The other morning I was reading Psalm 18:19 because it was related to an encouraging word that a friend had given me, but I wanted more context to what I was reading, so I started from the beginning and quickly found it to be full of descriptions of God’s wrath and anger.
“In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears. Then the earth reeled and rocked; the foundations also of the mountains trembled and quaked, because he was angry. Smoke went up from his nostrils, and devouring fire from his mouth; glowing coals flamed forth from him. He bowed the heavens and came down; thick darkness was under his feet. He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him, thick clouds dark with water. Out of the brightness before him hailstones and coals of fire broke through his clouds. The Lord also thundered in the heavens, and the Most High uttered his voice, hailstones and coals of fire. And he sent out his arrows and scattered them; he flashed forth lightnings and routed them. Then the channels of the sea were seen, and the foundations of the world were laid bare at your rebuke, O Lord, at the blast of the breath of your nostrils. He sent from on high, he took me; he drew me out of many waters. He rescued me from my strong enemy and from those who hated me, for they were too mighty for me. They confronted me in the day of my calamity, but the Lord was my support. He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me.” Psalm 18:6-9, 11-19 ESV
I have felt God’s mercy, His kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, comfort, and His presence in tangible ways, sometimes even in physical ways in the hardships I have faced in my life. I’ve cried out to Him on so many occasions and He met me each time, providing what I needed in the moment. He didn’t come and pick me up out of my misery, but He met me and provided for me in it. These are the kinds of characteristics of God that we hear taught about on Sundays at church, our great Rescuer. Our faithful, comforting, gentle God, and these are some of my favorite things about Him.
However, I can’t think of a single time that I have heard a pastor teach on God’s wrath. It’s not something we like to focus on because it’s not warm and fuzzy, and if we focus on the wrath of God, it means we have to consider that we must be accountable for our actions, and that we can potentially provoke God to anger. That word ‘provoke’ is an important one to consider when we talk about God’s wrath.
*Disclaimer: I’m not claiming to have extensive knowledge or understanding about God’s anger and wrath, but I dove into it a little on some theology articles and what I read lines up with what I see in Scripture, so I’m writing from my limited knowledge and biblical understanding.
The Bible is full of truths like, “God is love. God is faithful. God is just.” But nowhere does it say, “God is anger.” God’s character does not operate from a place of anger, but He can be provoked to anger by evil and unrighteousness.
As I continued reading in Psalm 18, I saw David revealing how He cried out to the Lord for rescue from his enemies (v 6), and it resonated with me deeply. What I saw next, however, didn’t describe a gentle, swoopy picture of God coming alongside David, wiping his tears, and ministering to him with His presence like I’m accustomed to. God’s entrance was described in a loud, threatening, violent and aggressive way. Why? Because He was angry. But God wasn’t angry with David, the chapter goes on to say that God did deal with David in mercy and gentleness and gave Him fierce protection. He made David’s enemies turn away, and God ignored their cries for help.
It’s clear, God was angry with David’s enemies. He was angry about what was happening to David, His precious son, and He was moved to action because of His righteous anger.
As I read this, I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit fill me and tears began to drip down my cheeks almost instantly as some of my own experiences with the enemy flashed before my eyes.
“God, were you angry about what I was going through?” I whispered as the gravity of the question sank into my bones.
His response was quick, and gentle. “Yes, of course! Because I love you!”
Never in all of this time had I ever considered that God was angry about anything I had experienced. Grieved? Sure. Empathetic? Of course. But angry? Never crossed my mind. It was oddly comforting to know that God’s wrath was burning over some of the things I have faced. It was validating and reassuring that some of the things I have walked through were just plain wrong. To know that God wasn’t just sitting with me in my feelings and grief, but He was actually on fire about what was grieving me caused me to better understand Him as all of those other things I mentioned before: love, faithful, just, etc.
It’s important for us to understand the target of God’s wrath. It’s not people. Scripture tells us in Ephesians 6:12 that, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” This means that the faces we attach to our hardships are not our real enemies. The devil, the evil influencer behind hurtful words, actions, persecution, etc. is our real enemy. That is who God’s wrath is pointed at, not at individuals. It’s our responsibility to pray for the people, walk in forgiveness, and trust God to deal with the dark spiritual forces at play.
God’s anger on our behalf is a direct result of His love for us. It proves who He says He is in Scripture. If He were not angered by injustice and sin, He wouldn’t be a just, merciful God. Wow, I think I could sit on that truth and unpack it for a while . . .
Let’s go back to the description of God’s anger and wrath in Psalm 18:7-15
“The earth reeled and rocked . . . the mountains trembled and quaked . . .smoke went up from his nostrils . . . devouring fire . . . glowing coals . . .thick darkness . . . hailstones and coals of fire . . . The Lord thundered . . . more hailstones and coals . . . lightning . . .”
God’s anger sounds like a scary, apocalyptic storm. And out of that storm, God took David to a safe place. The world was on fire around him, but David was safe in God’s presence, “because He delighted in me” (v. 19). There it is, what I was saying just above. . .
Friends, God is good. He is love and He is faithful, holy, righteous, our help in times of trouble . . . He is all of those beautiful, comforting things, but do not confuse Him for a plush teddy bear. He can be provoked to anger, on your behalf, because He delights in you. He loves you. Because of all of those wonderful things that He is, when His anger is provoked, He will light things up in order to rescue you.