A couple weeks ago, I read a blog post that stated emotions can’t be sins. They just are, and how we act on them determines whether or not we’re sinning. The example they used was anger. For proof, they cited all the times God is described as angry. Because God is incapable of sin, this demonstrates that anger can’t be inherently sinful.
I knew the verses they were talking about, but just out of curiosity I ran a word search to see how often God is described as angry. 208 verses. That’s out of 268 verses in the KJV containing the word anger in any context. Anger is only used 60 times that it’s not in reference to God, and this isn’t even counting words like fury and wrath.
Wow. That’s far more than I’d expected. The sheer number of verses wasn’t the only interesting thing, though. There’s also a marked difference in how the Bible talks about God’s anger and human anger. God’s anger is always righteous, ours not so much.
Why is God Angry?
God knows how the universe works and He clues us in through His scriptures. The blessings for good and the curses for evil are a fact of life. God is telling us, “If you make a, b, c life choices things will turn out good, but if you make x, y, z life choices things will turn out bad.” It pleases Him when we choose the path to life.
By the same token, it grieves and upsets God when people reject what is good. He’s angered when people who’ve said they will follow Him turn away, and He’s angered by injustice wicked men commit. This anger isn’t just something that comes out of the blue — God is very open about the consequences of and His reaction to sin.
All nations would say, ‘Why has the Lord done so to this land? What does the heat of this great anger mean?’ Then people would say: ‘Because they have forsaken the covenant of the Lord God of their fathers, which He made with them when He brought them out of the land of Egypt; for they went and served other gods and worshiped them, gods that they did not know and that He had not given to them. Then the anger of the Lord was aroused against this land, to bring on it every curse that is written in this book. (Deut. 29:25-27)
As we touched on in “But What If God Scares Me?”, God’s anger is an expression of His righteousness and love. Of righteousness because justice does not let sin go unpunished and of love because God hates to see people choose death instead of life. In fact the cycles of punishment for disobedience and blessings for obedience we see in Israel’s history are a sign of God’s favor. He didn’t give up on His people.
Even though Israel rebelled, “You are God, ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abundant in kindness, and did not forsake them” (Neh. 9:17). God longs for His people to learn from the mistakes that provoked His anger and come back to Him. He delights in mercy, promising to those that repent, “I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely, for My anger has turned away from him” (Hos. 14:1, 4).
Though God’s mercy is abundant, scripture does speak of a day of future wrath. The world is steeped in wickedness and it will face judgment for that. But even then the ultimate plan is to save humanity and renew creation. God’s anger never leads Him to lose control. It is measured, motivated by His goodness, and used to accomplish His plan.
What About Our Anger?
In Ephesians, Paul writes, “Be angry, and do not sin: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil” (Eph. 4:26-27). We often read this as permission to get angry. It’s okay as long as we don’t sin and remember to let go of wrath before the day ends. That’s a valid reading, but I think perhaps we take it too far at times. Just a few sentences later, after the admonition “do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God,” we read this:
Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you. (Eph. 4:31-32)
Why is it okay for God to get angry, but we’re supposed to put anger and wrath out of our lives? One clue is found in Romans 12:19, where it says, “give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.” Wrath moves us to take action against the object of our anger. but if we do that, we’re taking on a role of judge and avenger that God has reserved to Himself.
We can get angry for good reasons. Moses was angry (as was God) when he saw Israel committing idolatry at the foot of the mountain where they’d just received the Ten Commandments (Ex. 32:19). “Jonathan arose from the table in fierce anger” because he was grieved by his father’s shameful behavior toward his best friend (1 Sam. 20:34). Jesus got angry with hypocrites who would rather trap Him in breaking a man-made rule than see Him heal a cripple (Mark 3:5). But it’s rare that people can get angry and not sin. Take a look at what Solomon has to say:
A quick-tempered man acts foolishly, and a man of wicked intentions is hated. (Prov. 14.17)
He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city. (Prov. 16.32)
An angry man stirs up strife, and a furious man abounds in transgression. (Prov. 29:22)
Do not hasten in your spirit to be angry, for anger rests in the bosom of fools. (Ecc. 7:9)
Our anger is rarely in line with God’s righteousness (James 1:20). It leads to things like strife and outbursts of wrath, which are not of the holy spirit (Gal. 5:20). It’s often motivated by pride or foolish wickedness (Prov. 21:24). Far better that we learn to rule our spirits and be slow to anger, which is also an attribute of God (Neh. 9:17; Ps. 78:38; 103:8-9; 145:8; Joel 2:13; Nah. 1:3). We must learn to rule our emotions and submit to God’s will if we want to be like Him. Only then can we “be angry, and sin not.”