Wrath

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Intro: Is Anger Sinful?

“I am unable to commit to any messiah who doesn’t knock over tables.” -Garret Keizer
Matthew, Mark, and Luke all place Jesus’s scourging of the temple right before his crucifixion. In many ways, it was Jesus’s actions then that sparked the events that followed.
Jesus had harsh words for Jerusalem’s leaders before, but the scourging of the temple was the most clear and forward example of Jesus’s anger with them.
In fact, if we had any doubts about whether Jesus got angry, Mark tells us plainly in 3:5:
The New Revised Standard Version The Man with a Withered Hand

He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart

Indeed, not only did Jesus get angry during his ministry among us, but we see that God gets angry many times throughout scripture. So much so that the prophets and even Paul warns us to fear the day of God’s wrath, when he will unleash his holy fury on mankind:
Nahum 1:2-6
The New Revised Standard Version The Consuming Wrath of God

A jealous and avenging God is the LORD,

the LORD is avenging and wrathful;

the LORD takes vengeance on his adversaries

and rages against his enemies.

Isaiah 63:3-4

“I have trodden the wine press alone,

and from the peoples no one was with me;

I trod them in my anger

and trampled them in my wrath;

their juice spattered on my garments,

and stained all my robes.

4 For the day of vengeance was in my heart,

and the year for my redeeming work had come.

Rom 2:3-6
The New Revised Standard Version The Righteous Judgment of God

Do you imagine, whoever you are, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God? 4 Or do you despise the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? 5 But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. 6 For he will repay according to each one’s deeds

We must ask, then, are we, as Johnathan Edwards proposed, “Sinners in the hands of an Angry God?”
The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment. It is to be ascribed to nothing else, that you did not go to hell the last night; that you were suffered to awake again in this world, after you closed your eyes to sleep. And there is no other reason to be given, why you have not dropped into hell since you arose in the morning, but that God’s hand has held you up. There is no other reason to be given why you have not gone to hell, since you have sat here in the house of God, provoking his pure eyes by your sinful wicked manner of attending his solemn worship. Yea, there is nothing else that is to be given as a reason why you do not this very moment drop down into hell.
O sinner! Consider the fearful danger you are in: it is a great furnace of wrath, a wide and bottomless pit, full of the fire of wrath, that you are held over in the hand of that God, whose wrath is provoked and incensed as much against you, as against many of the damned in hell.
Is Edwards right? Is the God we worship a fearsome, angry, furious God? Always ready to cast sinners into hell?
And if God is so angry, how can we ever say that anger is a sin? Since anger seems to be the defining characteristic of God?
But scripture does tell us that anger is a sin!
Proverbs 19:11

Those with good sense are slow to anger,

and it is their glory to overlook an offense

James 1:19-20
The New Revised Standard Version Hearing and Doing the Word

let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.

So are we allowed to be angry or not? Christians have considered Wrath to be one of the seven deadly sins for thousands of years. Were we right or were we wrong?
Confusingly, even Paul has mixed views on anger:
Ephesians 4:26-27

26 Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not make room for the devil.

Ephesians 4:31-32

Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32 and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you

So are we to be angry or no? After all, God created us in his image. If he is angry, it is only natural that we be angry too. And if God is angry, then anger can by no means be a sin!

The Wrath of God

The problem, of course, with this way of thinking is that it completely misunderstands God’s Wrath. And to understand our anger, we must first understand God’s anger.
Johnathan Edwards, and many other popular preachers in America, have often depicted God as a sadist, eager to inflict punishment on sinners and happy to execute judgement, even the judgement of hellfire, on humankind.
While the Wrath of God is no doubt biblical, it is not at all like this depiction of God.
Indeed, the very celebration of Easter is at odds with an angry, sadistic God. We do not worship a God eager to condemn to Hell. We worship one who died to save us from it.
We must ask, however, if God does have wrath, and if God does get angry, What is God angry about? And how does God express that anger?

What is God Angry About?

So what is God Angry about?
Nearly all the mentions of God’s wrath can be found in the Pentateuch and the Prophets.
God is angry with the Israelites in the desert for failing to obey his covenant
God is angry with the Israelites in the time of the prophets for failing to obey his covenant, but also for failing to care for the poor.
Ezekiel 22:29-31

The people of the land have practiced extortion and committed robbery; they have oppressed the poor and needy, and have extorted from the alien without redress. 30 And I sought for anyone among them who would repair the wall and stand in the breach before me on behalf of the land, so that I would not destroy it; but I found no one. 31 Therefore I have poured out my indignation upon them; I have consumed them with the fire of my wrath; I have returned their conduct upon their heads, says the Lord GOD.

Jesus gets angry in Mark 3:5
The New Revised Standard Version The Man with a Withered Hand

Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. 2 They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3 And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” 4 Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. 5 He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6 The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.

Christ was angry because he loved the man with the withered hand, but the Pharisees did not
In short, God gets angry when justice is perverted. God gets angry when we do not give to one another, or to God, what is due. And what is due is love.

Angry for all the wrong reasons

Anger, then, is an emotion tied to justice.
Anger is a divinely implanted emotion. Closely allied to our instinct for right, it is designed to be used for constructive spiritual purposes. The person who cannot feel anger at evil is a person who lacks enthusiasm for good. If you cannot hate wrong, it's very questionable whether you really love righteousness.
But Anger goes astray and becomes sinful when it is misdirected, i.e. when we are angry about the wrong things.
Anger is good when it is motivated by a passion for justice and love for others. It turns vicious, however, when it fights for its own selfish cause, not justice.
The danger is that, because anger is rooted in a passion for justice, we often attempt to justify ourselves when angry whether we ought to or not
We invent all kinds of rationalizations as to why we deserve what we want, why others didn’t give us what we were really owed, and why we need to be angry to claim our rightful share.
Aquinas says that anger is an ally of justice and courage, but only if it follows a reasonable judgement about what is right… Too often we begin with anger and make our best judgments its puppet.
We fool ourselves into thinking we have righteous fury, when really our anger is self-serving
Does our image of a just universe mean things have to go our way, or else we’ll take it upon ourselves to make things right if they don’t?
Angry about insults to honor, perceived disrespect, etc.
We’re angry at the wrong person (e.g. a waiter instead of the cook)
We magnify offenses to justify our anger

Anger: What way?

But suppose we are angry at the right things? We live in a world full of things to be rightly angry about.
We should pay attention not only to why God is angry, but how God is angry.
When the Old Testament Speaks about Gods anger the constant refrain is “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”
God’s long nose
Jesus in Mark 3
Angry, but he counters the Pharisees refusal to love justice and do mercy with a picture of God’s love and mercy. He heals the man right in front of them.
God’s anger is in service to love and justice. His anger aims to win back the offender rather than defend his ego or simply execute punishment for the fun of it.
Even the Babylonian exile is depicted as judgement that leads to repentance. God is angry and executes judgement, but the hope is to restore the relationship, not just to punish.
Unhinged from justice, bad anger aims at another’s harm rather than their good.
Sermon on the mount

You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment

Our anger is often retributive. It aims to harm rather than restore
lex talionis
The New Revised Standard Version Concerning Retaliation

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also;

We can be assured that we do have a role to play in addressing injustice. But our place is not God’s place.
Rom 12:18-21
The New Revised Standard Version Marks of the True Christian

If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Easter and the Wrath of God

As Jesus entered Jerusalem, crowds cheered him because they had the wrong view of the wrath of God.
God was indeed angry. But he expressed his anger not with the sword, but with the cross
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