“God is love. That is His Nature and His love is not provoked,” writes Colin Smith in chapter 42 of Open. He continues: “But God’s anger is different… The Bible never tells us that God is wrath. It tells us that He is slow to anger (Psalm 103:8).”
I fall so short of God’s holiness! I’m quick to anger, and I have to be provoked to love. Many things set me off, make me angry. Some weeks, it is as if I’m living in a constant state of anger.
What Makes Me Angry
As I write this, it is Friday at 10:27 a.m. on the first day of November. I’m at Starbucks, and there is snow on the ground—and that makes me angry!
Two mornings ago, it snowed a lot—a lot for October, anyway. The weight of the snow, added to the weight of the leaves still clinging on, caused a large branch to fall from the silver maple tree in my front yard. That made me angry too.
Instead of thanking the Lord that one of the branches hovering over my house and car did not fall, I was angry that one of them still could.
I’m angry now, two days later, because the (expensive) company I called to take care of the remaining dangerous branches has not called me to schedule a time to come.
In His grace, the Lord reminds me of Jonah 4:4: “Do you do well to be angry?” And although I want to answer, “Yes, I do well to be angry” (Jonah 4:9), the memory of the story of Jonah reminds me that God is in control of all things. This humbles me and convicts me of my sin.
My anger is often unrighteous, as it is in this case because all that I’m angry about is a threat to my own convenience, comfort, and wallet.
But God gets angry too, and we know He is perfectly righteous. So, His anger is meaningful and always right. What are some things that Scripture says provoke God to anger?
What Makes God Angry
1.) Failure to Revere His Holiness
David and all the house of Israel were celebrating before the Lord, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals. And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the ark of God. (2 Samuel 6:5-7)
Take this passage one section at a time. First, “all the house of Israel were celebrating before the Lord.” The mood was great, and everyone was happy! Second, Uzzah commits what the Scripture says was an “error,” and touches the ark of God. And third, God strikes Uzzah down.
You might think, What is God doing? The oxen stumbled! It wasn’t really Uzzah’s fault. I have the same thoughts, and I am certainly not an expert on this passage. But I do know this: God is perfect and all His actions are righteous. He makes no mistakes. He never overreacts.
This passage then communicates, as I see it, that God’s holiness is serious business. Any offense, minor or major, unintentional or intentional, made a person liable to death. Fear the Lord, and honor His Holy Name with the utmost reverence.
And this is exactly why we praise Jesus. We are all liable to death, each one of us has fallen short of the glory of God. But God sent His own Son to provide a refuge for us, and Jesus took on the full wrath of God at the cross for the sake of those who believe in Him.
“You have done evil above all who were before you and have gone and made for yourself other gods and metal images, provoking me to anger.” (1 Kings 14:9)
Idolatry is not only against the Ten Commandments, not only bad for our spiritual development, not only foolish and hopeless but also something that makes God angry.
Imagine a Christian, married man tempted toward lust. God convicts Him, and the man knows it is against God’s Word. He senses that he’d keep himself back from fruitfulness in the spirit by engaging in the flesh. And he knows it is all fake, false, and foolish. Yet he continues.
He may wake from his stupor in sin when he confesses to his wife, and she rightfully says, “You have hurt me tremendously. And I am angry with you.” There is grace here!
She could respond with indifference, not caring for the marriage or for the state of his soul. But her anger is an act of grace because it is a catalyst bringing the man back into right living.
God’s anger, which we provoke when we trust in anything other than His name, aims to bring us back into right relationship with Him. It is an act of tremendous grace.
3.) Sin, Injustice, and Crime
Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die.” (2 Samuel 12:5)
David had sinned greatly. God described what David did:
You despised the word of the Lord… struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and have taken his wife to be your wife. (2 Samuel 12:9)
Before God said this to David through Nathan the prophet, God first had Nathan tell David the story of a rich man who stole a poor man’s only lamb.
I once heard someone say that humans have a stronger judicial sentiment (ability to see wrong in others) than moral conscience (ability to see wrong in ourselves). This seems true here with David. Though he was living in sin, he could still see and judge sin clearly in someone else.
David reflected the righteous judgment and anger of the Lord in his response to the story. He was provoked to great anger by the sin, the crime, the injustice committed by the rich man.
Don’t provoke your Lord to anger by sin, injustice, and crime. Honor the Lord by hating sin, injustice, and crime—and trust Him to be the perfect Judge the world desperately needs.
Offer Your Anger to the Lord
Jesus says, “For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged” (Matthew 7:2). Is there a better passage to demonstrate this truth than 2 Samuel 12:5? The man that was the rightful target of David’s righteous anger was himself!
This is why Jesus Christ is the Judge. Because only He can measure up to the measure by which He judges. When we get angry and cast judgment, we end up humbled—learning about our own failures.
(On that point, the tree guys came while I was at Starbucks, and they were working earlier, while I wrote about how I was angry at them for not coming.)
I think this is connected somehow to why Paul says we should put away anger (Ephesians 4:31; Colossians 3:8). Sometimes our anger is right, but many times our anger is misinformed, disproportionate, and unrighteous. So, when you feel angry, offer your anger, righteous or unrighteous, to Jesus in prayer.
The Lord has all things in His hands, and He promises to make all things right.