Skip to main content

Here’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while.

How often do we read about God’s anger, wrath, etc. in the Old Testament?

What are the kinds of things–specifically–that make God angry?

What does God do to the offenders because of his anger?

I’ve been wondering about this since I started thinking more seriously about evolution a few years ago. Why? Because according the Genesis 3 and Romand 5, death is a result of God being angry about something.

According to an evolutionary model, death (and the violence that goes with it) is part of the natural way of things. In fact, death is evolution’s friend. Without it to weed out the weaklings, you wouldn’t have the survival of the fittest.

On the other hand, the wrath of God that leads to death means death is unnatural, imposed onto the world. I think this is one of the biggest conflict areas between Christianity and evolution. Why is God so mad with an evolving creation?

So, that got me thinking more specifically about God’s anger in the Old Testament (that and reading through the prophetic literature last summer).

Take the Adam and Eve story. Death was God’s punishment for Adam and Eve disobeying God in the garden by eating the forbidden fruit.  Of course, this raises the follow-up question: why was death the proper punishment?

Same for the flood. People become sinful, and it gets so bad that God regrets he ever populated the earth. Drowning everyone seems to be the only solution.

If you skim through the Old Testament page by page you see that God is angry quite often and imposing physical discomfort or death seems to be his preferred method of resolving the matter. Here, too, the question is why? You may answer, “because of sin.” OK, but what exactly did the people do to warrant death, etc.?  “Sin” is the easy answer. But what were they doing that was sinful and why was death so often the best solution?

I’ve never done it before, but it would be an interesting project to catalogue every instance of divine wrath/anger, etc. in the Old Testament and give (1) the passage, (2) the offending party, (3) the precise offense, and (4) the divine reaction (either threatened or carried out).

I would be very happy to welcome serious comments engaging this issue.

And here’s the flip side of that issue. In the New Testament, God seems different. Some of the things that God commanded the Old Testament, where disobedience resulted in some form of punishment or death, seem to have gone by the wayside in the New Testament.

I know God is not a senile old uncle in the New Testament, but he is less–well, reactionary about certain things. Comedian Lewis Black wonders if having a son mellowed God out a bit. You might not like the joke but you can get the point.

I would welcome thoughtful comments on this idea, too: how does the wrath of God in the Old Testament compare to the New?

These aren’t new questions, of course, but I do sometimes wonder if we are too casual about all this.

Pete Enns, Ph.D.

Peter Enns (Ph.D., Harvard University) is Abram S. Clemens professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He has written numerous books, including The Bible Tells Me So, The Sin of Certainty, and How the Bible Actually Works. Tweets at @peteenns.