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Is God’s Wrath Real?

May 1st, 2018

Kiss the Son,
lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him. (Psalm 2:12 ESV)

There are two extremes in teaching about God’s wrath that tend to lead us into error: to under emphasise it or to over emphasise it.

Through the centuries there have been different Christian groups who have painted God as a mere God of vengeance, who delights to punish the sinner. This has always led to a Christianity that was fear-based more than faith-based. To this day you can see some of these groups around the world, such as those in the Philippines who walk in Good Friday processionals flailing their backs until they are bloody, seeking to atone for their sins before an angry God. These are mis-characterisations of the biblical teaching of God’s wrath.

But there is the other extreme as well, the propagation of the false teachings of two different gods in the Bible – the Old Testament one and the New Testament one. The Old Testament god, in this teaching, is a god of vengeance and anger. But the New Testament god is one of kindness and grace. But the Bible proclaims that there is only one God, and He is not schizophrenic! If we will examine the Bible carefully we will see that the God of the Old Testament was also patient and gracious, and that same God sent Christ into the world to save us.

The correct way of understanding the wrath of God is not to neglect it, or to over stress it, but to see it in its proper context. As a holy and pure God, God must judge evil. We sometimes say that God hates the sin but loves the sinner. That is only partly correct, for God does not send the sin to hell but the sinner. The Bible does say that God hates sinners (Hosea 9:15), and though any sinner may through repentance and faith be a recipient of God’s love, the point is clear that God’s wrath is real. It might be clearer to see this word “hate” as meaning “to detest” or “to abhor.” (See also this section from gotquestions.org.)

Yet the Bible never says,”God is wrath,” but it does say, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). When Christ spoke of the eternal relationship He had with the Father before the world was made, He described it not as one of wrath but as one of love: “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world” (John 17:24). So the overarching nature of God is one of love, not of wrath, and He loved the world so much that He sent Christ into the world to die for our sins (John 3:16).

Because God is holy and pure, His wrath is not like ours. Ours is mixed with our hurts and anger, our prejudices and lack of understanding. God’s wrath is perfect and just and always right. When God in the Bible says, “Vengeance is mine!” (Deut. 32:35), His point is to teach us to leave the matter of revenge and vengeance into His hands and not to seek to do it ourselves (see Romans 12:17-21). God judges fairly and purely, not in a mind that is misguided by personal hurts and faults.

Speaking of God’s wrath “flaring up in a minute” or being “quickly kindled” in the verse above describes the situation from the human perspective. Elsewhere the Bible tells us:

The LORD is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities. (Psalm 103:8-10 ESV)

God’s wrath may seem to flare up suddenly to the one whose heart is far from God, who does not consider how his life has offended God’s holiness. But in actuality, God in Himself is “slow to anger.” Psalm 2:12 and verses like it are warnings to us that something very different is going on in God’s heart from our hearts when we sin. We may hurt and abuse others, and go happily along this evil path for years thinking that there will never be a day of reckoning, we may cheat and deceive and lie and steal, we may abuse our own health through addictions, a poor diet, or a lack of exercise, and we may be unjust and uncaring and even cruel and selfish, but be assured that God will hold us accountable.

Suddenly to us God’s wrath seems to flare up, but He has actually been patient. So it is a warning that any one of us could be drawing perilously close to the line of God’s wrath, and that we could be blind to this reality. We should regularly keep ourselves in check, to let God examine our hearts and our actions. As the psalmist wrote: “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!” (Psalm 139:23). 

And for the one who has never trusted in Christ, each day of his life he is closer to his own death. None of us know when we will die, and though some complain that it came suddenly upon them, that is not truly a valid excuse. Surely, every human being should realise that death can come at any time for any of us.

The solution to all sin is to pay homage to Christ, “Kiss the Son,” or worship Him and believe in Him. The scripture says: “If you confess with your mouth ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).  His wrath in this passage above is uniquely reserved for those who knew of the Son but did not pay homage to Him, but instead stubbornly persisted in their own way.

justice, Psalms