Vol. 7, No. 9
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Modern theological liberals, both in and out of the church, are manifestly embarrassed when we speak of the wrath of God. They teach that love and wrath are mutually exclusive, and God must be either one or the other. When it is pointed out that God often exercised wrath in the Old Testament, they will immediately begin speaking of the God of the Old Testament in contrast with the God of the New. According to these people, the God of the Old Testament was a God of vengeance and wrath, but by the time of the writing of the New Testament, he had become a God of love, mercy and grace--hence, an evolving God. All this notwithstanding, the fact that the Bible plainly teaches that our God is an unchanging one.
Not only do the theological liberals find themselves embarrassed by the nature of God, but also it has gotten so the theological conservatives trip around this aspect of the nature of God very lightly. We do not hear sermons on the wrath of God, and his grace, mercy and love are almost constantly emphasized in preaching, writing and worship. As a result of denial by one group and neglect by the other, the people of the last two generations have gotten a very distorted view of the nature of God.
However, neither the New Testament nor the early church flinched at recognizing God as a God of wrath as well as grace, mercy and love. However, John the Immerser, asked, "Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?"(Matthew 3:7 NKJV). Paul spoke of Jesus as being the One "who delivers us from the wrath to come" in 1 Thessalonians 1:10. In the same book, he spoke of the wrath of God coming on the Jews who had killed the Lord, their own prophets, and who had forbidden him to speak to the Gentiles (1 Thessalonians 1:16). Furthermore, in Revelation 6:16, John made reference to "the wrath of the Lamb." The Lamb in the Book of Revelation, as well as other places in the New Testament, is none other than Christ. He brought his wrath on those who crucified him and attempted to destroy his innocent people.
While vengeance belongs to God, not those of us who are Christians, we should not be so naive as to take the position that God is not a God both of vengeance and of wrath. As a matter of fact, to deny that God is a God of wrath is to deny that he is a God of justice. Always punishment must follow a crime if there is to be any justice at all. We do not find it unjust to incarcerate a child-molester for many years, and we do that because of our outrage at what he/she has done. We make him/her register and list a new address each time he/she moves even after they have finished serving a prison term because justice demands that we protect our children. If we can understand that in the ordinary affairs of life, surely we can also understand it in the mind of a loving, but also just God. Anger (wrath) that is attached to justice is called "righteous indignation." There are times when it is righteous to be wrathful. It is always righteous for God to be wrathful against the crime and immorality of man because he is the God of perfect justice.
We should point out, most emphatically, that God cannot be a good God and lack wrath or severity. When Paul wrote to the Romans urging them to remain righteous in the service of God, he reminded them of the wrath that God exercised against the first generation of Jews out of Egypt. Those who rebelled against God, and taught others to do so, all died during the forty years wandering in the wilderness. Then to the Romans he said, "Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off" (Romans 11:22 NKJV).
We cannot truly understand the grace and mercy of God that we have attained through the death of our Lord on the cross, not the deep love wherewith he loves us, until we understand his wrath and the nature of it. Is God worthy of praise if he does not exercise wrath on the evil as he blesses the good?