In some circles, God has a bit of a reputation problem. Like the Hulk, God is seen as “Always Angry,” ready to go full rage monster on his rebellious creation. In this version, God is capricious and cruel, a God that can fly off the handle at any moment. That is, after all, the message of one of the most famous American sermons of all time. We are “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” like a spider dangling above the flames.
This is a big part of how the ancients viewed the gods and goddesses. Upredictable. Uncrontrollable. Distant and dangerous. The crops aren’t growing. The gods must be angry. The rain isn’t falling. The gods must be angry. Pregnancy isn’t happening. The gods must be angry.
So, this description of God laid out in Exodus 34 is radical. God is compassionate (deeply moved and moved to save) and gracious (finding and then showing favor—even to unfavorable people after unfavorable patterns of behavior). God is abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness—a God that can be depended on.
And in the middle is a discussion of anger, but God is not described as an angry God, but a “slow to become angry God.” Literally in Hebrew we are told that God has a “long nose” or “long nostrils.” One of the Hebrew idioms for anger is that someone had a “hot nose.” Picture nostrils flaring and cartoon steam coming out of them. But here we are told that it takes a long time for God’s nose to heat up.That’s why the King James translated this “Longsuffering.” Not bad. God will suffer through a lot before God gets angry.
This is not to say that God doesn’t care about things like idolatry or injustice. Anything that hurts us and hurts the creation God created and deeply loves can bring strong emotions to God, even anger. And one promise of scripture is that God will bring justice in the end. God will set to right all that has been made wrong in creation. But the motivating factors are faithfulness and steadfast love, compassion and grace. That’s precisely why God is not an angry God, but a “slow to become angry God.” God patiently desires that all would be made new.