When I was in public high school, we had to read part of a famous sermon called Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, by Jonathan Edwards. He graphically pictured sinners as spiders dangling by a thread over the fire of Hell. He also asserted that God is angrier at this moment with some who are living than with others who are already in Hell.
Do you believe that? Is God angry? I don’t believe my teacher thought so. When I later studied the Bible on the subject, I was surprised by what I found.
I learned that God’s anger is pure. The biblical command, "Be angry and sin not" reminds us that there is an anger that is justified. God always has this kind of perfect, holy anger.
The Apostle Paul said, "The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men…" Romans 1:18a
King David said, "God is a just judge, and God is angry with the wicked every day." Psalm 7:11 (NKJV) And the Apostle John said, "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him." John 3:36
Note that these verses teach that God is not only angry with sin but also with the sinner. Since God sees everything (Hebrews 4:13), He evaluates perfectly. Whenever God is angry it is for holy reasons.
Sometimes we think of God as a judge sitting on the bench who passively issues sentences to guilty persons. But is God like this? The original words used for God’s anger are passionate words. Why? Because, unlike our court judges, God Himself has been sinned against.
Notice the emotion in Nahum 1, where God is identified as jealous, avenging and filled with wrath (verse 2). Verse 6 is even more pointed. "Who can withstand his indignation? Who can endure his fierce anger? His wrath is poured out like fire; the rocks are shattered before him."
However, even in the midst of His fury, God is self-controlled. The Bible teaches that He is slow to anger (Nahum 1:3), and most of us learned long ago that God is love. But while a loving God certainly is willing to hold off His judgment, it is just as certain that He will judge sin.
Romans 2:5-6 describes it this way: "But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God ‘will give to each person according to what he has done.’" In verse 16 of the same chapter it says that this will occur "on the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares."
Why is God so angry? There are at least three reasons.
1. Because of the sheer number of your sins. If you were to sin only 10 times a day for one year, you would disobey God 3,650 times. But if you sinned 10 times a day for 15 years, you would sin 54,750 times! You are a professional sinner! Yet, how many times did Adam sin before he was cursed by God?
2. Because you have sinned against such an infinite God and high command. There are different levels of sin and punishment (Luke 10:12; 12:42-48). A crime is weighed according to the seriousness of the command and the stature of the person who is sinned against. It is one thing to disobey your coach at school. It is another thing to disobey a judge. It is one thing to turn in a late term paper. It is another thing to murder the president. The highest command is to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength." The greatest being is God. Each time you sin, you commit the highest crime against the greatest being! God ought to be angry.
3. Because you have sinned against God’s greatest act of love. Christ was sent into the world of men and women out of love (John 3:16). But many of your friends, and perhaps you also, have rejected Christ up to this very moment. This rebellion is a sin against compassion. Is it any wonder that God is angry with those who think little of His love?
How can you be rescued from this holy anger? Only through propitiation. But what does that mean?
The word "propitiation" (pro-pish-ee-ay-shun; sometimes translated, atonement) means this: Jesus fully satisfied the just anger of God for people like you by dying in your place, taking on himself all the wrath you deserve. We learn about this in Romans 3:24-25 and Hebrews 2:17. God’s just fury, indignation and anger for sins were poured out on Christ for every sinful person who will come to him by faith.
And that is great news!