Is the God of Love also a God of Wrath?1
Biblical passages such as Hebrews 10:26-31 make a lot of people extremely uncomfortable with its talk of judgment (v. 27a), the fury of fire consuming sinful people (v. 27b), punishment (v. 29a), and vengeance (v. 30). Continue reading . . .
Biblical passages such as Hebrews 10:26-31 make a lot of people extremely uncomfortable with its talk of judgment (v. 27a), the fury of fire consuming sinful people (v. 27b), punishment (v. 29a), and vengeance (v. 30).
It’s easy to think about and even to preach on the subject of God as love. Grace and mercy are not difficult topics. Forgiveness and salvation are among our favorite biblical themes. But when it comes to the idea of judgment and the suggestion that this God of love and mercy is also a God of wrath and vengeance, well, that’s another matter. After all, no one criticizes God for being kind and merciful. But we live in a day when people jump at the opportunity to pass judgment on God’s character whenever his holiness and righteous anger are the topic of discussion.
The doctrine or concept of divine wrath and anger is thought by many to be beneath God. Some have insisted that the notion of divine wrath is archaic and that the biblical terminology refers to no more than "an inevitable process of cause and effect in a moral universe." In other words, divine wrath is an impersonal force operative in a moral universe, not a personal attribute or disposition in the character of God. Wrath may well be ordained and controlled by God, but is clearly no part of him, as are love, mercy, kindness, etc.
People who take this view have clearly misunderstood what the Bible has in view when it speaks of judgment and divine wrath. It is not the loss of self-control or the irrational and capricious outburst of anger. Divine wrath is not to be thought of as a celestial bad temper or God lashing out at those who "rub him the wrong way." Divine wrath is righteous antagonism toward all that is unholy. It is the revulsion of God's character to that which is a violation of God's will. Indeed, one may speak of divine wrath as a function of divine love! For God's wrath is his love for holiness and truth and justice. It is because God passionately loves purity and peace and perfection that he reacts angrily toward anything and anyone who defiles them. J. I. Packer explains it this way:
"Would a God who took as much pleasure in evil as He did in good be a good God? Would a God who did not react adversely to evil in His world be morally perfect? Surely not. But it is precisely this adverse reaction to evil, which is a necessary part of moral perfection, that the Bible has in view when it speaks of God's wrath" (Knowing God, 136-37).
Think about this for just a moment. If you and I do not deserve to suffer divine wrath for our sins, we empty God’s forgiveness of its meaning. If there is no such thing as judgment, God ought to overlook our sin. Forgiveness is real and meaningful only when we believe that our sin has put us into a situation where we deserve to have God inflict upon us the most serious consequences for our unbelief and immoral behavior. When a situation demands that God should take action against sinful people in judgment and instead he takes action for them, the word grace actually means something. But if there is no such thing as the judgment of God’s wrath for sin and unbelief, grace loses all meaning and significance.
Whatever your view of God, the Creator of the universe and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, if it does not include a healthy confession that he is holy and righteous and will pour out wrath and judgment on those who persist in their rejection of him, it is an unbiblical and unrealistic view. In fact, it is an unloving view. For if you communicate to non-Christians that they should repent and believe the gospel, but if they don’t, “Aw, don’t worry about it, God will figure out a way to embrace you in spite of your unbelief,” you are treating that person with contempt. You are leaving them vulnerable to eternal damnation with the false hope of a God who is too loving ever to consign anyone to hell.
As John Piper has said, “The love of God provides escape from the wrath of God by sacrificing the Son of God to vindicate the glory of God in forgiving sinners. That's the gospel.” But for those who spurn the provision of God’s love in Christ there is only a fearful expectation of judgment.
So let me be as clear as I can be. I will not apologize for God’s wrath. I am not embarrassed by God’s wrath. If the God of the Bible didn’t care about sexual abuse and injustice and theft and murder and idolatry, he’s not worthy of anyone’s worship. If the God of the Bible is unmoved by and indifferent toward racism and perversion and abortion and rape and dishonesty, he’s not worthy of anyone’s praise. Righteous anger against sin is absolutely essential to God being God. Punishment for human wickedness and wrath poured out on unrepentant rebels is part of what it means to be holy. And I will not ignore or tip-toe around what the Bible says on this matter in order not to offend people or to ensure that people who give financially continue to do so.
The God of the Bible, the only true God, is indescribably patient and kind and compassionate and loving and gracious and merciful. But that doesn’t mean he’s soft on sin or akin to that coddling, overly-indulgent grandfather who lets you get away with stuff your parents would never allow. God is holy and righteous and just and bears no resemblance to some doting, spineless uncle who lacks the will to hold anyone accountable for their actions.
So let me conclude with a few important observations.
First, the wrath and righteous anger of God is not merely an OT doctrine. People mistakenly think that the so-called “God of the Old Testament” was an angry ogre who bears little resemblance to the God of the NT. But this fails to recognize that the OT is filled with descriptions of God’s compassion and longsuffering and mercy and tender-hearted ways. And the NT is likewise filled with passages like Hebrews 10 which speak unapologetically of divine wrath. And may I remind you of what will happen at the Second Coming of Christ? We read in Revelation 19:15, “From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.”
Second, we need to thank God for his wrath. That’s right. You should thank God and praise him for his wrath. To think that unrepentant and stubbornly defiant rebels might never be called to account for their deeds and never face the judgment they deserve is horrific. I’m grateful to God that, if not in this life then certainly in the next, and for eternity, those who hate him and perpetrate unimaginable wickedness on this earth will be judged.
Third, we must always praise and glorify God for his amazing grace that has made it possible for us to be spared this wrath. His wrath has been poured out on Jesus and altogether satisfied for those who put their trust in him as Lord and Savior. Yes, we are among the perpetrators of evil and abuse and wickedness in the earth, but if you look to God’s mercy for you in the death of Jesus you will find forgiveness. God’s wrath wasn’t set aside or ignored when it comes to the sins of Christians. It was fully and finally and forever poured out on his Son who endured for sinners what they otherwise should have suffered. And thus we sing:
In Christ alone, who took on flesh, fullness of God in helpless babe!
This gift of love and righteousness, scorned by the ones he came to save.
Till on that cross as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied,
For every sin on him was laid, here in the death of Christ, I live!