Why Is God So Angry?

Have you ever been confused by how seemingly angry God was in the Old Testament and how loving he seems now in the New Testament? Are we worshiping a repentant God who has decided to be nice now? Is the Bible talking about two different gods? Or is there a way to reconcile God’s love and God’s wrath?

I thought this was an excellent sermon dealing with those very questions

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30 thoughts on “Why Is God So Angry?

  1. I reached a major breaking point with Mormonism when I realized that the Book of Mormon did not really look at all to me like a comparable consistent document with the Bible.

    I reached a major breaking point with Christianity when I realized that the New Testament did not really look at all to me like a comparable consistent document with the Old Testament.

  2. No, but honeslty my observation was not really related to God’s character versus Jesus’s character. I have no problem reconciling that: I think “angry old testament Jehovah” and “nicey nice new testament Jesus” are both extremely distorted and radically misleading stereotypes. If it did turn out that OT Jehovah is the one and only God and Jesus is his incarnation, I would have exactly zero problem reconciling their personalities.

    Neither did my disconnect between BoM and Bible have anything at all to do with the personality of God as portrayed in the two.

  3. The reason the NT doesn’t look at all comparable to the OT is that the canon inconveniently skips 500 or so years of developments in second temple Judaism. Once you take that into account, it fills in a lot of the gaps between the OT and the NT. At least it did for me.

  4. I’m co-teaching the Old Testament this year, and I find it isn’t easy if I want to take the text seriously (like the sermon, of which I’ve listened to about half, says we should do).

    I’m not sure I’m totally sold, but the main point of the sermon (that the wrath of God is a response of God rather than an attribute) makes quite a bit of sense. But God’s actions (or what he commands) I still struggle with trying to understand. Both LDS and Mormons seem prone in this case to providing (or attempting to provide) pat answers, but they don’t satisfy me very much.

    An example comes from the reading for this week. In Numbers 22, Moses is upset at his warriors because they don’t kill off all the Midianites. So he basically orders the army to kill everyone (adults and children) except for the virgins, which the fighters are supposed to keep for themselves. And God seems to be happy with this, even telling Moses how to divide the plunder, which includes the virgins. (The nonvirgins don’t even get the advantage of being treated like chattel.)

    I have a hard time equating that with a loving God. This sermon would suggest that such action was an appropriate response to evil, but I have a hard time accepting that.

  5. The reason the NT doesn’t look at all comparable to the OT is that the canon inconveniently skips 500 or so years of developments in second temple Judaism. Once you take that into account, it fills in a lot of the gaps between the OT and the NT. At least it did for me.

    That’s a matter of historical change. I’m saying that as a religious document, the New Testament resembles the Old Testament in no way whatsoever to me. They don’t even look like they are a part of the same religion. If you scattered all of the pieces throughout the library and I walked in as a religious blank slate with no exposure to the Bible or Christianity whatsoever and you said “in here are a number of different works, which taken together compose the canon of one religion,” I do not think I would walk in and pick out all of the parts of the Bible and say “these all go together.”

  6. I have a hard time equating that with a loving God.

    The problem is that “a loving god” is the pat answer. God is a deity. God is complicated. God is a god, not a human being, and not a personified concept. God is sublime, which means he is great and terrible and intense: he is love, but he is also death and life and power. God is not an omnipotent stuffed animal.

  7. I think our view of God is a reflection of what is going on inside ourselves. When we are ruthless, he (or she, or it) is ruthless. When we are kind, he (or she, or it) is kind. If we want to understand the wrath of God, and his mercy, I think we have to look inward.

  8. I’m co-teaching the Old Testament this year, and I find it isn’t easy if I want to take the text seriously (like the sermon, of which I’ve listened to about half, says we should do).

    I don’t know what you mean by taking the text seriously, but it sounds like you still are not taking it seriously enough. The text makes historical claims that one ought to investigate. If the text makes claims that event X happens at time Y in place Z, then part of taking the text seriously is to go out and see what empirical evidence says about event X, if the empirical evidence is available.

    So let’s look at your example:

    An example comes from the reading for this week. In Numbers 22, Moses is upset at his warriors because they don’t kill off all the Midianites. So he basically orders the army to kill everyone (adults and children) except for the virgins, which the fighters are supposed to keep for themselves.

    The archeology points to the fact that Midian was uninhabited during the time period when the book of Numbers purports to have taken place. If there are no people there, it’s hard to see how there could be a slaughter. Conclusion: God didn’t command them to do this, since it could not have happened. This is a later story embellished for later purposes (most likely religio-political purposes).

  9. That’s a matter of historical change. I’m saying that as a religious document, the New Testament resembles the Old Testament in no way whatsoever to me. They don’t even look like they are a part of the same religion.

    I don’t think you can separate the historical change from the religious change, so for me the historical change explains the religious change. But even on a very cursory level, the NT assumes the existence of the OT by quoting it all the time.

    If you scattered all of the pieces throughout the library and I walked in as a religious blank slate with no exposure to the Bible or Christianity whatsoever and you said “in here are a number of different works, which taken together compose the canon of one religion,” I do not think I would walk in and pick out all of the parts of the Bible and say “these all go together.”

    It depends by what you mean by them all going together. From a 21st century reading of both, you are probably correct. However, I don’t think an ancient reader would agree. In any case, intertextuality shows the connectedness between the NT and the OT. I take that as fairly objective evidence that the the NT was made to be read with reference to the OT, hence they go together in some way. Again, this may not be satisfying to the 21st century reader, but it is there.

  10. I don’t think you can separate the historical change from the religious change, so for me the historical change explains the religious change.

    But I’m not talking about “religious change” in terms of the way people thought and rpacticed. I’m saying these two texts don’t really look like two complementary pieces of a whole, unless you assume they do a priori.

    But even on a very cursory level, the NT assumes the existence of the OT by quoting it all the time.

    Irrelevant. Lots of books quote the Old Testament all the time. That doesn’t make them clearly both components of a cohesive religious narrative.

    It depends by what you mean by them all going together. From a 21st century reading of both, you are probably correct. However, I don’t think an ancient reader would agree. In any case, intertextuality shows the connectedness between the NT and the OT. I take that as fairly objective evidence that the the NT was made to be read with reference to the OT, hence they go together in some way. Again, this may not be satisfying to the 21st century reader, but it is there.

    Again, you miss my point entirely. I’m not saying that they appear to be created in independent vacuum chambers with no reference to each other. I’m saying they don’t look like two chapters of the same book. They don’t look like two pieces of the same word from the same god. not because god’s personality appears to be different, but because the texts are not even the same kinds of text.

    The same way that I don;t buy that the Koran and the Old and New Testaments are a part of the same religion, even though the Koran references the Bible all over the place.

  11. They aren’t two chapters of the same book. They are 66 distinct books (with various genres) collected in one book.

  12. Short answer: What Tim said.

    Long answer: I don’t know what you are looking for. Isaiah is as unrelated to Genesis in terms of theology, content, genre, and style as is the book of Matthew. So your presupposition of the OT being a coherent whole in some way is probably just as suspect as finding the NT to be different than the OT.

  13. Right, you’re still missing my point. Which is fine; I’m not trying to make a persuasive argument.

    I’m saying that to me, the Old and New Testaments do not look like they are the same religion, at all. Because of that, I don’t buy that Jesus and Christianity are somehow the next step or the continuation or fulfillment of the Old Testament. It simply does not look like they are parts of any whole at all, without reference to coherence. To me, the Old and New Testaments look like fundamentally different kinds of documents from a fundamentally different religion.

  14. I relate to Kullervo on this, I think its terribly confusing to try to make sense of what goes on in the NT and the OT and try to make it all cohere. I personally think that almost nobody nowadays does it.

    Most Christians either just ignore the radical differences.

    Of course, in essence, the NT tells us to ignore the Old testament. That is what the “fulfillment” move is all about.

  15. Just because we look inward to see God does not mean that he (or she, or it) has no external reality. We see in the external in terms defined by our internal proclivities. Enraged and scared, I look into the world and see an enraged, scared god (“Death to the heretics, now! They are coming to get the children!”). At peace, I look into the world and see a peaceful, loving god (“Love your enemies. Do good to them that hate you.”) The OT Yahweh is not always Rambo (witness the book of Isaiah, where the death threats are interrupted by some really tender moments), and the NT Jesus is not always a male version of Mother Teresa (witness his attack on the moneylenders in the gospel of John).

  16. David Clark said (in reference to the divine command to kill all the Midianites except for the virgins):

    The archeology points to the fact that Midian was uninhabited during the time period when the book of Numbers purports to have taken place. If there are no people there, it’s hard to see how there could be a slaughter. Conclusion: God didn’t command them to do this, since it could not have happened. This is a later story embellished for later purposes (most likely religio-political purposes).

    Well, this is an LDS/evangelical blog, and I’m not sure that either evangelicals or Mormons feel all that comfortable casually tossing out the historicity of the portions of the Old Testament that present themselves as history, nor to “explain” this all by saying, as many mainline Protestants might, “God didn’t really tell them to slaughter the Midianites, although whoever wrote Numbers might have believed that was the case.”

    And even if Number isn’t, strictly speaking, accurate history, that still leaves the question: Why would inspired scriptures, even if describing God using a nonhistorical or mythological framework (which parts of the Old Testament are), picture him as someone who would expect his chosen people to commit genocide? This goes far beyond mere anger. God comes across not only as angry, but also as petty and vindictive. This is far from the only instance in the Old Testament where behaviors that would be universally condemned today seem to be routinely accepted.

    I don’t have a good answer. Or it might be better to say that I do have some answers — but that those “answers” raise questions of their own in defining what is truly scriptural or revelatory. I find it a struggle to deal with these accounts (although struggling isn’t necessarily a bad thing).

  17. Tim,

    I listened to the Sermon, I think the Sermon makes some sense of wrath as a part of Diety. It is reminiscent of 2 Nephi 2.

    Pursuant to my previous point, my confusion, I don’t think the New Testament or the Old combined provide a very understandable basis for building a ethical system. We may want to emulate Jesus or follow his ethical teachings, but we generally recoil at those who want to emulate the nation of Israel in the actions it takes to follow some of the commands of Jehovah.

    David Clark’s conclusion has generally been my own, i.e. that God didn’t do everything that the OT says He did. But then again, I tend to agree with the speaker that if you start judging God you are in some ways putting yourself above Him, and I am certainly don’t believe I can circumscribe with my thoughts the way a God “ought” to behave.

  18. Eric, my belief is somewhere between David’s and the following:

    God chose to deal with nations/peoples in the Old Testament rather than individuals. So the wrath he responded with affected nations with a broad sword. Most people don’t have any problem with God wiping out an evil person (Hitler) or even a large group of evil people (Nazis). So I don’t know why we should be disturbed if he chose to wipe out an evil nation, which may not have even been as large as the Nazi party.

    A friend of mine served in Iraq as a civilian in the provisional government. He said it was at the point when he saw 4 year old kids dropping grenades off of bridges at passing convoys that he started to understand how a particular culture or nation might be so invaded by evil that God would choose to wipe it out (He was NOT saying this was the case in Iraq).

  19. “So I don’t know why we should be disturbed if he chose to wipe out an evil nation, which may not have even been as large as the Nazi party.”

    I think we should always be disturbed at the killing of people regardless of whether or not they are personally guilty, just because they belong to an evil culture.

    Killing the Nazi’s who prosecuted war and genocide is one thing, wholesale slaughter of the Hitler youth is quite another.

  20. I think the main problem I have with concept of God’s wrath is that it seems applied in a completely incoherent way. This means that ultimately I am not going to be able to understand it.

    Although I can live with not understanding God, but its (1) hard to trust all of the stories describing God’s wrath and (2) hard to believe most of the rationalizations made for Biblical atrocities. I think the enormity of some of these atrocities, and the bizarre justifications in the text are what cause me to disbelieve the stories until I have firmer evidence that God did what the text says.

  21. I believe that God is the father and he continues to give his children chances to learn even though it is hard to see how stubborn a child behaves. Satan continues to push us that everything in this world is easy and should be given to us.

    Children of God that is the furthest thing was the truth. I do not think we can began to understand the depth of his love unless we were asked to give up our child for the world.

    How many would? Abraham took his son to the altar and trusted God to do as he would. Do you have that kind of faith? I am a mother and would hope I could but unless asked do not believe I can answer.

    I would lay down my life for my child though and that is what God has done for us.

  22. The Bible is clear that God gave his Son and the Son complied readily even though he didn’t really want to at the time.

  23. see truthinscripture.com It does a good job showing that NOTHING was changed at all, but fulfilled in a way that many do not understand.

    We need spiritual eyes to see.

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