Looper column: Is God an angry person?

Shayne Looper
More Content Now USA TODAY NETWORK
Miami News Record

Columns share an author’s personal perspective.

*****

Is God an angry person? Someone might object that even to ask the question is to denigrate the God whom the Bible declares “is love.” Further, is it not misleading to speak of God as a person? The Bible plainly states that “God is not human.” To refer to the Deity as a “person,” someone might argue, is to use overly human terms.

This second objection needs to be answered before the first can be addressed. Christian theology, unlike pantheism, understands God to be a person; in fact, to be “the” person. Humans, unlike some other created beings, are persons precisely because they were made “in the image of God” with the intention that they should in some sense become like God.

If God is then a person - albeit more than a person - one might further ask if he is an angry person. Indeed, this is precisely what many of the new atheists have asserted about the Christian God. Richard Dawkins, for example, described God as “the most unpleasant character in all of fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser …” He goes on like this with 10 more contemptuously descriptive terms.

Before such a verbal onslaught, many of us cry, “Foul.” Dawkins descriptions ignore most of the biblical revelation and misrepresent what is left. The accusation of “bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser,” for example, is leveled because of the conquest of Canaan. There is much I do not understand about the conquest and that even causes me to shudder. However, to say the conquest is about ethnicity is simply false.

Further, the directive to conquer Canaan is given in just two of the Bible’s 1189 chapters. What about the rest? And what about the fact that God himself, throughout the Bible, commands his people to love the foreigners who live among them? To fail to reconcile these seeming contradictions - or even acknowledge them - is to play from a stacked deck.

In its other 1,187 chapters, the Bible’s descriptions of God’s love tower over what it has to say about his anger. The Bible, for example, never states that “God is wrath,” but does state categorically that “God is love.” Further, the Bible affirms that God loves the world and all he has made: humans, animals and inanimate creation.

It is patently false to describe God as an angry person, as if anger is one of his essential characteristics. We’ve all known some very loving person to express anger, but to describe him or her as an angry person would be a parody of the truth.

God is not an angry person - but that is not to say that God never expresses anger. The Bible is exceedingly clear that he does. The mistake we make is to treat God’s love as the antithesis of his anger. Love and anger are two sides of one reality; or, better yet, God’s anger is his loving response to the evil that threatens the beloved.

The idea that love and anger can be reconciled - in fact, that anger is a necessary and appropriate expression of love - is easy to understand. Imagine that a father who loves his daughter discovers that a con artist is playing on her affections in an attempt to rob her of her money. Will his love for his daughter not find expression in anger toward her abuser?

The Croatian theologian Miroslav Volf, who once scorned the wrath of God, changed his mind after seeing the terrible atrocities that were committed against the people of his homeland. He wrote, “I used to think that wrath was unworthy of God … 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.”

To think that God is not angry at abuse, harassment, bigotry, indifference, murder and self-serving lies is to think that God does not love the abused, the harassed and the oppressed. God is always loving. He is angry only when the objects of his love are abused and injured by themselves or by others.

Shayne Looper is the pastor of Lockwood Community Church in Coldwater, Michigan. His blog, “The Way Home,” is at shaynelooper.com.