God’s Wrath

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Wrath of God

What a scary thing to talk about, wrath. Let’s get the shallow and trite things out of the way and then talk about the serious and meaningful aspect of the thing called wrath. When the word, wrath, is thrown around in a personal conversation we, you and I, get pictures that are frightening because it implies a violent, emotional outburst from a person with the intent to be destructive and harmful. Here is the way Webster’s dictionary of 1913 (which by the way is one of the best dictionaries published) defines wrath: 1.Violent anger; vehement exasperation; indignation; rage; fury. 2. The effects of anger or indignation; the just punishment of an offense or a crime.

Notice definition number 2 from Webster. “the just punishment of an offense or a crime.” Here we have a different meaning than we normally think that “wrath” means. Our society and the media present only one side of wrath to us which is almost always that it means destructive behavior. Remember that it can be destructive, and the news recently shows us how wrath can be destructive. In the last 3 to 4 weeks at least 35 people have been shot dead here in this United States that lives by law and order—or did. It seems all deaths have come from the wrath of a person and showed the destructive side of wrath and not the constructive side. Most folks have never heard of the constructive side, which is a just punishment of an offense. When we read of the wrath of God in His Word we are dealing with the definition of wrath that deals with a just punishment of an offense. Never, never does scripture present a picture of God’s wrath which is an unjust punishment. Now some folks are going to disagree with my take of God’s wrath. And when I say some folks I’m talking about not just the average person who believes that wrath is always unjust against us humans. I’m talking folks who claim to be theologians who study God’s Word.

First let’s examine the statement about wrath being constructive. How can wrath be constructive? This is not easy to tackle but let’s see how it can be constructive. Do you remember what I said about “love”? Remember the definition I applied to it. If not, check it out. To refresh your memory here is a shortened version. “It is the will to extend oneself for the good of someone.” Remember it is not a good feeling and a sense of feeling sorry for things. One of my grandsons approached me a few days ago about one of our dogs having a skinned place on his (dogs) ear and wanted me to do something. I responded that I could not at that moment. He asked me if I cared about the dog. Now that is an interesting question and it implies what? It implies that I must care for my dog the same as I care for people who, when they are injured, we respond to immediately. Are we to care for animals the same as for people? We say we love them. It’s something to think about. Our society implies that we are to love all things equally and feel sorry when we see trees being destroyed, (cut down) or turtles taken out of water. Can you see how feelings get into this thing called “love” and our judgment becomes very clouded, and reality along with truth takes a back seat to our “feelings”. Please be careful as you read these words and do not create something in your mind that I have not said because you may not see how the example fits the idea of a constructive wrath. All I’m trying to do is point out that we are a VERY FEELING SOCIETY, and feelings cannot make good judgmental decisions. Let me give you an example of how our feelings take precedence over thoughts of reality. Pay attention to how people express themselves when they have an opinion about something such as the color of curtains or the best car to buy. Rarely will you hear them say “In my opinion we should get this or that.” and give reality reasons. What you will hear is “I feel that we should do this or that.” Now how in the world can you get at what they mean when they say “feel”. Feelings are very personal and cannot be described because each person’s feeling are unique to the person. Have you ever said to a person “I know just how you feel.” when you see someone grieving and they tell you why they are grieving. Now the reality is we cannot—and I emphasize—we cannot know how another person feels. I have heard grieving folks in counseling say to me, “They don’t know how I feel.” You can see how we as a society are more “feel” oriented than “reality” oriented. Feelings are internal and reality is external. If you define “love” as a feeling then you are focusing inward to self. If you define “love” as a will to extend yourself for the well being of another, then you are focusing outward and not concerned with how you feel. I hope this explanation helps in grasping how the concept of love and feelings don’t really fit together. So please just quote me. Over the years I have said many times to students, “Don’t interpret me just quote me.” Now back to the idea of wrath being constructive.

In order to see wrath as constructive we’ll have to lay our feelings aside and even opinions of how love is a feeling. Let’s take an example and see where we can go with it. Suppose a child is being attacked by a person or an animal. Do we attack and hurt or even destroy whatever is attacking the child? What was our action? Was it wrath? Of course it was and it was constructive. Did we feel sorry for the child at the moment and think how much we “loved” him or her? I hope not. I hope that we would see a great wrong regardless of what we “felt” and attack the aggressor by seeing a wrong done that would harm the child. I hope we expressed our sense of indignation through wrath. I hope we had the will to extend ourselves for the well being of the child. I hope we had the kind of love that God has for that little person and that He has for us. Now this is a poor example of God’s LOVE but I hope it gets us to think about wrath being constructive. Can you see how love and wrath can go together? In fact if we can’t see the two relating maybe what we call love is not love. Maybe it is just a desire to appease our feelings so we will feel good and not bad about the world around us. Now I need to talk about God and His wrath. My prayer is that in all that I say I will honor and bring glory to His Holy Name because I know that I am very ignorant and limited in my knowing God.

Before I specifically talk about God and His wrath, I must say that there are many people in the Christian church who take God to task for His wrath, especially in the death of Christ on the painful cross where God poured out His wrath on a perfect Jesus who took our sins on himself and suffered a horrible death so we might live eternally in the presence of the Great God of the universe. Some have called it “cosmic child abuse.” Some deny that God had to pour out His wrath in order to be appeased. All of this gets deeply involved in theology but the denial that God is a wrathful God denies scripture and in the final analysis denies God’s love for mankind. In dealing with the concept of love and wrath always as opposites are in view. We live in a world of opposites. This means that an abstract idea can only be defined by its opposite such as black can only be defined by white in the human mind. In our society we talk of love and hate. These are opposites. One defines the other in our lives. When we are told what hate is, we cannot even imagine what it is unless we have experienced love. God in His Word says He is light. How can we know light unless we have experienced darkness? So opposites help us define each abstract idea so that we may understand and have a sense of their meaning to us. God presents in His Word opposites for His created rational creatures (that’s us), so that we may know Him. Do such and such we are told. No, you better not do such and such. See the opposites here. My challenge to you is to search His word and observe the opposites. Scripture is full of opposites. Find the first opposite. (Hint: It is in Genesis 1.) God reveals Himself so that we may know Him and what can or cannot be. Take away from us an understanding of God’s wrath and we do not have an understanding of His love. So now, read some of God’s scripture regarding His wrath and His love.

The first command given by Holy God to created man is in Gen 2:15. Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.16 The LORD God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; 17 but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” (NASB) Here we see the first indication that God has the power to punish and will not tolerate man becoming god unto himself. God had created man in His image and all creation was good. God blessed man. Love is not specifically mentioned in the creation story but if read carefully God’s love is revealed in it. God was and is going to supply all man’s needs we are told in Genesis. All that God created was good, which means it was orderly and would be in harmony for the good of all His creation and that He was glorified in it. Nothing about death was mentioned until God mentioned it as a punishment if man violated the Creator/Creature relationship of dependency and trust. If man had eaten of the forbidden tree then a crime would be committed. A crime against who? The Perfect, Righteous, Jealous God of Creation who had a right to demand man’s dependency so that a proper relationship would exist. Suppose God had created the universe and all in it and after creating a rational, thinking being who was limited to a small space on earth without the ability to know beyond himself that He stepped back and said “Have at it. You’re now master of your universe and anything goes.”. Or better still if God had given Adam a command not to eat from the forbidden tree and said, “But it will be okay even though I’ve said don’t eat, and after you eat of it nothing will happen to you because rules are made to be broken. No punishment! No wrath! Just do your own thing because my word does not mean anything.” Think of how cruel that would be. That would be the height of cruelty to mankind. Man would have nothing in his mind other than the ability to “if it feels good, do it.” to direct his life. Compare that thought to setting a newborn out in the street and saying, “You’re on your own now.” That is a horrible thought. A loving God could not and would not allow a finite, small rational being created in His image exist without His perfect directions through His commands given to man. BUT that would mean that He WOULD NOT AND COULD NOT TOLERATE man’s violation of His commands. If He did tolerate man’s violation then cruelty would have been shown to man and not love. What would have been the outcome in His universe? What would have happened to finite man without directions to live by? So where does wrath fit. It is that aspect of God’s love that will not let man off the hook when man becomes his own god by going his own way in life. Without the wrath of God being a tool of His love, created man would glorify himself and dishonor Holy God’s rightful glory. In the process he would have cut the only life line to an eternity with the only Love Being in existence, our Lord and our God, Christ Jesus.

Where does Christ Jesus fit into the wrath of God? John 3:16 says that “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.(NASB) There seems to be no wrath in it but look closely. Implied in the verse is that we have another existence apart from God which will result in perishing unless we are rescued in order to have an eternal life. Notice the word “gave”. When something is given the meaning is that possession or ownership is given up and the gift now belongs to another. Within this verse is the whole gospel. True love is expressed and not some “feel good emotion”. But the stipulation is that a person must believe in order to have eternal life. It does not say that if we work hard or do the right things we can get eternal life. It even says, if we look closely to the words, that some folks won’t believe which means that they won’t have eternal life in a love relationship. So how does God deal with folks who don’t believe. Does He just say, “Never mind you who don’t believe, all is going to be well”? Now I ask again. How can that be love? NO! IT CANNOT BE. This one verse about God’s love in God’s Word could not exist if there was no wrath for those who did and will not believe. Love without wrath is no love at all. It is just a “don’t care attitude” which tolerates people destroying themselves and their relationships. No one will extend self for the well being of another if they don’t love. Remember what love is all about. Love is extending self for the well being of another.

In Chapter 1 of Romans, Paul is writing to the Roman church about the gospel and how God can justify (this means being counted as righteous before Holy God. Man must be righteous in order for God to accept him into His presence.) Here is what Paul says in Romans 1:16-20, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.” For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. (NASB)

Notice in these verses that Paul is talking about God’s love and wrath. God’s love is shown through His gospel, (birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus) because He extends Himself, dying a cruel death for those who believe through faith. But to those who do not believe and are unrighteousness (crime against God), God will show His wrath.

Now for the grand finale. Jesus was born to die. His death was to be in our place and He took the wrath that we were/are to take for violating God’s command through Adam. God’s wrath had to occur or His love and His righteousness would be violated, so Jesus suffered God’s awful wrath that we rightfully should suffer to appease the Father so that we by believing may have eternal life. This is what some in Christiandom have said is “cosmic child cruelty.” (Peter in Acts says that Jesus was put on the cross by God’s predetermined plan.) But if that historical event had not occured, God’s Holy Perfect Love could not be experienced by us.

In mentioning that those who believe will have eternal life, I must clarify. The devil believes but certainly does not have eternal life in a love relationship with Holy God. This believing in scripture is the accepting all of God’s promises through faith. He gives us this due to our inability to initiate or generate it by ourselves. It is a gift of God. Look at the word “gave”, and think about it for your life.

I’m sure you have heard the expression, “My mind is boggled.” When I think of God’s love and His wrath and what He through Christ Jesus has done for a sinful, corrupt, despicable, cruel, loathsome, deceiving, ignorant PRIDEFUL me, I am overcome with a sense of sorrow, joy, and desire to throw myself at the feet of a precious Savior who died in my place a horrible death that I can only begin to imagine. I am in awe. I am in debt to my Lord. I am forever grateful. I cannot with my English express the awesomeness of my Great, Almighty Righteous, Judging, Wrathful, Loving God of the universe. How about you? Have you experienced His awesome love?

In Him,

Dewey Wise

Hope Fruit and Berry Farm

P.S. If you have endured to this point, I commend you for your patient endurance. If any good in your life has come from reading this, please praise God and give Him the Glory. Please do not give thanks to this sinful, corrupt student of His Word. He is my life.

Love as God Love’s

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