Does God get angry? That was the topic of discussion in a Bible study I attended a while back. Some people said Yes, others said No.
Those who didn’t want an angry God said, “God is loving and kind!” The others countered with Bible passages that speak about a God of wrath.
After a few moments, I turned to a friend I’ll call Harry, who was the father of two teenage daughters and one of those who insisted that God does not get angry. “How would you feel,” I said, “if you were to come home one evening and find an intruder assaulting one of your daughters?”
Harry looked at me with a puzzled expression on his face, and then he said, “Murderous.”
“And how would you want God to feel?” I asked.
He thought a moment, then he said, “Murderous.”
“In other words,” I replied, “you would want a God who was just as angry about what was happening as you were.”
“That’s right,” he said.
Can anger be loving?
I propose that love and anger are not opposites. They are complementary. Only those who are capable of feeling genuine anger can love in the truest sense. It’s the parents with the greatest love for their children who will do the most to save them from abuse. And it’s anger that will drive their intervention.
Actually, millions of people long for an angry God. “Where was God when my child got hit by a car?” they demand. “Where was God when I lost my job?” “Where was God when I got cancer?”
Only when we understand genuine anger to be a loving response to evil can we understand the most terrible description of God’s wrath found anywhere in the Bible. Please notice the following passage from Revelation: “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives its mark on their forehead or on their hand, they, too, will drink of the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. They will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb” (Revelation 14:9, 10).
This terrible wrath of God consists of seven horrible plagues that will fall upon the human race during the final days of earth’s history, just before Jesus’ second coming. Revelation introduces these plagues with the following words: “Then I heard a loud voice from the temple saying to the seven angels, ‘Go, pour out the seven bowls of God’s wrath on the earth’ ” (Revelation 16:1).
I want to state clearly that I believe absolutely in a God of love. The Bible says that God doesn’t want anyone to die (see 2 Peter 3:9). It tells of a God who “so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” to die that you and I might live (John 3:16). “God,” the Bible says, “is love” (1 John 4:8).
But how should a loving God respond when human beings abuse each other? How, for instance, should God respond to Auschwitz? If the Nuremberg trial was justified—and I believe most people would agree that it was—then before we judge God too harshly for the seven last plagues, we need to ask whether the people upon whom they fall will truly deserve them.
Let’s answer that question by examining the context of the plagues—both the broad historical context and the prophetic context in which the plagues themselves will occur.
The historical context
The Bible says that war broke out in heaven thousands of years ago, when Satan rebelled against God. “Michael and his angels fought against the dragon [Satan], and the dragon and his angels fought back” (Revelation 12:7). Revelation adds that “the great dragon was hurled . . . to the earth, and his angels with him” (verse 9).
Ever since Adam and Eve chose to disobey God, our planet has been filled with terrible evil. God hates evil because of the suffering it brings to human beings. Auschwitz may be one of the world’s most terrible examples of this suffering, but it’s hardly the only one. Every murder, every robbery, every case of child abuse, is an expression of that evil. And it’s in precisely these situations that we humans want an angry God who will do something about this awful suffering.
Because God has chosen not to end evil during our short lifetimes, it’s easy to assume that He has no plan for dealing with it at all. But Revelation assures us that He will bring suffering and sin to an end, and the seven last plagues are an important part of His plan.
Satan isn’t happy about that, of course. He’s the author of evil, and he wants evil to continue, because that’s the only way he can maintain his power over the world. So he intends to fight God to the bitter end.
Satan’s effort at the end of time to hold on to his power brings us to the second part of the background that we need in order to understand the terrible wrath of God in the seven last plagues.
The prophetic context
Revelation makes it clear that Satan will launch fierce attacks against God’s people during earth’s final days. Chapter 12:17 says, “The dragon [Satan] was enraged at the woman [God’s people] and went off to make war against the rest of her offspring.”
Revelation 13 gives us even more detail. It describes an end-time power that will rebel against God. And notice what it will do: “It was given power to wage war against God’s holy people and to conquer them” (verse 7).
Later in chapter 13, we discover another beast that will actually threaten to kill anyone who refuses to worship in the politically correct manner (verse 15)! And chapter 17 describes an evil woman who will be “drunk with the blood of God’s holy people, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus” (verse 6). The seven last plagues are simply God’s response to this horrible abuse perpetrated against His people. The third plague states this very clearly. Following Revelation’s description of this plague, an angel from heaven says, “You [God] are just in these judgments, . . . for they have shed the blood of your holy people and your prophets, and you have given them blood to drink as they deserve” (16:5, 6; italics added).
Notice that God instigates these terrible judgments because the people on whom they fall have been abusing His saints! Suddenly, the wrath of God in the seven last plagues begins to make sense.
I suspect that, to a large degree, we have a hard time with the idea of an angry God because of all the bad examples of anger we’ve seen. To most of us, anger means temper tantrums and pouting. If that’s genuine anger, then yes, please, spare me an angry God!
That’s the kind of anger the gods of the heathen have—they hold grudges and vent their wrath capriciously on anyone who happens to get in their way. But the wrath of God that’s described in the Bible, and especially in Revelation, serves to rid the world of evil and the suffering it causes. And viewed properly, God’s wrath offers tremendous hope for Christians.
Go back a few chapters with me to Revelation 6:10—the passage that pictures the souls of the martyrs under an altar. Notice what they say: “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” These people are desperate for a God who will get worked up enough—angry enough, if you please—over the abuse they’ve been suffering that He will step in and do something about it!
The seven last plagues are good news to the martyrs!
The martyrs paid the ultimate price for their faith. You and I may not be called to do that, but the seven last plagues are good news to us too. They’re good news because we live in a world that’s saturated with immorality, crime, and terrorism. Have you ever wondered how much longer God will allow this condition to go on? I have.
The seven last plagues are good news because they tell God’s people who live when these plagues fall that God is about to end the reign of sin.
But Satan isn’t about to just lie down and die. He’ll resist God’s plan to the bitter end.
Admittedly, the final war between good and evil isn’t going to be any more pleasant to live through than World War II was for Europeans. Yet for all its horror, that conflict was good news because it preserved freedom in the world.
Similarly, for all its horror, the final conflict between good and evil is good news for God’s people, because it will make possible a world free of the sin and suffering that we endure today.
I’m thankful that I serve a God who is angry enough about the evil in our world that He plans to do something about it.