Can a Loving God be Angry?

You have probably heard it from someone. Maybe not personally, but in one form or another you have likely heard the argument that a loving God would never be angry with anyone. “That is not the God I know. He loves people.”

Indeed, confusion abounds regarding the character of God today. One aspect of his character is exaggerated and isolated from the others. Take his love, for example. We all know that God is love (1 John 4:8). That is why he sent Jesus into the world. It was because he loves lost people, like us. God loved the world (you and me) so much that he sent his Son into the world so that we could have eternal life in heaven with him (John 3:16). For many today, however, God’s love precludes any possibility for his wrath. In other words, since God is love, he cannot possibly be angry. Love and anger cannot coexist. Consequently, dismissing the wrath of God is in vogue today.

The traditional view that God poured out his wrath on the bruised, broken figure pinned to the cross is now called into question. How could a loving God ever demonstrate that kind of anger toward anyone, let alone his own Son? Such an act could only be described as some sort of sick, cosmic child abuse. God is incapable of such an unloving act. One simply cannot love and be angry at the same time. The whole idea that God expressed his wrath by meting out a “penalty” for sin is rejected as being incompatible with his love.

However, does this alleged contradiction between love and anger hold up under scrutiny? If you think it through, it does not. Yes, God is love. He is loving toward all he has made (Psalm 145:17). But that does not mean he cannot be angry. On the contrary, it is precisely because of his love that he gets angry when something threatens what he has made. If he did not love it, God would not care when his creation faced possible harm. Christopher Wright queries, “What sort of God would he be if he were not angry with everything that tries to wreck his good creation?”

So what could possibly threaten to harm God’s creation? Sin! Sin has been wreaking havoc ever since Adam & Eve ingested it through their fateful first taste of disobedience. Moreover, because he loves what he made, God is angry about what sin is doing to it. If he did not care, he would not be angry. So the cross is an expression of both God’s love and his anger at the same time. Love and anger can, and indeed must coexist.

Wright tells the story of a Croatian theologian named Miroslav Volf who once held the now popular view that a loving God cannot be angry. His opinion changed, however, once war broke out in his country and he found himself outraged over the atrocities visited upon his own people.

“I used to think that wrath was unworthy of God. Isn’t God love? Shouldn’t divine love be beyond wrath? God is love, and God loves every person and every creature. That’s exactly why God is wrathful against some of them. My last resistance to the idea of God’s wrath was a casualty of the war in the former Yugoslavia, the region from which I come. According to some estimates, 200,000 people were killed and over 300,000 were displaced. My villages and cities were destroyed, my people shelled day in and day out, some of them brutalized beyond imagination, and I could not imagine God not being angry…Though I used to complain about the indecency of the idea of God’s wrath, I came to think that I would have to rebel against a God who wasn’t wrathful at the sight of the world’s evil. God isn’t wrathful in spite of being love. God is wrathful because God is love.”

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Wright, C. J. W. (2008). The God I don’t understand: Reflections on the tough questions of faith. Grand Rapids, MI. Zondervan Publishers, p. 131.