Anger in God

Something to consider, from Philo Judaeus, On the Unchangeableness of God XI:

And this is what follows:  “I will destroy,” says God, ” the man whom I have made from off the face of the earth, from man to beast, from creeping things to the fowls of the air, because I have considered and repent that I have made them.” (Genesis 6:7) Now, some persons, when they hear the expressions which I have just cited, imagine that the living God is here giving away to anger and passion; but God is utterly inaccessible to any passion whatever. For it is the peculiar property of human weakness to be disquieted by any such feelings, but God has neither the irrational passions of the soul, nor are the parts and limits of the body in the least belonging to him. But, nevertheless, such things are spoken of with reference to God by the great lawgiver in an introductory sort of way, for the sake of admonishing those persons who could not be corrected otherwise. For of all the laws which are couched in the form of injunction or prohibition, and such alone are properly speaking laws; there are two principal positions laid down with respect to the great cause of all things: one, that God is not as a man; the other, that God is as a man. But the first of these assertions is confirmed by the most certain truth, while the latter is introduced for the instruction of the many. In reference to which, it is said about them, “as a man would instruct his son.” (Deuteronomy 1:31) And this is said for the sake of instruction and admonition, and not because he is really such by nature.  For of men some are attached to the service of the soul, and others to that of the body; now the companions of the soul, being able to associate with incorporeal natures, appreciable only by the intellect, do not compare the living God to any species of created beings; but, dissociating it with any idea of distinctive qualities (for this is what most especially contributes to his happiness and to his consummate felicity, to comprehend his naked existence without any connection with figure or character), they, I say, are content with the bare conception of his existence, and do not attempt to invest him with any form.

There are two concepts here, both of which are, unfortunately, out of fashion right at the moment.

The first, to cut to the chase, is Philo’s idea that anger in God is an anthropomorphism, i.e., a human attribute spoken of in God to aid our understanding but which is not literally there.  We use this referring to such things as God’s hand, foot, etc., although God is incorporeal.  (The Mormons are not able to get that far, as they posit that God has a body, which cans his omnipresence, among other things.)  In the Greek view that Philo expresses, the passions of the soul (anger, lust, etc.) are connected with the body, while the rational soul, whose task it is to control these passions, is above this.  To attribute to God literal anger is to lower God, and there’s enough of that going on.

The second is that much of the Scriptures, and especially the Old Testament (which is all Philo had,) were written in an instructional way.  As anyone who has taught knows, it is necessary to sometimes simplify the material to get the students to initially grasp it.  Given the first proposition, saying that God is angry is likewise a teaching tool.  Saying that things in the Old Testament are such isn’t restricted to Philo or God’s anger: “Thus the Law has proved a guide to lead us to Christ, in order that we may be pronounced righteous as the result of faith.” (Galatians 3:24 TCNT)

To come back and say that this only exists in liberal Christianity is simply not so: this line of thinking pervades the Fathers of the Church and the medievals, including St. Thomas Aquinas.  And it is really different from liberal Christianity in that liberals do not think that God is angry for sentimental reasons.  The ancients and medievals accepted the fact that bad things happen and that bad things come when we transgress God’s way.  The question is whether we think that God, like the referee in a football game, simply calls the penalty and moves the ball back, or whether the angels duck to avoid the stuff that gets thrown from the throne room.

Today, of course, we’re supposed to be perpetually passionate and worked up, and we have the crazy society to prove it.

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