Answering The Atheist
May 16, 2004 / Volume 4, Issue 20
THE ATHEIST'S COMPLAINT:
How long does God's anger last? Some texts say for just a moment (Psalm 30:5; Jeremiah 3:12; Micah 7:18). Other texts say that God's anger lasts a long time (Numbers 32:13; Jeremiah 17:4; Matthew 25:41, 46). Is there a contradiction?
How long anyone's anger lasts depends upon what the offender has done, and whether or not the offender has sought to make right that which was done. It is no different with God. The context of a statement always helps to understand why certain things are said. Let us consider each verse given:
Psalm 30:5 – God's anger is contrasted with his favour. The Lord's desire is to save, to give life. If we will turn to Him, His anger over our sin gives way to comfort and life.
Jeremiah 3:12 – God called His people home, assuring them that He would be merciful and not remain angry forever. Their turning to Him would be cause for His anger to cease.
Micah 7:18 – The prophet is praising God's forgiveness and mercy. Again, like in Jeremiah 3, God desires that His people turn to Him, that He might pardon their sins and show mercy.
Numbers 32:13 – As a result of their disobedience, God, in His anger punished Israel. That generation would not enter the promised land, but would wander 40 years. However, the text does not say He remained angry with them the whole 40 years. He watched over them and continued to protect them, when they were faithful to Him.
Jeremiah 17:4 – Notice again, it is man's disobedience which kindles God's anger. The word "forever" (Heb. owlam) means of long duration. His anger with them would endure as long as their disobedience to Him endured.
Matthew 25:41, 46 – Both these texts are found in the judgment scene revealed by our Lord. As a matter of observation, the word "anger" does not appear in any form. What is given here is the eternal (everlasting) punishment for those who were not faithful to the Lord. It is a matter of justice, not anger.
There is no contradiction.
This article is a response to Skeptic's Annotated Bible