The Wrath of God

This entry is part 3 of 13 in the series Pastoral Soteriology

The Wrath of God

It is very popular among certain soft-spoken pseudo-theologians today to downplay and “preach away” the existence of God’s wrath toward man’s sin.  Placating today’s whiny “I’m okay, you’re okay” cultural sentiments, they express anti-biblical platitudes which decry that “a loving God” would simply not reveal his anger toward mankind whom he loves.  Indeed, many are perfectly contented with the idea that God is incapable of genuine wrath; claiming that it is outside of his perfect nature to be prone to jealousy and anger.  “Rock star” preachers, such as Rob Bell, gain standing ovations from such gross misrepresentations of biblical theology, such as Bell’s “The God’s Are Not Angry” sermonette tour.  Ending with the phrase “God is not angry because God is love” is a certain crowd pleaser at such gigs. 

Others, such as popular emergent author, Alan Jones, declare that penal substitution is a “vile doctrine” (Reimagining Christianity, p. 168) and that anger is inconsistent with love as a characteristic of God.  The position of this warped understanding of the gospel is based upon the sentimental and philosophical perception that love and anger are somehow mutually exclusive qualities.  Noting that “God is love” and that everything God does is “inspired by love,” they contend that God is incapable of exhibiting wrath because wrath is not motivated by love.  These men must not have children. 

I love my sons enough to die for them at any given moment.  I would not even think twice about it, but would readily throw myself into the path of danger if it threatened them.  I am deeply motivated by that love in my choices regarding their care, provision and training.  Does this mean that I cannot be angry at them?  Does this mean that my wrath cannot be upon them to discipline them from certain actions which I know they are better trained than to engage?   My own father used to tell me that he was disciplining me because he loved me.  While I doubted him at the time, I fully understand now that I have two boys of my own, each equipped with his own fully functioning sin nature.  The simple truth is, I would not be angry for some of their sinful actions were they only someone else’s kids, who may not have known better.  My anger toward their worst failures only exists because of my deep love for them.  Another great parent quote represents the issue well:  “I love you too much to let you behave that way.”

The postulate that God cannot have wrath toward man because “he is love” is a blatant disregard of scripture and a semantical game played by those who desire to please man rather than God.  This message is an opiate for those who reject the true gospel, yet desire a religious affiliation to help them sleep at night.  After all, who wants to hear that God is angry because of something we have done?  Yet there is a stark difference between a message which rouses the loyalty of the masses and one which speaks to the true heart of God.  As Jesus noted,

Matthew 7:13-14 (NIV)
13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

That being considered, perhaps a message which demands the popular acclaim of untold millions is necessarily tarnished. 

Indeed, if God is not angry then scripture is intentionally deceptive on the issue, for it heralds dire warnings in light of God’s wrath and pending judgment upon those who rebel against him and refuse his righteous standards.

God’s Wrath in the Old Testament

More than 500 times God’s wrath is revealed in Old Testament texts.  In each case, his wrath is invoked by varying demonstrations of sinfulness from mankind.  His anger is not random nor unreasonable, but focused intently upon those actions which he has revealed to be sinful and antagonistic toward his own character.  And, this wrath is poured out upon those whom he openly declares his love for.  Wrath and love are not mutually exclusive characteristics within one’s heart, but rather complement each other quite nicely in their proper contexts.  Let one never forget that the God of wrath is also the God of grace, who took his wrath out upon his own willing son, that those who deserved his eternal punishment may be redeemed.

Early in God’s revelation to man, through his law he warned that his anger would be aroused by idolatry, among other things.

Deuteronomy 6:14-15 (NIV)
14 Do not follow other gods, the gods of the peoples around you; 15 for the Lord your God, who is among you, is a jealous God and his anger will burn against you, and he will destroy you from the face of the land.

Joshua 23:16 (NIV)
16 If you violate the covenant of the Lord your God, which he commanded you, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them, the Lord’s anger will burn against you, and you will quickly perish from the good land he has given you.”

God’s anger burned against injustice.

Jeremiah 21:12 (NIV)
12 O house of David, this is what the Lord says: “‘Administer justice every morning; rescue from the hand of his oppressor the one who has been robbed, or my wrath will break out and burn like fire because of the evil you have done– burn with no one to quench it.

Exodus 22:22-24 (NIV)
22 “Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan. 23 If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. 24 My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless.

God’s wrath rose against the Israelites who scorned his provisions during the exodus.

Psalms 78:21 (NIV)
21 When the Lord heard them, he was very angry; his fire broke out against Jacob, and his wrath rose against Israel,

God’s anger is roused at the nations who reject Christ; God’s provision of grace.

Psalms 2:5-6 (NIV)
5 Then he rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying, 6 “I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill.”

These are only precious few of the hundreds of texts which clearly indicate God’s wrath toward man for his various sinful actions.  Whether one has a philosophical issue with the thought of God being capable of wrath- or not- scripture leaves no room for one to claim that God does not exhibit his wrath toward mankind.  Anger is a legitimate and righteous quality when properly motivated.  God declares – by his own testimony- that his wrath burns against mankind for certain actions.

Some desire to relegate God’s wrathful characteristic to the Old Testament, alone.  This position assumes that God’s character was capable of anger prior to the cross, but only of grace thereafter.  While there is small element of truth to this, it is misguided to presume that God’s character changed.  He is the eternally unchanging God; the same yesterday and tomorrow.  He was and continues to be wrathful toward sin.  What changed in the New Testament is that God’s provision for atonement against his wrath had been offered and applied.  As such, it is true that demonstrations of his wrath for sin are much less commonly noted in the New Testament.  One must remember that a great deal of the New Testament was written to believers.  As such, it is written to those for whom God’s wrath has been expiated.  His wrath has been placed upon Christ for all who believe, thus he does not exhibit his wrath to his redeemed.  Yet, those who are not redeemed continue to see God’s wrath displayed.  John the Baptist noted,

John 3:36 (NIV)
36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”

That “God’s wrath remains on him” demands that one understand two things.  First, God’s wrath indeed does exist against man for his sins.  Secondly, that God’s wrath has been removed from those who believe in Christ, because Christ has taken that wrath upon himself, being made a vicarious sacrifice for sin.

While the properties of the atoning work of Christ are the subject of later work in this series, it should be understood fully that God’s wrath does exist in the New Testament.  It will be taken out upon every man, or upon a worthy substitution on his behalf; Jesus Christ, alone.

God’s Wrath in the New Testament

Even gracious Jesus was noted to have expressed anger for the wickedness of men.  He exhibited this toward the Pharisees.

Mark 3:5 (NIV)
5 He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored.

He pointed his anger toward those who had defiled the Temple with commercialism.

Matthew 21:12-13 (NIV)
12 Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13 “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it a ‘den of robbers.’”

Otherwise in the New Testament, God’s anger is pronounced upon the wicked in the day of judgment.

Romans 2:5-8 (NIV)
5 But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. 6 God “will give to each person according to what he has done.” 7 To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. 8 But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.

Once again it is clear that God’s wrath remains upon those who are sinful.  If Christ has not removed one’s sin by his atonement, that one will endure God’s wrath for eternity.  Clearly, even believers were at one time objects of God’s wrath because of that same sin.

Ephesians 2:3 (NIV)
3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.

It was only because Christ had received God’s wrath upon himself, on their behalf, that believers are noted to have “at one time” been counted as among those whom God’s wrath remained.

Why God is Angry

The idea of an “angry God” is very problematic for some.  In such cases, the problem lies in the inability – or unwillingness- of people to receive the teachings of the scriptures concerning the nature of God’s wrath.  It is not as though God is an unreasonable, hateful or spiteful God who despises his creation out of indifference.  Rather, he scorns the sin which has permeated that which he created in perfection.  He loathes that which has tainted and marred his own righteous work.  In every instance in scripture, God’s wrath is noted to be present against man because of his sin.  As Paul noted,

  Romans 1:18-20 (NIV)
18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

Notably, God is angry for very righteous reasons.  He has made himself known, yet men have refused to accept him and have suppressed the truth of his revelation because of their wickedness.  Even today’s liberal “we are the world” relativist types should understand that anger over that which is truly reprehensible is legitimate anger.  Is it wrong for one to be angry over a murder, rape or the death and destruction of terrorism?  Or is it right to be angry over such degenerate activity?

According to the scripture, anger is a bona-fide characteristic of righteousness.  One cannot be truly righteous if he has no inkling of wrath toward that which defiles, destroys and mutilates what is good.  News stories of teen mothers tossing their newborns into dumpsters should make a righteous person indignant!  How much more should the intensely sinful state of humanity cause anger in a supremely righteous God? 

Such is the case for God’s wrath.  It should not be considered uncharacteristic of a righteous and loving God that he exhibits his wrath toward mankind for man’s evil deeds.  As Paul notes,

Romans 2:5 (NIV)
5 But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.

Clearly depicting the end of the matter- an eternal judgment upon sin- Paul notes that it is God’s “righteous judgment” which results from his wrath.  The conclusion?  Wrath is the righteous response to actions of evil.  If God were not angry over sin he could not be understood to be righteous, but indifferent and aloof for the affliction which sin yields.

The Role of God’s Anger in Salvation

As noted in the last section, it is sin which one is saved from in the process of salvation. It is sin which has invoked God’s righteous wrath.  That “all have sinned” is tantamount to saying that “all are under God’s wrath” according to the scriptures. 

It is this realization of God’s wrath upon the whole of sinful mankind which reveals the true depths of the mercy which God has offered man.  With man still under his wrath, God granted his Son as a willing sacrifice to pay the penalty of man’s rebellion. 

Romans 5:8 (NIV)
8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

While this doctrine will be examined later in this work, suffice it to say at this point, that it was God’s own provision which afforded an end to his own wrath.  God incarnate, in the person of Jesus Christ, shed his blood that the rightful and just penalty of sin may be paid; thus appeasing God’s righteous anger while offering redemption to those who were utterly unworthy of it.  Indeed, God is angry over sin, but is also very loving in that he provided atonement for those who would receive it.

Romans 3:22-25 (NIV)
22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished–

Series Navigation<< The Basis for Salvation: Man is SinfulUnsound Theories of Atonement >>

1 Comment(s)

  1. Great article on an all to often overlooked-because-it-is-unpopular topic. Just wanted to voice my agreement and suggest an audio message on the topic: Check out this link.
    http://www.summitcorpuschristi.com/?s=wrath

    Rick | May 5, 2011 | Reply

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  1. Jul 1, 2009: from Pop Goes the Gospel July Edition « A View from the Nest
  2. Jul 7, 2009: from The Mystical Theory of Atonement : ReturningKing.Com

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