Note: This post is part of an ongoing series of posts related to the attributes of God. Here are the links to the previous posts (Why Study the Attributes of God, The Holiness of God, The Power of God, The Presence of God, The Knowledge of God, The Fatherhood of God, The Love of God, The Wisdom of God).
The Wrath of God
One of the most neglected teachings of the Church and many professing Christians is the truth about God’s wrath. Even the mention of this is repulsive to many. And when forced to deal with the subject of God’s wrath, such people do it in an apologizing manner. It is almost like, “I’m sorry that God is described as being a God of wrath.” Often the reason for such a negative attitude is the difficulty of people to reconcile a God of love as also being a God of wrath. They wrestle with the thought, “How could a loving and merciful God also be a punishing God?” Such a type of thinking arises due to a faulty view of God, which is born out of a lack of proper understanding of what the Bible says about God’s attributes as a whole.
Typically, when we use the word “wrath,” the first thing that comes to our mind is a madman running around with a gun and shooting many people. We tend to view God also in the same light as someone who arbitrarily goes around killing or inflicting pain on people. Nothing is farther from the truth. Unlike sinful human anger, God’s wrath is in keeping with his holy nature.
God is absolutely holy. And sin―every kind of sin―opposes the holy nature of God. Stated in another way, “sin is everything opposite of who God is.” How then can a sovereign God tolerate anything that opposes him and yet stay sovereign? No, God must punish sin in keeping with his holy and righteous character. That’s why God’s wrath may be defined as “his eternal and holy hatred of all sin resulting in his punishing of it.” Imagine if a holy God did not hate sin or even be troubled by it, can we really and fully without any reservation praise him for being a righteous God? Indeed, we cannot!
Therefore, we should not view the wrath of God as something negative of God’s attributes or as something that stands in opposition to his other attributes such as love, mercy, kindness, goodness, etc. God is the sum of all perfections. While God can love perfectly, he can also hate perfectly all that is opposed to what is good—namely evil. God cannot be a perfect God if he does not deal with sin. That is why it should not surprise us to find that the Bible frequently talks about God’s wrath.
In fact, we find God himself describing his wrath in vivid terms without any shame or apologies.
Deuteronomy 32:39-41 “39 See now that I myself am he! There is no god besides me. I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver out of my hand. 40 I lift my hand to heaven and solemnly swear: As surely as I live forever, 41 when I sharpen my flashing sword and my hand grasps it in judgment, I will take vengeance on my adversaries and repay those who hate me.”
He who delights in all that is pure and lovely must by nature also detest all that is impure and dirty. And that makes perfect sense.
In fact, God is not the only one who is unashamed to proclaim his wrath. The prophets in the Old Testament and the apostles in the New Testament were also unashamed to proclaim his wrath.
Isaiah 30:27 “See, the Name of the Lord comes from afar, with burning anger and dense clouds of smoke; his lips are full of wrath, and his tongue is a consuming fire.”
Romans 1:18 “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness.”
So, God is not ashamed to describe his wrath. The prophets and the apostles were not ashamed to proclaim his wrath. And we must not be ashamed to proclaim about his wrath either. By punishing evil, God exercises justice. He shows that he is a just God. We praise human law courts when they exercise justice against those who have committed evil acts. How much more should we praise a holy God who in his wrath executes perfect justice against evil-doers?
Scripture testifies that we will rejoice when God fully executes his wrath in the future against all his enemies―a concept that may be a little hard to grasp at present since we are still in the flesh.
Deuteronomy 32:43 “Rejoice, you nations, with his people, for he will avenge the blood of his servants; he will take vengeance on his enemies and make atonement for his land and people.”
Revelation 19:1-3 “1 After this I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting: “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, 2 for true and just are his judgments. He has condemned the great prostitute who corrupted the earth by her adulteries. He has avenged on her the blood of his servants.” 3 And again they shouted: “Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up for ever and ever.””
What we learn from these verses is this: Just as we thank and praise God for exhibiting mercy and love, we should also thank and praise him for exhibiting wrath as well.
To the biblical writers, the gospel did not start with “God is love.” It started with God being righteous and holy and that all of us have fallen short of his holy standard. We are not right with God and we need to be right with God. That was their starting point of gospel preaching and that should be our starting point as well. Therefore, rather than being uneasy with the idea of the wrath of God, I hope we strive to unashamedly proclaim this attribute of God just as we do the other attributes.
What then, are the implications of the truths concerning the wrath of God?
4 Implications For the Christian
1. We no longer have to fear God’s wrath. Though we were [past tense] children of wrath [Eph 2:3], we are now children of God and in fact heirs of God [Rom 8:16-17]. We are promised in 1 Thessalonians 1:10 that “Jesus…rescues us from the coming wrath.”
The reason unbelievers do not like the subject of God’s wrath is that deep inside, they know they are guilty. The only hope they have is in their own righteousness and that their good works will somehow get them into heaven. It is not a strong hope when one relies on their own efforts. However, as believers, we are not relying on our righteousness. We rely on Christ’s righteousness that alone satisfies God’s standards. That is why we have the strong and unshakeable hope that we are safe in Christ and thus no longer fear God’s wrath.
2. We will thank God more. Knowing that we will not experience God’s wrath will cause us to thank God even more. If our future is so secure―not because of what we have done―but because of what God has done through Jesus for us, we will constantly abound in thanksgiving [Psa 116:12-13].
3. We will fear God more and thus hate sin more. While the true Christian will never experience God’s wrath in the sense of losing salvation, a believer can at times even expect severe disciplining when there is unrepentant sin [Acts 5:1-11; 1 Cor 11:28-32]. Constant reflection of God’s wrath enables the Christian to take sin seriously, not make excuses for sinful living and thus hate sin more. In fact, living a life that fears the Lord in a practical sense means to hate sin more as Proverbs 8:13 declares,“To fear the Lord is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech.”
4. We will urge people to flee from the wrath of God. John the Baptist urged the people to flee from the wrath of God by repenting of their sins [Matt 3:7]. Jesus spoke more about hell than everyone else and called us to fear God by turning to him [Matt 10:28]. Paul warned the people to turn to Christ because he understood the wrath of God [2 Cor 5:11].
Preaching about hell is not an unloving thing. On the contrary, it is a very loving thing—no matter what the world says! If we really love someone, how can we not tell them about the eternal danger that awaits them if they continue to live without Christ? The key is not to just preach on the wrath of God, but also on the forgiveness that God offers through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross [Psa 130:3; Rom 3:25-26].
2 Implications For the Non-Christian
1. God’s past and present acts of wrath prove he will fulfill his promise concerning the future wrath.
In the Past. Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the garden [Gen 3]; destruction of the entire universe except those in Noah’s Ark by the universal flood [Gen 6]; destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah [Gen 19]; and destruction of Jerusalem by Rome in A.D. 70 ― these are just a few historically proven illustrations of God’s wrath in the past.
In the Present. John 3:36 says, “Whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.” They are currently under God’s wrath. Romans 1:18 says, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness.” This wrath, in the present, is displayed through God abandoning sinners to their own ways so they can reap the consequences as they persist in wickedness [Rom 1:24-32].
In the Future. 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9 reads, “…This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. 8 He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.” Revelation 6-20 describes in greater detail God’s future and final wrath that is to be poured out on those who refuse to obey the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Bible clearly teaches that God cannot lie [Tit 1:2]. Since he has promised to judge all those who reject Christ, he will keep his word. Just because God is not judging every act of evil immediately, one must not be deceived into thinking that he will never judge evil [Ecc 8:11-14].
There is a story of an ungodly farmer who lived in a community of godly farmers. As the godly farmers would meet in a country church every Sunday morning, this man would run his tractor to cause a disturbance. He did this for many months. Finally, when harvest time came in October, his land had the highest yield per acre in that community. With pride, he wrote to the local newspaper as to how Christians could explain his success when he did this all against God and his people. The pastor responded with one sentence “God does not settle all his accounts in the month of October.”
Friend, if you are not a Christian, don’t think because all is well today, God must be pleased with you. Don’t mistake his patience as him being okay with your sin. His goodness is not to be abused but is designed to lead you to true repentance and faith in his Son [Rom 2:4-5].
2. The certainty of God’s future wrath should motivate you to flee from it. The Bible says,“It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God” [Heb 10:31]. Please realize that your sins have made you an enemy of God, so his wrath rests on you in the present [John 3:36] and awaits you in the future. Please cry out for mercy. You must desire to “flee from the coming wrath” [Matt 3:7] and run to the cross where Christ took God’s wrath upon himself so that he can freely pardon your sins. You need to throw away all self-confidence and humbly cry out to Christ, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner!” [See Luke 18:13.] That’s the only way you can be delivered from the coming wrath.
Dear friend, nothing is as sweet as the goodness and patience of God. However, nothing is also more terrible as his coming wrath. The same water that can quench your thirst can also be your terrible enemy when it comes as a flood. The same fire that can cook your food can also be your terrible enemy when it burns you.
Likewise, the same God who is patient and good to you today, will one day turn against you in terrible vengeance. None can deliver you from his hand on that day. No amount of crying or pleading will save you. Look to Jesus who died on the cross for your sins and was raised to prove that his sacrifice was accepted. Through Jesus, there is complete forgiveness. So, turn to him in true repentance and faith―right now where there is still time! He will accept you no matter how bad you have been and give you a new beginning! Do not perish, but choose the free gift of eternal life that God offers through Christ!