As a child, I remember hearing parts of Jonathan Edwards’ classic sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God being praised. My impression I gathered at that age was that I was dirty and sinful and could be crushed at any moment by God’s big, angry hands.
Growing up, I tried to distance myself from that belief, but didn’t know where the balance lies. The Bible is full of wrathful imagery, but even more so does it speak of the love of God. “God is love,” the holy theologian John states, and to fear is to not be made perfect in love. But reading through the prophets and the book of Revelations is certainly enough to scare just about anyone.
On the opposite end of the spectrum of the angry God is Buddy Christ who is always smiling and just wants to be best friends. This looked to me as cheap and plastic as the statue with which the image is frequently associated. But that didn’t help me know the truth, just what wasn’t truth.
In Orthodoxy I encountered something far different than anything I heard in Protestantism or that I could put together myself from the multitude of passages in the Bible. In summary, we in Orthodoxy hold fast to the biblical promise that God does not change: He is the same “Yesterday, today, and forever.” What does that have to do with his anger and wrath?
I will let St. Anthony the Great take it from here:
“God is good, dispassionate, and immutable. Now someone who thinks it reasonable and true to affirm that God does not change, may well ask how, in that case, it is possible to speak of God as rejoicing over those who are good and showing mercy to those who honor Him, while turning away from the wicked and being angry with sinners.
“To this it must be answered that God neither rejoices nor grows angry, for to rejoice and to be offended are passions; nor is He won over by the gifts of those who honor Him, for that would mean He is swayed by pleasure. It is not right to imagine that God feels pleasure or displeasure in a human way. He is good, and He only bestows blessings and never does harm, remaining always the same.
“We men, on the other hand, if we remain good through resembling God, are united to Him; but if we become evil through not resembling God, we are separated from Him. By living in holiness we cleave to God; but by becoming wicked we make Him our enemy. It is not that He grows angry with us in an arbitrary way, but it is our own sins that prevent God from shining within us, and expose us to the demons who punish us. And if through prayer and acts of compassion we gain release from our sins, this does not mean that we have won God over and made Him change, but that through our actions and our turning to God we have cured our wickedness and so once more have enjoyment of God’s goodness.
“Thus to say that God turns away from the wicked is like saying that the sun hides itself from the blind.”
I included the resurrection icon at the top to show what it truly means to be a repentant sinner in the hands of God: it means to be in a place of love and resurrection, to be in a firm loving grip as He pulls us out of our darkness and Hades. More on that icon here.
Also, below is a video that I found helpful when I was inquiring into Orthodoxy; it explains the above concept, but in the context of the fall of humanity and the entire economy of our salvation through Christ. It is definitely worth watching:
Icon of St. Anthony from blessedmart.com
Quote by St. Antony is from the Philokalia, Volume 1.