God’s wrath is something that most believers (and non-believers) wrestle with intensely for years and rarely seem to find any consolation or relief from the struggle. It is something that is found all of Scripture (both the OT and the NT) and Jesus talks about it more than he talks about almost anything else. Paul, Peter, John, and the other New Testament writers also spend a great deal of time on it. It’s an unavoidable Biblical truth. So what are we to make of it?
Before we get too far into it, God’s wrath is a huge topic. There are so many doctrines, so many aspects, and so many truths about God’s wrath that it takes a lifetime to wrap our minds and hearts around. But what most of us need is simply a big picture explanation of the truth about God’s wrath. I never had it explained to me well, in a way that I understood, until college. I hope this will help you as you continue to struggle with God’s wrath.
Most people are bothered by God’s wrath because when they say they want a loving God, what they really mean is that they want a nice God. But love and nice are not synonyms. They overlap, they are closely related, but they are not the same thing. Most people don’t want a loving God, they want a nice God who never gets angry, never punishes, and is never against anything.
But if God did not get angry at sin or hate evil – he would not be a fully good or fully loving God. The problem comes from realizing that we are sinful and evil. And if God judges sin and evil, and we are sinful and evil, God must judge us. That is what no one wants to think about. But we must. And here’s why.
The wrath of God is an abused and unfairly treated topic. Preachers either emphasize it way too much or avoid it at all costs. Neither is healthy. In order to rightly understand the love and forgiveness of God and the goodness of the gospel message, we must rightly understand his wrath. The less serious we make God’s wrath, the less important we make God’s love and the gospel message. The greater God’s anger at sin, the greater his forgiveness of it as displayed on the cross.
Here are some basic, but absolutely essential Scriptural truths that I hope will help you in your struggle with God’s wrath.
1. God is too holy not to have wrath.
God is holy. God is pure. God is perfect. God is above all sin, evil, and darkness.
John says that God is light and in Him there is no darkness. If then we are in Him, we cannot possess darkness. There is no place for sin in the presence of God – this truth is evident throughout the entire Bible. God is so holy and so clean and so pure and so perfect that he cannot tolerate the presence of sin. God is too holy to allow the evil and impurity of sin to run rampant in humanity.
Because God is holy and pure and he cannot allow sin to go unopposed, and because the object of God’s wrath is sin and disobedience and rebellion against relationship with him and against his will, we have a problem. Romans 3:10-19 tells us that we are the embodiment of sin and rebellion and disobedience. None of us is righteous or holy enough to be saved on our own, no not even one. Therefore, because we embody sin and rebellion, we ought to be the object of God’s wrath.
God is simply too holy not to have wrath against sin and therefore against us because of our sin.
2. God is too just not to have wrath.
In order to properly examine God’s wrath – we must think of him first as Judge. He is not a vigilante justice seeker that brings impromptu judgment on those nearby. He is a good and righteous judge – one who carefully, thoughtfully, and patiently gathers evidence, brings charges, and declares one as guilty. Often in the Old Testament, God brings charges against the people and the evidence includes years, decades, even centuries of wrongdoing.
In Numbers 14:18 we see that God our Judge is slow to anger but that he still gets angry, as all good judges do, at the thought of injustice or evil going unpunished. In Numbers 18, God has mercy on Israel by not killing them all, but also punishes them by not allowing them to enter the promised land. I’ve heard some people say, “Well why can’t God just forgive everyone and forget about it?” Because then he wouldn’t be just. He wouldn’t be a good judge. Good judges don’t just sweep evil under the rug and say, “You know what, it’s not a big deal, just don’t do it again. You’re free to go.”
A judge who brushes sin aside without there being any punishment for the sin is not really just, not really fair, and not really good. We would all lodge a complaint against a judge that just let a murderer walk out of the goodness of his heart. And yet, that’s what many people claim they want from God. But if he did that, he would not be good or righteous. A good and righteous judge does not sweep evil under the rug.
God is simply too just not to judge sin – too just not to have wrath.
3. God is too loving not to have wrath.
You cannot have deep and genuine love without wrath. How is this possible you might ask? Well I will show firsthand you if you take a swing at my fiancé. Or if you come near anyone that I love dearly with the intent to harm. Is it because I’m an angry person who likes fighting? No, its because I’m a loving person will stop at nothing to protect my loved ones from evil. God’s wrath is just that – protecting people he loves from evil.
A good and loving God cannot be indifferent to sin and evil and disobedience. He is simply too loving to not be wrathful. He loves humanity too much to leave us stuck in our sin. He loves us too much to let us destroy ourselves completely. It is like when you have a friend who has some self-destructive tendencies, habits, or behaviors. If you really love them, you will do something about it. If you really love them, you will act to stop them from destroying themselves. God’s wrath acts in the same way.
Almost every time in Scripture that God’s wrath is mentioned, his love is mentioned either just before or just after. Likewise, almost every time that God’s immense love is mentioned, his wrath is not far off. This is because they go hand in hand – they go together, they cannot be separated from each other. Love and wrath are so intricately woven together because wrath against anything that threatens the object of that love is a display of love.
God’s love is greater because of his wrath and his wrath is greater because of his love.
In fact…God’s wrath makes him more loving
God’s wrath is an outpouring of his love – his love for goodness, his love for holiness, his love for righteousness, and his love for his people.
In Amos 4:6-13 we see this truth clearer than most places in Scripture. God tells Israel that in his wrath (and his love) he allowed famine, drought, disease, war, and even judgment to come upon them with the hope that the people would return to him – return to right and loving relationship with him. But they didn’t.
God’s wrath is a plea to get people to turn to him! That because of God’s great and unfathomable love – all of his judgment is at least in part an attempt to bring people back to him while simultaneously opposing evil. His wrath is therefore both just and loving.
4. God is so loving that He drank our cup of wrath.
If we are in Christ Jesus, there is no condemnation. We are no longer under God’s wrath, but under his mercy because Jesus bore the wrath that we all deserved to bear. As a result, we are set free from his wrath.
In the greatest act of love in history, Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath on the cross for us. He provided a way out for us. On the cross, God embodied love so purely because it displayed his unwillingness to tolerate our sin and rebellion but also his unwillingness to let us stay there. Only through the cross can we see God’s justice and mercy on full display simultaneously.
God is holy and just but he is also loving and faithful and will let nothing stand between him and his beloved – so he died, he took the punishment upon himself so that he could be both 100% completely just and holy AND 100% loving and merciful.
God doesn’t want people to face his wrath any more than we want to face it. In fact, he probably wants us to face his wrath far less than we do because he understands its seriousness far better. In fact, he wanted to spare us from his wrath so much so that he provided a way out. He drank the cup himself. He died for us.
5. Wrath still awaits those separated from Jesus.
While Jesus’ death on the cross was sufficient to cover the sins of all, salvation and the ability to be in relationship with God are gifts – but they must be accepted, they must be received with humility and repentance. The gospel demands a response.
For those who have answered God’s call and confessed, repented, and believed in Jesus – there is no wrath ahead – Jesus bore it all. But for those who still continue in their sin and are living life apart from Jesus, out of relationship with God – wrath still awaits.
But this is what makes the gospel message actual good news. There is a way out. Yes, we all deserve God’s wrath, judgment, and hell because every single of one of us is sinful on our own. There is nothing we can do to make ourselves acceptable to God, nothing we can do to earn our way into heaven. But in his great love, Jesus bore God’s wrath on the cross for us so that we could be free. He has provided a way out.
God is calling; beckoning humanity to himself. He wants all to come to knowledge of who he is and what he has done for us. Answer his call. Turn to Jesus and you will be saved from the wrath of God.
But our God is simply too holy, too just, and too loving not to be angry at sin and not to act in opposition to it.
What else would you add to this dialogue? How have you struggled with God’s wrath? How have you come to a peace about it all? Please share your thoughts!