Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

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Thursday, June 8

Does God Scowl in his Wrath?

We know that God is as loving as he is just. He is not more loving than he is just, nor more just than he is loving. All of his attributes are perfectly balanced.

Evangelical Christians have therefore always accepted the truth that God's holiness and justice sometimes requires a response of wrath. Hopefully, this is not something we cherish, but rather we accept as a necessary part of his justice.

However, I find myself wondering if we have misunderstood part of the biblical doctrine of God's wrath, and it can be summarized with this question. What is on God's face when he is meting out punishment — a scowl or a smile, or tears?

When we see a parent discipline a child in anger, we instinctively know something is wrong. When we see a parent spank a child and seem to enjoy it, we know something is wrong. I heard a story many years back of a parent who, uncharacteristically, spanked their son in anger, and the three-year-old pointed his finger at the parent and said, "No." Even at that age he understood that something was different, and wrong.

When I had to discipline one of my children, it was always in sadness. I was not smiling. I was not scowling. I was not enjoying it.  It was in sadness, sometimes in tears, that Robin and I had to teach our children right and wrong and the consequences of their bad choices.

I am struck by the fact that the New Testament never says Jesus was angry. We assume he was angry when he was cleansing the temple, but it doesn't say he was. We assumed he was angry when he was condemning the religious leaders in Matt 23, but it doesn't say he was. The closest I can see to Jesus being angry is in the textual variant of Mark 1:41 followed by the NIV, but even then Jesus was surely "indignant" at the destruction of his beautiful world by sin, not the request by the man with leprosy.

I wonder if we have allowed Church history and the bitterness of some forms of fundamentalism to affect how we think of God and his wrath. I am pretty sure there is deep sadness on his face in the midst of his wrath, but in some cases a gleam in his eye as he already knows the positive outcome of his discipline.


Thanks for all the response. I have found them helpful. I have no desire to explain away God's wrath. It is perfect and just and loving (in a biblical sense). Adam and Eve were removed from the Garden out of love, since it would have been unloving to allow them to eat the fruit of the Tree of Life and live forever. And somehow I had missed the Mark 3:5. "And after looking around at them in anger, grieved at the hardness of their heart, he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched out his hand and it was restored." Someone once told me that anger is a positive emotion as it is a warning sign that you are in danger and also gives you the energy to get out of danger. So true. But it is still interesting that the gospels are relatively silent about this emotion as far as Jesus is concerned. And by the way, I think there are a multiplicity of ways that Jesus could have said, "You brood of vipers," and yet not with a tone we often connect with the idea of anger. But thanks again.


If someone other than you spanked your child, would you face show sadness? Was there a look of sadness on the face of the three year old, while pointing their finger and saying, "no."? Respectfully, these are the thoughts I had.

There is a great difference between wrath and discipline, between retribution and correction. Lloyd-Jones in a sermon in Romans mentions that the sinner has God's frown upon him whereas the Christian has his smile. When God executes his wrath on people there is no joy or delight but there is a the grief that Jesus felt when he wept over the city of Jerusalem. Righteous anger in which justice is honoured and served while evil is punished and vanquished brings delight to our hearts as well as our Lord's.

I like you post! For me, the good news of the gospel is really good news. Knowing fully that God loves us fully can take us through all that this world has to dish out. I don't know if God pores out His wrath on believers or not but I do know that He doesn't condemn us in any way. I have a saying that if the bottom line is grace then every line about it has to be grace also. I mostly preach grace. Some would say that the problem in the world is sin and that that is what needs to be preached but I say that Jesus solved the problem of sin on the cross and that unbelief is the problem that needs to be addressed. Most people can comprehend how great God's love and grace is.

Scowl or not? This is an excellent way to flush out someone's theology. If we believe that God acts out of retributive justice, ie penalty (fortunately falling on His Son instead of us), then it will be hard to get away from the idea of a scowl. However if his wrath leads to restorative justice and discipline, then indeed it need not be a scowl. Penal substitution is well entrenched, but Christus Victor offers much more

A common saying is that Jesus took God's wrath for us while he was on the cross. After significant study on the subject, I cannot find any place in scripture where it teaches that God's wrath was poured out upon Jesus on the Cross. As you have somewhat stated, when a parent punishes a child, the proper attitude ought not to be one of wrath but of sorrow, anguish, and grief. As a former public school teacher and principal (when the paddle was still okay to use), and then as a Christian school teacher and principal (where the paddle was used), I have had more than the usual parental role of punishing disobedient and disruptive students of nearly all grades K-12. Anger is never appropriate or necessay. Why would God be angry when His Son was paying for the sins of his elect? The Isaiah 53 passage more aptly indicates that God was pleased to bruise him! What? If you have any thoughts on this, I'm listening. Thanks. [email protected]

"It pleased the Father to bruise the Son" Anthropomorphizing can sometimes lead to misconstruing Gods purpose intent, and character, to compare you, who are evil, disciplining your children and Gods judgment on an evil and unregenerate world is completely twisted.. God poured out His wrath on His son so His creation would not have to endure it, those who refuse to accept His grace in Christ receive His wrath in Christ, and they deserve every bit. The purpose of Gods grace and wrath is His glory, whatever is the "expression is on His face" is it is unchanging whether bestowing undeserved grace on His children or deserved judgment on the children of disobedience.


Yes, it does say he was angry in Mark 3:5 in the NAS77, NASB, NIrV, NIV, TNIV, KJV, NKJV, CEV, and RV. Plus, Jesus being God manifest in the flesh also applies every place in the OT where God was angry.

Great thoughts. I wonder if those exclamation points are additions which does not reflect the original Greek text or did they put that there based on the context of the original Greek text? Also, we know from Scripture that God does "hate" since it says in Malachi that God hates divorce. Though this may not be identical to anger, many times we have understood his hatred of sin in the context of a righteous anger. In other words, a controlled anger, not as one with uncontrollable emotions. Here's the Webster's definition of anger: "a strong feeling of displeasure and usually of antagonism." I think God expresses this feeling many times, especially in the Old Testament. Just my thoughts, Brad

I never thought of this as a problem as I don't think of God as having a face or displaying human emotions. Everything he does, he does in love, even when he displays his wrath.

Yep. That's it. Hopeful sadness captures the balanced character traits of God.

Dr Mulholland in his course on Revelation comments on our tendency to take what we understand about human nature, multiply it many times over, and apply the result to God. I believe that this skews our understanding of the character of God. God is love and He does not change. What we perceive as wrath is the result of our own actions against His Word.

How . about Mark3:5 when after healing a withered hand Jesus looked at them met' orges? See my chapter on the subject in Jesus As Mentor, pp.9-41

I had never thought of it before but wouldn't have loved to see the facial expression and Jesus' eyes when he drove the money changers out of the temple?

I know the word "wrath" is provocative in itself but a righteous anger toward things that seem to demand an angry response seems biblical and given to common sense. We wouldn't want to start negating the full and vigorous humanity of Jesus by blunting his full range of human emotion. If God can get angry (and there seems to be a pretty fat body of evidence that he can) and men can get angry without being in sin, the weight of the evidence would seem to lead us to a place where Jesus getting angry is not a problem. Selfish or petty or unjustifiable angers are sins; being angry about an injustice, an abuse, a murder, are not. Here, we wouldn't want to fall into the space of trying to be more tolerant than Jesus. In driving the money-changers out of the Temple with violence and a show of force, to argue that he wasn't angry because it doesn't specifically say, "he was angry" doesn't seem a strong argument. Of course he was angry. Making a whip and taking people to task for an abuse against God and their fellows isn't something a person would normally do outside of a bit of justifiable human anger. The anger is implied in the nature of the event. We could ask ourselves, is this the kind of thing that happy, unaffected people do? Rather, if we want to go that way, is it the kind of thing that sad people do? Or which emotional states of mind are ordinarily implied by the state of affairs? God getting angry about the kinds of things to which anger is an appropriate response should not surprise us. Jesus getting angry about similar things, "You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you do, you make him twice as much a son of Hell as you are." seem to be just the Son of God being the Son of God. "You have made my Father's house into a den of thieves!"; I don't know Bill, you're the Greek scholar but if someone had made my Father's house into a den of thieves I'd be mad. My being mad would be normal, healthy, beautiful and without sin or apology. Here, I think I'm saying, we need to let Jesus be Jesus and accommodate our understanding to His virtue rather than the other way around. Surely, Jesus at times escapes the comfortable boundaries of our personal predilections or emotional tastes but he is nothing if not consistent with due propriety, and the laws of love.

Bill, that's a great point. As you probably know there are a number of more liberal evangelicals or progressives who do not see wrath as vengeful, retributive anger at all, more like a divine disappointment of "letting people go" into whatever kind of debased issue they are into. This is repeatedly spelled out in Romans 1 and even Romans 4:25. As a greek scholar what's your take on the versions and how they interpret the verse? It never says that Jesus was delivered over "to death", but isn't the word the same as is Romans 1:24, 26, 28? As in, the Father "gave up" the Son? That is a very consistent picture of wrath that I can see from a God who is fully love. I do not see a picture of God being vengeful, angry and wrathful and I tend to even see the Old Testament and the Book of Revelation that way, but that requires multiple days and weeks of study looking into those pictures of God. Replying to Brian: Brian, if the someone other than me was my wife or another one of my sons, why wouldn't my face show sadness? Remember that everyone in the world is God's child. The sentiment he has for the righteous is the same he has for the wicked. He's not too faced.

Gods Wrath, as it has been mentioned, is not wrath as we know it. God's Wrath is His Love expressed when we are in opposition of Him. One of the greatest understandings of a human parents love is when correction is required because their child is on the wrong path....the responsibility attached....the strong love that is required. Love is never absent in God's actions! So I can say with faithful confidence that God does not express anger! God is infinite in knowledge, wisdom and love....these characteristics would not allow anger, just as sin, to be within His Holy Nature!

This is a multi faceted question for sure and one I am wrestling with. My first thought is that evangelicals more tend to avoid the wrath of God and focus on His mercy and loving-kindness until He is almost a cosmic Santa Claus or doting rich grandfather who thinks we are the greatest even when we stink and just wants us to be healthy, wealthy and wise. About the only time I ever hear of the wrath of God in religious circles is from extremist groups who profess to be Christians and focus their special attention on those involved in sexual sin, esp. homosexuality. Or from very legalistic groups who love to throw the word abomination around a lot and are full of anger and fear. Such groups pervert the truth to make it seem that God`s wrath is singly aimed at homosexuals or at anyone who is not submitting to their doctrines, when in fact it is aimed at all sin and perversion of truth. It seems to be two extremes, in terms of off balance teaching, either He is all loving gentle, etc or He is constantly disapproving and ticked, ready to flatten whoever has sinned. Bill`s question, `` I wonder if we have allowed Church history and the bitterness of some forms of fundamentalism to affect how we think of God and His wrath,`` no doubt could be answered in the affirmative, esp. considering that we take for granted almost as part of the faith, some of the teachings and slants given us by the church fathers such as Augustine or even Tertullian who seemed to inordinately demonize women and add to scripture much like the Pharisees did. But the reverse also could be answered in the affirmative: I wonder if we have allowed unchecked and undiscerned influences from various idealogical and spiritual sources, to so wash over and permeate the church that we are not even conscious anymore of how much our spiritual DNA is being re encoded to be more in line with a world system that has no tolerance for a God who is anything but a yes man.`` An additional aside comment, when was the last time you heard a biblical message on the nature of the flesh, how to spot when its in operation in your life or that of others and how to mortify it? Most Christians I know live like they don`t think they have any problems with sin or the flesh. Scripture is so full of statements about how God feels about sin and evil that make it clear that wrath is coming ( who warned you to flee from the coming wrath you brood of vipers, for instance), that I think watering down the idea of God`s wrath is dangerous. Peace, peace,when there is no peace perhaps. Focused on along, it becomes slanted, as does any off balance teaching whether its about God`s wrath or His mercy, or His grace ( an example would be ``let us sin so that grace may abound`` ) So with regard to both Bill`s question and my own which I have attempted, rather somewhat clumsily to articulate, I think its not either or but both and. Wrath is only a problem when its unjust, punitive for the sake of punitiveness and out of control. God is never unjustly punitive and out of control. So perhaps the real need is to bring the focus in more clearly so that we can understand that facet of God`s character and His heart towards sin that destroys and His merciful provision to be able to escape it. And we probably need to be able to understand it in the context of His wrath poured out on Jesus on our behalf as well. Both in terms of what that means for those who have accepted His merciful provision and those who reject it.

Thanks for the newsletter, Bill. I agree very much with your overall point. God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. He hates sins but somehow loves us sinner. He is a lot more tolerant than I am. I do have one nit to pick about Jesus and Anger. In Mark 3:1-6 ( the story of the man with the withered hand) Jesus looks around at the congregants in/with anger (v. 5,) grieved at the hardness of their hearts. So He is probably hating the sin (hardness of heart) rather than the sinners but He was definitely angry.

Anger is an emotion that all humans have, as we are made in Gods image I believe that God gets angry too, a righteous anger towards sin because of his just nature. I do not feel we need to explain God's anger away or make excuses for it, but rather we should have a balanced view of Gods many attributes including his Love, Righteousness and Anger to name a few.

Thank you for this. Those who see God with an angry face don't really see how much He loves us and what He has done to hold it back. This year I have made it a point to pay close attention to God's relationship with man and noticed how quickly God relents at the slightest repentance. - Moses: Stood in the gap and He quickly relents. -In Judges every other verse he's come to a wishy washy people to rescue them. - David: David said to Gad, "I am in deep distress. Let us fall into the hands of the LORD, for his mercy is great; but do not let me fall into human hands." - Jonah knew it. - 2nd Peter 3:9 He is patient and wills that not one would perish. - Matthew 23:37-39"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate; for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!'" I can't even imagine more compassion anywhere. Thank you for the reminder! Blessings, Janet P.S. Loving the Basic of Biblical Greek class. Thank you!

My reply is too long to post here. Please see my reply at

I know of no verse in either the OT or the NT that associates "wrath" or "anger" with final judgment. Final judgment of unbelievers is evidently not a display of God's anger but rather of His justice. Also, I would point out that the cross was not a display of God's anger, although preachers and Bible teachers often speak of "the wrath of God" being poured out on Jesus in our stead. Rather Jesus paid the just penalty for our sins. Thus as believers we shall never face God's justice for them, since we have been rightly declared "not guilty." However, we can experience God's "wrath" for our behavior. The believer is still liable to the temporal "wrath" that sin brings as described in Romans 1, and thus needs to be saved (delivered) from it (Rom. 1:16). Unfortunately the "salvation" of Romans 1:16 is usually mistakenly equated with "justification" (Rom 3) and not the "salvation" of Romans 5-8.

Your dad, at Western KY, understood better than most the warped view of Father I grew up with, and he modeled for me a different taste of Father. I love your article, and the idea of wrath from a loving father. Have even experienced dishing out such wrath to my kids and grand-kids--on better days. I've often looked up into heaven and asked, "How do you think I did today?" "Did I make you smile?" "Did you receive any glory from my actions?" and I have no idea His response. I need to believe your main point. BUT 2 or 3 verses always jerk me short: Don't grieve the HS of God...; I will spew you out of my mouth; How long shall I be with you...put up with you? I don't know, Bill. I think our actions can put a scowl on his face--for awhile. I know His default is always acceptance, quick forgiveness, incredible patience. And sometimes I think He's proud of me. But I also think I can cause him to scowl. Great Article. I'll ponder for many days. Blessings.

Yes, I am glad for Dad's role in your life. Yes, when my kids have done something that bothers me, it registers on my face. Greiving. But the wonderful message of the gospel, that all godly dads know, is that look on my face can go away quickly with an apology, and they know I want it to go away. Go Hilltoppers!

Bill, You might like to read Section II of B B Warfield's 'The Emotional Life of our Lord'. There is much there to think about relative to our Lord's anger. In Him, Malcolm

I had severe trouble in my relationship to God viewing Him from a traditional wrath concept many years ago (1999), I lived in continual fear growing up (and He is not the author of fear) because of the teaching of the church I grew up in and how my dad (did) punish me in anger. That is when God broke through the deception with the truth in multiple ways during that part of our relational journey in 2001. The Holy Spirit started revealing the truth during my personal time reading/studying the Bible, a sermon series I stumbled upon on the radio, and at the same time I had just started reading the book What's So Amazing About Grace by Philip Yancey. He has further opened my eyes to the misconception of His wrath as controlled anger directed towards us as individuals and the wrath that is held out towards (sin) of unrighteousness that suppresses the truth (Rom. 1:18 there should be a comma after unrighteousness of men), not necessarily the person living in that sin. God our just Father's holiness and His wrath/anger and intolerance is directed toward the sin itself not the individual, His desire is to (draw) all to Him (John 12:32). Jesus as the direct representation of God the Father (John 5:19) should be enough to prove that, since it was Jesus who said He and the Father are one (John 10:30). Jesus further states that all judgement had been given to Him (John 5:22) and conversely states later that He did not come to judge but to save those who listened to the truth, for Jesus had decided His judgement (John 12:44-49) death on the cross. Therefore and with many other proofs, I have come to a completely different understanding of a God of grace and not a God of wrath. As I have raised and disciplined my two children, my heavenly Father reaffirms how He feels when I sin against Him and through His Spirit has shown me how much grace is needed in disciplining my children after their (childish actions) and sinful behavior. It grieves Him not angers Him, He knows how childlike my thinking is compared to His wisdom and so He disciplines me sometimes by letting me fall. Then when He shows me my folly and reminds me to submit and turn around, it shows me His grace which causes me to repent out of love for what and who He is. I hope this helps someone delve deeper in to their relationship with our great God. **Please read all verses given in there context don't just take my word for it, and remember the original language didn't have punctuation or verses.

Hi Bill, I have made the same observation as you about the NT not saying Jesus was angry. As one who grew up in a dysfunctional Christian home, I find it troubling that so many people try to justify anger. Your post was thoughtful and balanced. I'm not surprised at the variety of responses. Keep up the good work, brother.

Mark 3:5?

I am angry not with God but with fellow Xians. Why can we not help out brothers in Egypt or the Middle East? Why are our Churches going down the plug hole? Yes I am angry.

I agree. At times, when I have disciplined my children in anger, it broke my heart to see their grief and to observe my imperfect love. If God disciplined us in anger against our sin, He must grieve more than any earthly father does, to see us hurting. Father God is perfect in His love for us. Therefore let us children revere Him and not fear Him.

Beautifully written.

I think we MUST be careful of imputing a sinner's understanding (ours) of "wrath" back upon God's character. You can't think of human wrath, which you may find horrible (especially in our present day culture), and think of God's attribute as something equally horrible. God does everything "according to the kind intention of his will" (Eph. 1:5, 9, 11). How does God will something that He is not pleased to perform? Are you not pitting attributes against one another, just as you cautioned in the beginning of your post? Isa. 53:10 says that it pleased (hapes - to delight in in the sense of to take a high degree of pleasure in) Yahweh to crush (dake - to crush, beat - to break something in pieces) His Servant, putting him to grief (heheli - to feel pain). I remember hearing Clark Pinnock want to extinguish God's wrath from classical theology because he characterized it "as watching a cat squirm in a microwave." I don't know of any classical theologian who would picture God that way and it is ashamed that some have to use such rhetoric to deny biblical truth. What is true, however, is that if you don't maintain a very clear and complete doctrine of God's justice and wrath then you will not understand the incredible mercy and grace of our God who saved us from Himself!

I agree with everything you wrote and enjoyed reading your post. My dad would punish us out of anger and I sensed it deeply. When I punished my six children I would at times have tears in my eyes because I didn't like what they did and hated to punish them because I loved them so much. God punishes us out of love. (By the way, do you mean Matthew 23 instead of Matthew 24?)

Yes, 23. Thanks.

Three times God tells Ezekiel that "I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked." See Ezekiel 18:23, 32, 33:11. Rather, He wants people to turn to Him and live. That tells me that God takes no pleasure in His wrath, but rather that it is the necessary consequence of sin. The wrath of God against His Son had to be incredibly difficult for God the Father. He does not want anyone to perish, but wants everyone to come to a knowledge of the truth. 1 Tim. 2:4 and 2 Peter 3:9.

Has anyone mentioned Mark 10:14?

Probably woud be the same situation as the Mark 1 passage, but thanks.

I think the picture of a loving father disciplining his children in a manner which is temporary and bringing about the child's good is easy to identify with. What I truly struggle with is the concept of eternal punsihment. I still don't get how God or anyone in heaven can possibly be eternally happy whilst myriads are simultaneously suffering eternal torment. I cannot find a sufficient answer to give to the many who charge Christians with holding to a seeminly barbaric concept. Any light shed on this would be appreciated.

In the very beginning God ordained the law that sin brings death. (Genesis 2:17) Rebellion brings separation. This is an attribute of a holy God. Modern "Christianity" holds God greatest attribute to be love. Twice the Bible says, "God is love." (1 John 4:8 and 16) But the Bible never says, "God is love, love, love." Twice it does say, "Holy, holy, holy" (is the Lord) in Isaiah 6:3 and Revelation 4:8. God's love cannot be fully understood or appreciated without an understanding of His holiness. God is not "tolerant" according to the modern definition of tolerance. God's holiness cannot tolerate sin. He cannot overlook it (like Muslims say He can). He cannot just say it didn't happen. That is why He provided a sacrifice for sin rather than just overlooking it. Only in the sacrifice of Jesus can Psalm 85:10 be true. "Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other." In Jesus, God can be both just and merciful. Without a proper understanding of God's holiness, sin is not so exceeding sinful. Grace is cheap. God's love is not correctly appreciated. One major reason for the Old Testament is to help us to see God's hatred for and intolerance of sin. Understanding God's holiness makes His love much more meaningful. That Almighty HOLY God could love mortal, fallen man enough to send Jesus, His perfect Son, to redeem him?! In the suffering and death of Christ we should get a glimpse of the awfulness of our sin. How utterly barbaric of humankind to reject this tremendous ransom price and deny the necessity of it! How utterly just of a holy God to deliver such rebellion to the eternal punishment prepared for the devil―the author of rebellion―and his angels, the god they have chosen to serve!

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I subscribed to this blog yesterday (May 24, 2021). I think there is much to be learned here. Yes, the tribal-national God of Jews and Judeo-Christians is loving and just to his chosen people; i.e., the people of real and spiritual Israel. To other people, not so much, as has been demonstrated throughout Jewish and Christian History. And, yes, "we have allowed Church history and the bitterness of some forms of fundamentalism to affect how we think of God and his wrath."

I say that because, whenever I read the Gospels, my mind's eye sees different things upon Jesus' face: disappointment or frustration (Luke 9:41, 24;25; John 14:9), forcefulness of expression (emphasis; e.g., John 8:34-58), and tears of sadness (Luke 19:41; John 11:35), but not anger, indignation, or outrage. Why? Because the Gospels indicate to me that it's not in the nature or character of Jesus of Nazareth to be those latter things.

People who believe in a God of wrath and war act according to their belief. People who believe in a God of goodness, kindness, love, and peace also act according to their belief. (Matt. 9:29)