In Eastern theology, the idea of a dispassionate God is common. It is often said that wrath is an energy of God but is not part of his essence. I have even heard Western theologians say that wrath is not an eternal attribute of God (it did not exist in the absence of sin, it only exists in response to unholiness). Does he really get mad or is this just for our benefit, since "God is love?" Or is this an influx from Plato into Christian thought? I am interested in a Western explanation (which often speaks of eternal vs. temporal "attributes" of God rather than the Eastern model of essence vs. energies).
There is some confusion about the word ‘anthropomorphism’ as it is found in the Bible. The basic idea is that anything that is ‘unworthy’ of being attributed to God, which is a human characteristic applied to God in order for us to understand something higher and nobler, is anthropomorphic. For example when the Bible says Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord, the ‘eyes’ are not real physical eyes, but this is an anthropomorphism to say that in God’s perspective Noah was graciously approved.
The Greeks were famous for a different kind of anthropomorphism not found in the Bible. They created gods that seemed like grumpy and resentful children who happened to have a lot of power. This is not the kind of anthropomorphism found in the Bible. The Bible starts 'in the beginning there was God' not man who applied their ideas about themselves to God. God is higher than our nature in every sense and beyond our comprehension in every way. Unlike the Greek god’s created by men, and therefore unholy human traits were projected up to them, God made man and some of our traits are in his image. So we see human traits that are ‘worthy’ of God are not anthropomorphisms but attestations that we are created in his image.
With regard to emotions, such as love and righteous anger, these emotions are not anthropomorphisms. Holy anger is a subset of love, for love hates evil and opposes it. An infinite God who loves without measure must necessarily infinitely oppose sin, or he does not love. Therefore the human affections that we call emotions, at least those that are encouraged in scripture and evident in the life of Christ, are not anthropomorphisms.
Whether God is ‘actually angry’ may mean different things to different people. What is ‘actually’? Is it ‘human’ or ‘real’? We can’t pretend to understand how God feels; we can only know that he wants us to understand him as feeling. The best way to see how God ’feels’ and how God wants our emotions to be like, is to read the gospels and see how God in man felt, and how the Christ's emotions were like. Jesus got angry but was most characteristic as loving - both emotions were real and indicative of how the Father and Spirit 'feel'.