trouble ( 19:19 ); they should be avoided ( 22:24-25 ). In biblical history, Saul stands out as the embodiment of sinful rage (see 1 Sam 19:9-10 ; 20:30-34 ). On the other hand, Job and many psalmists display anger and frustration with their situation and at times even with God himself. In the end Job is rebuked because he has doubted God’s justice (chaps. 35-36), but the psalmists’ prayers are acceptable apparently because they are viewing the world from God’s perspective; since God knows the heart, it is better for them to voice their anger than it is to deny it.
Jesus warns that angry people will face God’s judgment ( Matt 5:22 ; cf. Gal 5:20 ; Col 3:6-8 ). James reflects the wisdom of the Old Testament when he tells his readers to “be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” ( 1:9 ). According to Ephesians 4:25-27, people should speak truthfully, but their anger should be restrained, short-lived, and used for righteous ends. Provoking another person to anger without reason is in itself a sin ( Eph 6:4 ). Anger can divide a church ( 2 Co 12:20 ) and frustrate prayer ( 1 Ti 2:8 ); an elder must not be “quick-tempered” ( Titus 1:7 ).
People may, however, react to sin in the way that God does in holiness and without desire for personal vengeance ( Ro 12:19-21 ). Moses was therefore justly angry with Pharaoh ( Exod 11:8 ). But Jesus the God-Man gives us the best example of how to express righteous anger ( Matt 23:1-36 ; Mark 3:5 ; 11:15-17 ; John 2:13-17 ).
At the same time, people may believe that their anger is warranted when it is not; such anger is usually rooted in a desire to justify oneself. Simeon and Levi’s slaughter of the Shechemites goes well beyond righteous anger ( Gen 34:1-31 ; 49:5-7 ). Jonah believes that he is right to be angry when God spares the wicked (chap. 4). Those who angrily oppose Jesus think that God is on their side ( Matt 21:15-16 ). Even the disciples are self-righteously angry with James and John ( Matt 20:24 ) and with the woman who anointed Jesus with costly ointment ( Mark 14:4-5 ).
Gary Steven Shogren