WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT ANGER
Anger: a strong feeling of annoyance, displeasure, or hostility – Oxford English Dictionary.
I looked up Oxford Dictionary and the Concordance that lists all the words of the Bible. I thought interesting that in English language an angry emotion prompts both constructive and destructive actions. Anger can motivate you to take a positive restorative action; but when anger turns to hatred, your ensuing action becomes destructive. The use of the anger word in the Bible also has the double-edged implication.
In Concordance I found the adjective “angry” 174 times in the Old Testament (OT) but only 3 in the New Testament (NT); the noun “anger” 65 times in the OT and 6 in the NT. I looked up the ‘anger’ word only, but there are also a lot more angry situations in the OT than in the NT. In other words, there is more anger in the Old Testament. Why is that? There must be a good reason for this.
The OT contains 39 books and NT 27. But a third more number of books in the OT does not explain why there are so much more anger in the Hebrew Bible. My guess is that the belief in God evolved among the Jews: from an angry, dominating, jealous, and possessive power towards a caring and faire-minded parent figure. That was an evolutionary process of belief system, from the creation story through the history of Hebrew people, finally into the time of Jesus in the space of about four thousand years. God of Yahweh is very different by the time He revealed himself in Jesus of Nazareth. The Bible is the travelogue of a progressive spiritual journey.
In the beginning, there was a god who claimed all the power, was jealous and vengeful against all those who annoyed him or did not completely submit to him. You find him most in the first five books of the Bible. He was angry with Adam and Eve just because they didn’t obey God’s commandment: they ate a forbidden fruit because it would give them god-like ability. This does not make much sense because God made humans according to his image. And yet, he didn’t want them to have a god-like ability: a contradiction within the same book.
God was angry with Cain who killed his brother Abel out of jealousy. God chose Abel’s offering of animal sacrifice over Cain’s vegetables. It shows the hunter gatherers’ anger with an economic progress; from hunting to agriculture. It is a typical case of anger of the one who becomes obsolete. This passage clearly shows religious people’s nostalgia for ‘good-old hunting days, which are passing. Why did they think God was angry with progress?
God was also angry with the whole world who acted against his wishes: angels were marrying human women and creating a race of giants. Why is this so bad? It does not make much sense to me. But God punished the whole world and killed every living thing with a great flood, except those who were on the boat. But He in the end regrets the cataclysmic consequence and promised Noah never to repeat such a devastating punishment. Here a merciful God appeared. The story of Jonah is another one where God decided not to punish people: an introduction of a loving God.
Then, the faithful people ran into a serious dilemma. Pain and suffering were not always angry God’s punishment for the evil and unfaithful. Obedient people suffer too. Job was angry with God, because he was always faithful and just and yet suffered grievously. He asked God, “Why, why, why?” The Book of Job does not really give an answer. It simply concluded that God was powerful and in charge, so just “suck it up” was the message. He is still arbitrary God. But one can be angry with God, and can question Him, “why.” So the Bible progressed from an angry God to anger of people with a seemingly unfair God.
Another step forward taken in the Bible is the anger of righteous people with unjust measures and unfair business: the anger with unjust people. Prophet Amos was angry with crooked scales used by profiteering merchants who cheated customers. He went on to denounce injustice generally. This is the third stage in the progress: God is just and fair, no longer arbitrary.
What is wonderful is an appearance of forgiving, loving, and merciful God in the Prophet Hosea. God never gives up unfaithful people just like Hosea didn’t. He loved his wife. Hosea went after promiscuous unfaithful wife even to a brothel where she ended up. He spent fortune to buy her back. In Hosea, anger is shifted from people to evil itself. He is angry with evil that enslaved his wife to illustrate the love of God. God is now forgiving and loving but hates evil that ensnares people.
The final stage of the progress, to my belief, in the evolution of God, is the image of a suffering servant, a lamb who suffers and dies for others. (Isaiah chapter 53) That is the image of God that became reality in the life of Jesus. “God so loves the world that he gave his own son.” (John 3:16) And this is the apex of our Judeo-Christian tradition. Does angry God disappear with Jesus Christ? No, it goes toward a different direction: false religions that exploit vulnerable people.
Jesus got angry with religious leaders who misled people away from the belief in loving God. He was angry with the religious establishment who profit from innocent and gullible people. He kicked out money changers and sellers of animals for offering from the temple court yard, who enriched the temple and made priests fat and powerful. The temple religion tried to convince people that they have to buy forgiveness.
Another kind of anger you find post-Jesus is with legalism. Paul was angry with those who insist on the observance of the laws of Moses as the way to salvation, rather than belief in the forgiving and merciful God. (Paul’s letter to the Galatians) He was angry with the redundant and retrogressive idea that you have to follow the letters of the laws to please the angry God, rather than believing in his love. Paul’s anger is restorative not punitive. Ephesians 4:26 says, “Do not let your righteous anger lead to sin (destructive action). The case in point is the anger of the older brother of the prodigal son. He was angry with the one who strayed and wasted his life and father’s money. (Luke 15:28) This is a destructive anger, while father’s was the love that forgave the prodigal son.
Conclusion: Nature of anger evolved in the Bible as our belief in God.