The anger of the LORD blazes against his people, he stretches out his hand to strike them; The mountains quake, their corpses shall be like refuse in the streets. For all this, his anger is not turned back, his hand is still outstretched. (Isaiah 5:25)
Yikes! Dead bodies in the streets? That’s a lot of anger. In the passage above Isaiah is warning Israel that God’s judgment is coming. In fact, the entire chapter is one long indictment against the people of Israel. They’ve become corrupt and arrogant, and God has had enough. Invading armies are coming and the result will be death and ultimately exile.
God’s anger understandably makes us uncomfortable. In fact, God’s anger is one of the main reasons people state for not liking the God of the Bible. But if we take a closer look at scripture about God’s anger, we will find a more complex and nuanced picture than we might assume.
In Exodus 34, God describes himself as being slow to anger. The Hebrew phrase used here is literally translated as “long of nose,” but what does God’s nose have to do with getting angry? Think about our own experience with anger: the adrenaline flows increasing blood flow to the muscles which contract – the net effect is that your face gets hot…including your nose. It is a easy to imagine God looking for justice and love in humanity. When He sees us in action, the “divine adrenaline” flows. But that is not to say God’s anger is like ours. In scripture, the prophets never portray God’s anger as something that cannot be accounted for, unpredictable, irrational. It is never a spontaneous outburst, but a reaction occasioned by the conduct of humans and motivated by concern for right and wrong. It is a slow response with lots of chances. It’s a just response to human evil. And sometimes the chances go unheeded and so God’s response takes the form of God giving people over to the natural consequences of their self-destructive actions.
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