Fear of God’s Anger is Wisdom
FOR many persons in Christendom the thought of God’s becoming angry seems strange. In fact, they object when Christian witnesses of Jehovah tell them that God is going to express his anger in the worldwide war of Armageddon. “How can that be?” they ask. “Does not the Bible tell us that God is love?”
That it does, at 1 John 4:8, 16. God is love, that is, he is the personification of true love. This we can see both from the bounty of creation all about us as well as from his inspired Word, the Holy Bible. But the fact remains that God’s anger is mentioned some two hundred times from Exodus through Revelation, to say nothing of the times mention is made of his rage, his wrath, his fury and his indignation.
Moreover, God’s anger is truly something to be reckoned with, especially in view of such warnings as this: “Before there comes upon you people the burning anger of Jehovah, before there comes upon you the day of Jehovah’s anger, seek Jehovah.” (Zeph. 2:2, 3) Also the Bible tells us that “God is a consuming fire” toward those meriting his wrath.—Deut. 4:24.
It is to our interest, therefore, to consider the nature, that is, the characteristics or basic principles of God’s anger, how he manifests it, and why and how God’s anger can be harmonized with his being love. Then, too, we can appreciate more clearly why fearing God, that is, fearing to displease him or to arouse his righteous anger, is truly the course of wisdom.—Ps. 111:10; Prov. 9:10.
PRINCIPLES GOVERNING GOD’S ANGER
First of all, God’s anger is always expressed in accord with wisdom based on full knowledge of all the facts: “There is not a creation that is not manifest to his sight, but all things are naked and openly exposed to the eyes of him with whom we have an accounting.”—Heb. 4:13.
Human creatures may make a mistake when expressing anger, but not Jehovah God. Due to his infinite wisdom he is able to express his anger in the best possible manner and at the right time and place for it. The fact that he never makes a mistake should be a comfort to us. Yet this is also fear-inspiring, for there is nothing that we can hide from him. Achan of Joshua’s day found this out, to his great grief, when he secretly took some spoil during the destruction of Jericho, in violation of God’s instructions. Among others who acted as if they could hide something from God’s eyes and who came to grief were Ananias and Sapphira in the days of the Christian apostles.—Josh. 7:16-26; Acts 5:1-11.
Secondly, God’s anger is always expressed in accord with his justice. Yes, “The Rock, perfect is his activity, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness, with whom there is no injustice; righteous and upright is he.” (Deut. 32:4) When God’s anger was about to be expressed against the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham questioned the justice of it, saying: “It is unthinkable of you . . . to put to death the righteous man with the wicked one . . . Is the Judge of all the earth not going to do what is right?” But if not even ten righteous persons could be found there, Abraham realized, he could not deny that God was indeed just in destroying those cities.—Gen. 18:25.
Thirdly, God’s anger is always backed up by his infinite power. He has all the resources necessary to express whatever degree of anger he wishes in whatever manner he desires. He never finds himself frustrated because of being righteously angry and unable to do anything about it. As King Jehoshaphat said of Jehovah: “Are there not in your hand power and mightiness, with no one to hold his ground against you?”—2 Chron. 20:6.
And fourthly, God’s anger is always expressed in harmony with the fact that he is love. While he decreed death for the willful manslayer, he also made loving provision for unintentional manslayers by means of “cities of refuge.” (Num. 35:9-34) At times his displeasure may be mild, bringing only chastisement that disciplines and improves the person, as evidence of God’s love. (Heb. 12:5-11) True, God brings destruction upon the wicked, but he thereby shows love for the righteous, mercifully bringing them relief and deliverance.—Ps. 145:20; 2 Thess. 1:6-9.
EXPRESSED BY VARIOUS MEANS
God has used a number of means to express his anger. Thus at times he employed supernatural phenomena, as when he destroyed the wicked in Noah’s day by a global flood. He used fire from heaven to wipe out the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. He used various kinds of supernatural means to plague the Egyptians ten times and to destroy Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea.—Gen. 6:5-7; 7:1, 11-23; 19:24, 25; Ex. 7:1–15:21.
Then again, the natural laws of retribution, of cause and effect, that he has put into operation, act to express his anger, indirectly, as it were. So, if individuals violate God’s moral laws, they must suffer the consequences. They ‘reap what they sow.’ (Gal. 6:7, 8) For example, by overindulging in alcoholic beverages, by promiscuous sex relations and by using marijuana and other drugs people bring upon themselves physical and mental harm. This is really an indirect expression of God’s anger. That this is the way to view these matters is clear from the inspired declaration that Lesbians and other homosexuals receive “in themselves the full recompense, which was due for their error.”—Rom. 1:24-27.
Also God may use various human agencies to express his anger. The armies of Israel under Joshua expressed God’s anger against the wicked and depraved Canaanites, for their ‘iniquity had come to its completion.’ As Moses reminded his people: “It is for the wickedness of these nations that Jehovah your God is driving them away from before you.”—Deut. 9:5; Gen. 15:16.
But centuries later the Israelites themselves were guilty of “making jest at the messengers of the true God and despising his words and mocking at his prophets, until the rage of Jehovah came up against his people.” He expressed his anger by means of the foreign armies of Nebuchadnezzar. They desolated the land, destroyed Jerusalem and its temple and took its people captive.—2 Chron. 36:16-21.
God allows the local governments, “Caesar,” to serve as a means for expressing his anger against individual violators of proper human laws that harmonize with God’s laws. Thus concerning the authority of these governments we read: “If you are doing what is bad, be in fear: for it is not without purpose that it bears the sword; for it is God’s minister, an avenger to express wrath upon the one practicing what is bad.”—Rom. 13:1-4.
Still another human agency God uses at times to express his anger is the judiciary committee of a local Christian congregation, such committee being responsible for the spiritual welfare of that congregation. When this committee, in the discharge of its duties, excommunicates a willful wrongdoer, it is expressing God’s anger against a wrongdoer. A Scriptural precedent for such action is recorded at 1 Corinthians 5:1-13, where the Corinthian congregation is commanded, “Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.”
Chief of all instruments used by Jehovah God to express his anger against the wicked are Jesus Christ and his angelic army. In particular will these do so at “the war of the great day of God the Almighty” to be fought at Har–Magedon. (Rev. 16:14, 16; 19:11-21) Surely Jehovah God has many effective means to express his anger, which fact is added reason for us wisely to fear incurring his displeasure.
CAUSES FOR GOD’S ANGER
Among the main causes for Jehovah God’s expressing his anger are false worship and apostasy. Since he is the Universal Sovereign, the Most High, and the Creator of all things seen and unseen, he is entitled to the exclusive devotion of all his intelligent creation. As he himself says: “I Jehovah your God am a God exacting exclusive devotion.” Those failing to render him exclusive devotion rightly arouse his anger.—Ex. 20:5.
All lawlessness, all immorality, sexual and otherwise, also arouses God’s anger. And so we read that “on account of those things,” that is, on account of “fornication, uncleanness, sexual appetite, hurtful desire, and covetousness,” “the wrath of God is coming.” (Col. 3:5, 6; Eph. 5:3-6) Because of God’s great respect for blood and for human life, those who willfully take human life and/or misuse blood can also expect to feel God’s anger.—Gen. 9:3-6; Lev. 17:10; Isa. 26:21; Acts 15:20, 29; Rev. 16:6; 18:24.
Still another cause for God’s anger is opposition to his servants, either by oppressing them or by rebelling against those upon whom God has conferred authority. Because Egypt oppressed God’s people He sent upon that nation ten plagues and finally drowned Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea. (Ex. 14:26-28; 15:7) During Israel’s journey in the wilderness Korah, Dathan and Abiram openly rebelled against God’s servant Moses. God expressed his anger against these rebels by causing the earth beneath them to open up and to swallow the rebels Dathan and Abiram together with their families, while Korah and two hundred and fifty of his supporters were destroyed by fire.—Num. 16:1-35; 26:9-11.
That those who persecute Christ’s followers will also experience God’s anger the Scriptures also make clear: “It is righteous on God’s part to repay tribulation to those who make tribulation for you.”—2 Thess. 1:6-9; 1 Thess. 2:16.
Failure to exercise faith in Jehovah God, in effect, shows that one doubts God’s truthfulness or doubts his power and willingness to fulfill his promises. So, while a Christian may not engage in idolatry or be guilty of apostasy, may not indulge in immoral “works of the flesh,” and may not oppose God’s appointed servants, yet if he should ‘shrink back’ from following the course of true faith, he would also merit God’s anger and destruction,—Heb. 10:38, 39.
HARMONIZING GOD’S ANGER WITH GOD’S LOVE
That God’s anger can be harmonized with his being love the Scriptures make clear. This is so because, first of all, anger is not a dominant quality of God. His Word, in fact, counsels us: “Do not have companionship with anyone given to anger.” (Prov. 22:24) God is not “given to anger”; with him it is the exception rather than the rule. He is a “happy God.” (1 Tim. 1:11) You cannot be angry and happy at the same time. Love is his dominant quality and it makes him happy to express it. He is “slow to anger.” Having perfect self-control, he is able to put off expressing anger as long as his principles allow him to do so.—Neh. 9:17; Isa. 42:14.
That is why his Word tells us: “I take delight, not in the death of the wicked one, . . . why is it that you should die, O house of Israel?” And, to comfort repentant ones, he says by another prophet: “He will certainly not hold onto his anger forever, for he is delighting in loving-kindness. He will again show us mercy.”—Ezek. 33:11; Mic. 7:18, 19.
Proof of this is seen in that God gave the dearest treasure of his heart, his only-begotten Son, to die for man’s sins. By means of this sacrifice God was able to hold out everlasting life and an escape from God’s anger to all who will exercise faith in his Son.—John 3:16, 36; Rom. 6:23.
That love, rather than anger, is God’s predominant quality is also to be seen by this: The expression of his anger is of short duration as compared to the duration of his loving-kindness and goodwill. So we read of the day of his vengeance but of the year of his goodwill. (Isa. 61:1, 2) Likewise the psalmist, King David, who on three occasions had been the object of God’s anger as well as receiving truly unique expressions of God’s favor, mercy and loving-kindness, said: “Being under his [God’s] anger is for a moment, being under his good will is for a lifetime.”—Ps. 30:5.
King David had the right understanding of God’s anger. And he knew that God does not relish or “nurse” his anger but delights in showing goodwill and loving-kindness. But David also appreciated that to fear God’s anger was truly the course of wisdom, even as his further words show:
“Jehovah is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness. He will not for all time keep finding fault, neither will he to time indefinite keep resentful. He has not done to us even according to our sins; nor according to our errors has he brought upon us what we deserve. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, his loving-kindness is superior toward those fearing him. As a father shows mercy to his sons, Jehovah has shown mercy to those fearing him. But the loving-kindness of Jehovah is from time indefinite even to time indefinite toward those fearing him, and his righteousness to the sons of sons, toward those keeping his covenant and toward those remembering his orders so as to carry them out.” Wisely fearing God’s anger while loving him for his goodness, we can join David in saying: “Bless Jehovah, all you his works, in all places of his domination. Bless Jehovah.”—Ps. 103:8-11, 13, 17, 18, 22.