“Behold then the kindness and severity of God” (Rom. 11:22)
Our tendency is to read with the Bible with a certain personal bias that chooses to remember the things that the Bible says “for” me, and ignoring those things that the Bible speaks “against” me. Dietrich Bonhoeffer addressed this tendency in 1932 at a conference in Switzerland, where in reference to the Bible, he made the following observation:
“ . . . the great concern which has been bearing down on me with growing heaviness throughout the whole conference; has it not become terrifyingly clear again and again, in everything that we have said here to one another, that we are no longer obedient to the Bible? We are more fond of our own thoughts than the thoughts of the Bible. We no longer read the Bible seriously, we no longer read the Bible against ourselves, but for ourselves. If the whole of our conference here is to have great significance, it may be perhaps that of showing us that we must read the Bible in quite a different way, until we find ourselves again.”
Paul tells us to “behold” (Greek meaning “fix your gaze”) on both the “kindness” (KJV –goodness) and the severity (Greek meaning “against severely”) of God. Both are to be given our attention. While we recognize the importance of understanding God’s kindness toward us, we must equally affirm the truth that God does become angry. A.W. Pink in his book, The Attributes of God, points out that; “A study of the concordance will show that there are more references in Scripture to the anger, fury and wrath of God, than there are to His love and tenderness.”
Some contend that there is a difference between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New. They say in essence that. “The God of the old covenant was characterized by wrath and judgment, while Jesus is the “expressed image” of God and characterized by love and mercy. This of course, creates a dichotomy between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New. It actually creates two different “Gods.” On the contrary, the God of the Old and the God of the New are one in being, nature, and personality. Although God did inaugurate a new “administration” (Ephes. 1:10) with the coming of His Son, God Himself remains unchanged (Mal. 3:6). In pre-Christian times God was angry with those who rejected His revealed will. This did not change with the advent of Christ. “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36). Jesus actually said more about God’s wrath than did any other New Testament person. God’s displeasure with the Pharisees is seen in Jesus’ denunciation recounted in Matthew 23. “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how shall you escape the sentence of hell?” (Matt. 23:33).
John the Baptist warned the Pharisees and the Saducees of the “wrath to come” (Matt. 3:7) and this was not necessarily solely in reference to the final judgment. I believe he was speaking of the destruction that was to come upon Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Concerning this judgment, Jesus warned, “there will be great distress upon the land and wrath to this people” (Luke 21:23). Paul, referring to this judgment on that generation of ethnic Israel declared, “wrath has come upon them to the utmost” (I Thess. 2:16).
Paul speaks clearly about the wrath of God throughout his epistles (Ephes. 2:3, 5:6; Col. 3:6; I Thess. 1:10, 5:9). There are approximately 500 references to God’s anger in the Bible. All of the New Testament writers refer to the judgments rendered in the Old Testament as recurring in the New for similar offenses. These New Testament references should be sufficient scriptural evidence to demonstrate the unchanging character of God and that the wrath of God is a reality in the New Covenant era. With that as my introduction, allow me to address the question posed by my title: What Ticks God Off? In answering that question I could be overly general, or I could be overly specific, in which case I could attempt to comment on all 500 references to God’s anger. Instead, I will speak to the major reasons for His anger, recognizing that they are same in both old and new economies. Paul establishes this principle in his letter to the Corinthians (See I Cor. 10:1-11).
Paul shows in this passage that the exodus under Moses was typical of the deliverance of the Christian community by Christ (Heb. 3:14-16; Acts 7:37-38). We can not help but see the parallel between these two great historical redemptive acts. But immediately following Paul’s comparison of the two; he writes something that is quite solemn in its message. He says, “But with many [The Amplified Version says “the great majority”] God was not well pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness” (I Cor. 10:5). Heb. 3:11 speaks of this episode with God saying, “I swore in My wrath.” In Psalm 106 we are told by the psalmist that, “They provoked Him to anger with their deeds . . . Therefore the anger of the Lord was kindled against His people” (Ps. 106:29,40).
This is not Paul simply drawing an object lesson from history, because he then makes the direct analogy to the Corinthians by stating: “Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things, as they also craved.” He then lists four things that “tick God off.” These things are idolatry, immorality, impatience with God, and grumbling (I Cor. 10:7-9). These are obviously four things God doesn’t like. I don’t necessarily believe that this list is all-inclusive of God’s dislikes, but Paul does present us with a good start.
The writer to the Hebrews uses the same illustration of Israel’s disobedience to warn his readers. He quotes the psalmist’s account of God’s punishment of the rebellious and disobedient nation (Heb. 3:7-11; Ps. 95:8-11). Then follows a warning to the Christian community that they not follow the same path (Heb. 3:12). The warning is clear, God’s anger can be manifested toward the new covenant community as well as it was toward the old – and we must take seriously the issue of disobedience. Both God’s anger and His love and mercy should motivate and monitor our attitudes and actions.