When we talk about God, we often project onto God many of our emotions, our problems, and our ways of doing things. The fancy word we use is that we ‘anthropomorphize’ God. We make Him to be more like ourselves. We have to be careful, however, since this may lead to the creation of an idol, a false God.
The problem is that it is impossible to talk about God except in our own categories. The Bible does that all the time: God loves, God hates, God punishes, God forgives. If we are honest, we prefer to think of God as a cuddly teddy bear that we can hug and make us feel better. We love Jesus, for instance, when He is described as being meek and humble of heart. We are not too comfortable when He makes a whip and begins to attack some
guys who are just trying to make a buck!
So when we ask if God really gets angry (the wrath of God and all that), we are speaking a bit poetically since we don’t have language to speak about a Being that is so beyond us that we can hardly understand even part of Him.
If we look closely at Scripture, we find evidence of Divine ‘anger’. We hear that God is slow to get angry and that He is quick to forgive; but the anger is there. Over and over in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), He signals His Wrath and punishes the Chosen People. But when they come back to Him humbly, He is always filled with tenderness. Even in the Gospels and the letter of St. Paul, we find them warning us not to provoke
God’s anger by sin, and they are quite clear about retribution for sin (remember the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man).
Thus God, like a good parent, is not permissive of His children’s bad behavior, but holds them accountable and lets them suffer the consequences of their bad actions.
Therefore, it does not seem to contradict Scripture to speak of the ‘wrath of God’ and even the punishment that God may inflict on me as an individual or on our Community, whether it be the country or the Church. If we are doing wrong and we are not ‘getting it’, it would be the behavior of a good parent to get angry and put into action something that will teach us to change our destructiveness. For punishment can be of two kinds: corrective or vengeful. In corrective punishment, a parent intervenes with their child to teach their child to stop the behavior, to explain why it is wrong, and to force the child to experience consequences to their action, helping them to remember to act in a different way if the same circumstances present themselves again. Vengeful punishment, however, is done to satisfy the anger of the parent and to hurt and humiliate the child. God’s
punishment is always corrective and medicinal, intended to make the person better.
Then what about Hell? It seems that the punishment there is not medicinal, but punitive, and it lasts forever! This is a very complex issue; but suffice it to say that, when a person is deep in mortal sin and refuses to repent, they have made a definitive choice against God. God then allows the person to experience the results of his or her choices: an existence without God and therefore without love. Even though saints and sages have tried
to show how terrible a choice this is by images of flames and fire (or in a more developed way as in the case of Dante and the Divine Comedy, which is a work of art and not of scripture), one can say that they were trying to show how terrible the choice is by pains that everyone have experienced (i.e. being burned).
What the poets, saints and sages tried to communicate with regards to the often gruesome picture of Hell is that there can be nothing more terrible than to be without love and without God. Thus, rather than a torture chamber, Hell can be seen as a state of isolation that is held onto with a terribly misguided tenacity that precludes God’s mercy and the prayers of the saints. Could Purgatory be what Hell becomes when the damned one (even
though with a slim chance) does actually call on God’s mercy? What we do know is that one’s presence in Hell is willed and, because of the justice of God who gave us the gift of free will, we are stuck in the choices we have made. So the question of Hell is not really about God’s wrath, but more about God’s reluctant consistency in supporting the gift He gave to each soul: to choose to return God’s love or to refuse it.
In short: yes, God does get ‘angry’, but that anger is a form of respect for the choices we have made eternally. Yet, while there is still time on earth to repent and reorder one’s life on a better path, God will fume and shake us up in His wrath, for His wrath is merely the other side of his mercy.