Understanding the Wrath of a Loving God.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
10 But it was the LORD’s good plan to crush him and cause him grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have many descendants. He will enjoy a long life, and the LORD’s good plan will prosper in his hands. 11 When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied. And because of his experience, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins. Isaiah 53:10-11 (NLT2)
But the Old Testament speaks of God’s wrath as well as God’s love. So does the New. What is the wrath of God then? Is it real or not?
It is real, but it is not part of God Himself. God is not half love and half wrath, or 99 percent love and 1 percent wrath. God is love. Wrath is how His love appears to us when we sin or rebel or run away from Him. The very light that is meant to help us appears to us as our enemy when we seek the darkness. The mother’s embrace can appear as the worst imaginable torture to the angry child who wants only to fight. Thus some of the saints say the very fires of Hell are made of the love of God but experienced as wrath by the spiritually insane.
Over the years, I’ve encountered two primary attitudes toward the idea of God’s wrath.
Neither is accurate.
The first is to ignore or deny that God can and will pour out His wrath on those who choose to dwell in sin. This usually goes along with the fact that we disagree with what sin is, as we defend those we love engaged in it, or we rejoice in that form of sin ourselves. Because of this, we simply can fathom how God could be so mad at the sin as to condemn us for it.
The second used to be more prevalent in the church, and that is to see wrath as purely an action that is driven by God’s righteous anger. Those lousy people (and sometimes including us) deserve to get punished, and God gets painted as a sadist who enjoys watching them suffer. In reality, the sadist (or masochist if we think we deserve the wrath) is us. We see a lot of this in those people who have wanted to portray this virus (and the ones before it like AIDS) as a form of God’s almighty anger, and a foretaste of the wrath to come at the judgment.
Both are wrong, and in my opinion, so change the image of God that they are heretical.
Ezekiel tells us several times that God does not take joy in the death of the wicked. he also divinely shares that repentance by those who are evil will see them forgiven, not punished, restored, not condemned. Let me say it again, God doesn’t take joy in the wicked. Never has, never will.
Similarly, the Apostle Peter tells us that God is patient with us because He doesn’t want any of us to perish. The apocryphal picture of Peter at the gate of heaven allowing some and barring others is misleading – Peter and the church being given the keys is about freeing people from bondage – allowing them to enter the kingdom of God (Matthew 16) even as the church rocks the gates of hell to free people from its embrace.
Are there good people that will reject God that Ezekiel mentions? Yes
Are there people who will choose the bondage of sin, despite the availability of grace and forgiveness, surely.
And this is where God’s wrath comes in, not from a sense of anger, but the sense of love. While we may see it as punitive, the goal for God is restorative. It is not contrary to His nature of love, but love requires it. Kreeft makes this point clear above in the words shared purple – a point that C.S. Lewis wrote an entire book (the Great Divorce) to demonstrate. Simply put, those who end up suffering in Hell would choose their idol and their sin, they would embrace its cost, rather than enjoy the presence of God.
Only once has it pleased God to pour out His wrath, and that was on Jesus.
It was God’s good plan this translation says, others say it gave God pleasure, it pleased Him, to pour out that wrath on Jesus.
No one else.
And the satisfaction of restoring people to God is all worth it. The satisfaction for restoring you to God was why Jesus endured the cross – that is the glory was Hebrews 12 describes.
All other times God disciplines and pours out His wrath is the hardest act of love, the ay to embracing an angry child, for, in that embrace, Jesus takes into Himself our sin, and pays the price.
With that understanding of God’s wrath, we no longer have to deny it, we no longer have to project it on others. We now longer have to judge and condemn, we can simply urge people to let God love them and to rejoice as He does, and they change, relaxing and knowing His peace.
Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 128.