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Character of God

God's Hot Nose

In Exodus 34, God describes himself as “slow to anger,” but many people are uncomfortable with the portrait of God as an angry or emotional being. How does the Bible talk about anger, and how does this help us understand God as slow to anger?
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Episode Details

September 21, 2020
60 min

Episode Details

September 21, 2020
60 min

Show Notes

QUOTE

“There’s a lot of stories where people think God is angry and it doesn’t ever say he’s angry. And then there are other times when God does get angry, and it’s surprising because they’re not stories where we normally think of God’s anger. It’s one of these things where we have all this baggage, but what we have to do is really check it at the door and come with an open mind back to the biblical story.”

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • The main way the Bible talks about people’s anger and God’s anger is with the Hebrew words for “heat” and “nose.”
  • The Bible presents many depictions of God’s anger that seem to contradict his description of being “slow to anger.” His anger is like fire that can both protect and comfort but also burn and destroy.
  • God’s depiction as an emotional being in the Bible shows us that he cares and engages with humanity through real relationship.

The Long-of-Nostrils God

In part one (0:00–13:50), Jon recaps the conversation so far and introduces the third attribute of God from Exodus 34:6-7, “slow to anger.” This characteristic is unique because of the covenant betrayal of the golden calf incident and because it highlights God’s reaction to evil.

The King James Version of the Bible translates this characteristic as “long suffering.” But in Hebrew, the phrase “slow to anger” comes from two Hebrew words. The first word, ’erek, means “long,” in reference to distance or time. The second word, ’appayim, is the Hebrew word for nostrils.

How the Bible Talks about Anger

In part two (13:50–20:50), Tim shares how the Bible talks about anger. The standard way to describe someone as angry in the Hebrew Scriptures is to say, “their nose burned hot” (see 1 Samuel 17:28). This same phrase is also commonly used to describe God’s anger (see Exodus 4:14).

Psalm 2 highlights another way this phrase is used.

Psalm 2:4-6
He who sits in the heavens laughs, The Lord scoffs at them. Then he will speak to them in his anger (Heb. ‘ap “nose”) And terrify them in his fury (Heb. kharon “heat”), saying, “But as for me, I have installed my King Upon Zion, my holy mountain.”

Separately and together, these two words make up the majority of references to anger in the Old Testament. In Exodus 34:6, God is saying that it takes a long time for his nose to burn.

The Problem of God’s Wrath

In part three (20:50–31:50), Tim shares two additional words describing anger in Hebrew. The first is kharon, which means “hot anger.” This is where the word wrath is used in our English translations. However, even though wrath often describes anger that is more intense, Tim says this isn’t true in Hebrew. The word kharon doesn’t convey a greater level of anger or heat than ‘ap. A similar word to describe the response of anger is qetseph.

Deuteronomy 29:27-28
They went off and worshiped other gods and bowed down to them, gods they did not know, gods he had not given them. Therefore the Lord’s anger burned [lit. “his nose burned hot”] against this land, so that he brought on it all the curses written in this book. In anger [‘ap / “nose”] wrath [khemah / “heat”] and in great anger [qetseph / “anger”] the Lord uprooted them from their land and thrust them into another land, as it is now.”

We can all relate to the physiological response of burning with anger, but how do we understand this emotion in relation to God? Tim calls this "the problem of God’s wrath for modern readers of the Bible." When we isolate passages of God’s anger, we end up with a distorted view of God.

Numbers 11:1
Now the people complained about their hardships in the hearing of the Lord, and when he heard them his anger burned hot. Then fire from the Lord burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp.

Deuteronomy 6:14-15
Do not follow other gods, the gods of the peoples around you; for the Lord your God, who is among you, is a jealous God and his anger will burn against you, and he will destroy you from the face of the land.

Isaiah 5:25
Therefore the Lord’s anger burns against his people; his hand is raised and he strikes them down. The mountains shake, and the dead bodies are like refuse in the streets. Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away, his hand is still upraised.

These examples are difficult for modern readers because they seem to contradict God’s statement that he is slow to anger. Part of the difficulty comes from our own cultural understanding of anger and how that differs from Israel’s understanding of anger. Another difficulty comes from using language about God rooted in our physical bodies. These are the difficulties Tim leads Jon and Carissa to explore.

God’s Anger as Fire

In part four (31:50–40:50), Tim shares that the meaning of anger differs from culture to culture. In a modern Western sense, anger is often understood as a secondary emotion that reveals something more primary that is being threatened. Jon highlights the moral dimension of anger and how it’s often in response to a violation of what we deem to be right or fair either on a personal or cultural level.

Carissa says that if anger is only viewed as a secondary emotion in response to a deeper need, then it seems largely inappropriate. Jon compares anger to fire, which can be used to destroy things but also to protect, care for, and warm. When we read the portrait of God’s anger in the Bible, do we see that? Or do we see a God who can become out of control?

This leads to an important question: What makes God angry? Tim shares that he systematically worked through the Bible and was continuously surprised to notice when God became angry. We need to be willing to read the Bible on its own terms to see what it wants to teach us about the anger of God.

The Pathos of God

In part five (40:50–52:30), Tim talks about the work of Abraham Heschel on the pathos of God. Heschel argues that a modern conception of God that is devoid of reactive emotion is a fundamentally different depiction of God than is present in the Hebrew Scriptures.

“In the prophets, God does not reveal himself in abstract absoluteness, but in a personal and intimate relation to the world… He is moved and affected by what happens in the world, and reacts accordingly. Events and human actions arouse in him joy or sorrow, pleasure or wrath. He is not conceived as judging the world in detachment. He reacts in an intimate manner, being moved, affected, grieved or gladdened by what people do. This notion, basically defines the [biblical] consciousness of God.. This is because the prophets had no theory or ‘idea’ of God. What they had was an understanding, not the result of theoretical inquiry about God. Rather, to them God was overwhelmingly real and shatteringly present…..”
–– Heschel, The Prophets, vol. 2, “The Theology of Pathos,” pp. 285-86.

The language about God’s character isn’t simply abstract; it was born from people’s real relationship with a living presence. Instead of claiming that humanity should seek to transcend pathos, the biblical portrait presents a God who is full of pathos.

“Few [divine] passions have been denounced so vehemently by teachers of morality as the passion of anger. It is pictured as sinister, malignant passion, an evil force, which must under all circumstances be suppressed. The truth, however, is that these features...are not the essence of anger… Like fire, it may be a blessing as well as fatal--reprehensible when associated with malice, but morally necessary as resistance to malice.”
–– Heschel, The Prophets, vol. 2, “The Meaning and Mystery of Wrath,” p. 360.

Heschel concludes by saying, “The prophets never [portray] God’s anger as something that cannot be accounted for, unpredictable, irrational. It is never a spontaneous outburst, but a reaction occasioned by the conduct of humans...and motivated by concern for right and wrong” (p. 365).

God’s Anger as Care

In part six (52:30–end), the group brings this first part of the conversation to a close by talking about the importance of God’s anger.

Many people who believe in God believe in a deity that is charitable and generous; this is a fundamentally emotive conception of God. But a God moved to compassion but never anger is a God who is uncaring or disengaged, not a God in real relationship. A person who is truly good will get angry sometimes.

Jon says that anger is one way to clearly see what people care about. In the next episode, Tim, Jon, and Carissa will look at what makes God angry, which will reveal more of his character.

Additional Resources

Show Music

  • “Defender (Instrumental)” by Tents
  • Movement Piano: Copyright Free
  • “According to God” by Beautiful Eulogy
  • Soft Dreamy Guitar: Copyright Free
  • “After the Crash” by SavFK
  • “A New Year” by Scott Buckley

Show produced by Dan Gummel and Camden McAfee.

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