My name is Solomon Keal. I am a minister for the General Church of the New Jerusalem, which is a Swedenborgian Christian denomination. These are some of my thoughts about the Lord, the symbolic meanings in the Bible, life after death, faith, charity, usefulness, loving the Lord and one's neighbor, the 2nd Coming, Swedenborg's Writings, and other theological stuff.

Monday, March 7, 2011

God's Anger in the Bible

In the New Church we know that God is never really angry (TCR 650), and that the places in the Bible where it describes the Lord being angry are describing an appearance. The analogy often given is that parents often appear angry to their children, when in fact the parents are acting out of love and a sense of protection. But to the children - from their natural selfish perspective - their parents' actions sometimes seems unfair and cruel.

I've been fortunate enough to grow up in the New Church with a solid sense that God is pure Love itself, as it says in 1 John 4:8,16. And so often times when I'm reading the Bible and I read passages that describe God's anger, I just sort of ignore them, and remind myself that it's just an appearance.

I have children of my own, and lately I was reading a story from the Bible to them. It was the story of the Golden Calf. God wanted to destroy the children of Israel! Moses was trying to intervene for the children of Israel, and to calm God’s anger towards them. (Exodus 32:7-14) I remember - as I was reading the story to them - I was wondering how they were going to take it. We had taught them very clearly that the Lord always loves us, and He never wants anything bad to happen to anyone. So what were they going to think about this?

They didn't bat an eye! Not a single question. And my kids are not afraid to ask questions when they don't understand something. Apparently it made sense to them!

So it got me thinking. It makes sense to children that God would get angry! After all, their parents get angry sometimes. And they themselves certainly get angry a lot of times. It's probably harder for them to grasp the idea of Someone never getting angry. Especially if they are taught that God is Human! I never thought about how important this image of God is for us. God is Somebody that can relate to the anger that we experience in our life.

And not only for children, I think the power in these passages in the literal sense of the Word is important for all of us. We know that we are created in God's image. Well, I experience anger. Where does that come from? As adults it's important for our emotional health to recognize that experiencing anger is a common human feeling. The experience of it is not good or evil in itself, it just is. It's what we do with it that can be good or evil. Maybe these passages about God's anger can remind us, as adults, that the experience of anger is very human. We are not flawed because we experience anger. We just need to learn how to deal with it in a healthy way. Once we do that, we can move away from Hell, and move towards God, who is Love itself.


  1. thanks Sol for changing the posting options! Now I can infiltrate your blog with MY thoughts. haha.

    Well put: well spoken, loving, AND discerining. I love how you write!


  2. First off all, Mr. Keal, thank you for your music. I hear you often on Whisperings and enjoy it.

    To respond to your post, if God is "never really angry" what about Sodom and Gomorrah, or Noah's flood? What about Hell, the eternal fire, as Jesus preached?

    I am not a parent (yet), but I am pretty sure my parents have been really angry at me at times, and it was not just the appearance of anger. Besides, wouldn't it be superficial if I was only just making myself look angry at my kids? But if what they did actually did make me angry, then they would know that it was really wrong.

    Looking forward,

  3. Good questions Kris. First of all, it’s an important principle in the Bible that ‘Evil is its own punishment.’ This can be seen in Job 18:8 “For he is cast into a net by his own feet,” and Proverbs 1:32 “For the turning away of the simple will slay them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them.” In Isaiah 3:9 “The look on their countenance witnesses against them, and they declare their sin as Sodom; they do not hide it. Woe to their soul! For they have brought evil upon themselves.” Also in Jeremiah 2:19 “Your own wickedness will correct you, and your backsliding will rebuke you. Know therefore and see that it is an evil and bitter thing that you have forsaken the Lord your God,” and also Jeremiah 4:18 “Your ways and your doings have procured these things for you. This is your wickedness, because it is bitter, because it reaches to your heart.”

    The people who died in Sodom and Gomorrah, and in Noah’s Flood didn’t die because God was angry and hated them (God cannot hate; God is Love Itself), but because those people were so evil that they brought destruction upon themselves.

    And Hell is the place that evil people go to, of their own free will. The Lord doesn't send them there against their will, He provides a place for evil people to live because ultimately He loves them.

    Now here’s the tricky part. The appearance was that God did it to them. The entire book of Job is a great illustration of this appearance. Satan is the one who brought misery and evil into Job’s life. But Job blamed God for it! It often appears to us that the Lord is the one who brings evil into our lives, and we ask ourselves and Him why He would do such a thing, or allow such a thing? But God never brings evil into anyone’s life. He only brings goodness into our lives. It is our perspective (a false, imperfect, merely human perspective) that makes it look like God does these things.

    And here’s the other tricky part. The Word of God involves many appearances. Jesus Himself spoke in parables, and didn’t speak without parables. The Author of the Bible was God, but it was written down by mere human servants of God, through their minds and hands. And so the literal sense of the Bible takes on our own merely human perspective on the truth. But because it is the Word of God, everything in the Bible contains deeper truths, that get more and more true the deeper we go.

    For example, if my daughter runs out into the street and almost gets hit by a car, I may scold her and appear very angry to her (I would in fact actually be angry). That’s like the literal sense of the Bible. But underneath that anger is an intense burning love and desire to protect the life of my daughter. She may not see that right away, but that is the underlying reality of my emotion.

    Another thing to keep in mind is that we will never be Perfectly Human in the way the God is the Divine Human. Our humanity is an imperfect image and likeness of His Humanity. So while we do get angry (even if it’s from love), that’s an imperfect version of the Lord’s love, which in reality never gets angry, because it’s a perfect love.

    But as you said, when we get angry our our kids it can be useful in inspiring them to stop doing wrong things. This is true in the Bible too. The thought that God could be angry at me, can be useful at times in getting me to stop doing wrong things. But the deeper truth is that He is Love itself and never actually gets angry. That’s one of the differences between Him and us.

    I hope that addresses some of your questions.
    It is a fascinating subject.

    - Solomon

    P.S. I'm glad you like my music :-)

  4. Hi again, thanks for responding, Mr. Keal. I agree that evil is its own punishment. Romans 1 also says that people receive within themselves their due 'penalty' for their perversion. However, I disagree when you say that God cannot hate. The Scriptures say “Jacob I loved but Esau I hated”. I also know that it says that God cannot do evil. So I'm led to conclude that “hate” in and of itself is not evil. Hating what is evil is a good thing.

    Ro 12:9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. (NIV)

    Ro 12:9 Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good. (KJV)

    I also disagree that God doesn't actively punish people for their sins. To quote Job:

    Job 34:10 “So listen to me, you men of understanding. Far be it from God to do evil,
    from the Almighty to do wrong.
    Job 34:11 He repays a man for what he has done;
    he brings upon him what his conduct deserves.
    Job 34:12 It is unthinkable that God would do wrong, that the Almighty would pervert justice.

    And Ezekiel:

    Eze 25:16 therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am about to stretch out my hand against the Philistines, and I will cut off the Kerethites and destroy those remaining along the coast.
    Eze 25:17 I will carry out great vengeance on them and punish them in my wrath. Then they will know that I am the LORD, when I take vengeance on them.

    So, the Lord, who does no wrong, exacts justice on those who do wrong, and that in itself cannot be evil because the Lord does only what is good.

    Thanks in advance!

  5. Hi Kris.
    Thanks for your great comments. You are right that hating evil is a good thing. I should have been more clear. What I meant was that it is not possible for God to hate people in the sense that we humans often hate other humans. But since God is Goodness and Love Itself, then He would of course abhor any kind of evil.

    Most of the places in the Bible where it talks about the Lord hating, it’s referring to Him hating something, rather than someone. Hating injustice, wickedness, robbery, evil, pride, divorce, lawlessness, etc. There are some passages that refer to the Lord hating a person, like the one you mentioned of God hating Esau. But I believe these are speaking to the appearance of truth, rather than the reality of truth. I think that passage actually clarifies that a bit:

    Romans 9:13-16 “As it is written, ‘Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.’ What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not! For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.” So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.”

    And here’s another great passage that addresses this:
    Matthew 5:43-44 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you,”

    ‘Hatred’ itself is something the Lord says is wrong:
    1 John 3:15 “Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.”
    Leviticus 19:17 “You shall not hate your brother in your heart.”
    Proverbs 10:12 “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all sins.”
    Proverbs 15:17 “Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a fatted calf with hatred.”

    Yes we should hate evil, but it is an evil itself to hate people, and so of course the Lord would not hate people either. It’s an important theological principle that we should love the person, not the evil. Our ‘neighbor’ is the goodness in everyone.

    And I have to disagree with you on God punishing people. I firmly believe that evil is it’s own punishment. I do believe that evil people get punished, but I don’t believe that it is God who punishes them. It appears that way, especially in the story of Job. And the Lord does allow for evil people to be punished. But the punishment comes from the evil itself. The Lord never wishes punishment on people (thus my statement that He cannot hate). He allows for the possibility of people bringing punishment on themselves, because He protects our freedom. And when people are in a state of evil, then the appearance is that God is punishing them for that evil.

    You are right that the Lord is a God of justice. But it is not a justice of hatred or revenge. It’s a justice of mercy and love. That’s why there are so often those pairings of ‘mercy and truth’ ‘justice and judgment,’ etc. throughout the Bible. The Lord is the ultimate balance and marriage of Goodness and Truth, Love and Wisdom, Mercy and Justice. It’s a model for us, which is why He commands us to love our enemies, and to not hate.

    Thanks for a great discussion on this. I love how discussions like this get me going back to the Lord’s Word, and I always learn new things each time.

    Have a great day!

    - Solomon