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An Angry God ? spiritual wisdom logo

Is God an angry God? Are we all sinners in the hands of an angry God? Or is God’s anger just an ‘appearance’ of the truth?

The Bible, particularly the Old Testament, is full of passages which describe an angry God. For example:

Even at Horeb you provoked the Lord to wrath, and the Lord was so angry with you that he was ready to destroy you.  Deuteronomy 9:8

Then the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you, and you shall perish quickly from off the good land that he has given to you.  Joshua 23:16

Behold, the day of the Lord comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the land a desolation and to destroy its sinners from it.  Isaiah 13:9

While the food was still in their mouths, the anger of God rose against them, and he killed the strongest of them and laid low the young men of Israel.  Psalm 78:30-31

These passages, and many more, seem to describe an angry God who is capable of extreme anger even to point where he threatens death and destruction.

lunar cycleIf you take these as literally true you are likely to reach one of two conclusions. Firstly you may conclude that this is really the true nature of God – an angry God that can punish and destroy sinners. Or, secondly, you may think this idea is so inconsistent with the idea that God is love that you are forced to conclude that the whole thing is a nonsense and God does not exist.

But there is another viewpoint.

Just for a moment think about these two statements about the natural world:

The Sun rises in the east and sets in the west

During the lunar cycle the Moon grows larger and then grows smaller

Now we all know that the Sun does not actually rise in the east and set in the west but it appears so because of the rotation of the Earth. And the Moon does not actually grow larger and then smaller but it appears so because it is always half illuminated by the Sun and as the Moon orbits the Earth we get to see more or less of the illuminated half.

In past times many people believed that what they saw happening to the Sun and Moon was actually the truth whereas we know it is an appearance of the truth – the reality is quite different.

And this same principle can apply to the spiritual truth found in the Bible.

God is a God of unconditional love who offers us his love and allows us the free will to accept it or misuse it or reject it. There can be no anger associated with unconditional love and there can be no punishment if what is offered freely is rejected. Anger and punishment are totally inconsistent with unconditional love. There cannot be an angry God who is also a God of love. And there cannot be ‘free will’ and then punishment if you choose the wrong way. But do we have the wisdom to see things this way?

What the Bible says about an angry God is just an ‘appearance’ of the truth. It ‘appears’ that God is angry with us and punishes us when we turn our back on his love. But the reality is that the anger is in us and we are punishing ourselves.

Imagine a truly loving parent advising their grown up child to give up a particularly bad habit. The child persists in the habit and they continue to reject their parents advice. The parent knows that they must leave the decision up to their child but, because they love the child, they keep offering the same advice. Anger begins to build in the child and they then start to see their loving parent as being angry with them because what they both want is so different.

And the same is true of our relationship with God. To the extent that we turn away from his love then what is really good and true we begin to see as bad and false. The world gets turned upside down and instead of seeing a loving God we see and feel the presence of an angry God.

This theme is present throughout the theology contained in Emanuel Swedenborg’s writings as in this extract:

The meaning of 'anger' as a turning away is evident from many places in the Word, especially from those where anger or wrath, meaning a turning away, is attributed to Jehovah or the Lord. Not that Jehovah or the Lord ever turns away but that a person does so; and when a person turns away it appears to him as if the Lord does so since he is not heard. The Word speaks in keeping with the appearance. In addition, since 'anger' is a turning away, it is also a hostility towards what is good and true on the part of those who have turned away.  Arcana Caelestia 5798

It is a Divine truth that the Lord is never angry, never punishes anyone, let alone does evil to anyone, and that from the Lord nothing but good ever comes. Nevertheless in its earliest stages this truth declares that the Lord is angry when someone sins, and that the Lord therefore punishes; indeed with some people it declares that evil comes from the Lord. But as a person progresses from early childhood, grows up, and matures in judgement he casts away that which from the appearance seemed to him to be the truth and gradually takes up the truth itself, which is that the Lord is never angry and does not punish, let alone perform evil.  Arcana Caelestia 3131

 

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