Recent church history proves how much focus we have placed on God and His perfect, unending, unfading love. We read church signs and bumper stickers proclaiming, “God loves you!” We share social media posts claiming, “God is love.” We hear songs on the radio praising God’s love for us. Even those outside the church know enough of God’s love to question how He could allow death, disease and disaster; some of them even use this to support their claims that Christians are hypocrites and should love everyone, no matter what.
Behind the pulpit, on the side of the road, in the middle of a newsfeed, the message of God’s love is everywhere. Or is it?
Just like history and nature goes through phases, the church goes through spirts when it comes to which part of God it wants to preach. For a time, we’ll emphasize God’s wrath, a focus that will lead to sermons like Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Eventually, this constant talk of God’s vengeful wrath wears heavy on Christians’ hearts and deters outsiders from accepting this supposed angry God. To compensate, the church overcorrects and preaches solely on the “God of the New Testament,” a God who loves everyone and overlooks sin.
We can find some truth within each of these arguments, but neither are based on the true, full picture of God and His character. Both claims have just enough truth to be dangerous. They dip their toes in the water, giving them the freedom to associate with the truth without ever having to take the plunge and inundate themselves with the truth. What’s left is a couple dribbles of water trying to survive in the middle of a sun-baked desert. And in a spiritually thirsty world like ours, those dribbles are all too appealing.
Rather than focusing on the true nature of God and its abundant, satisfying fountain of perfection, what’s left is a stagnant, bacteria-infested puddle. Certain sectors of the church try to pass the puddle off as the true fountain of life, appealing to society’s desire to be accepted and comfortable. But what they fail to mention is the moment you drink from their “fountain,” you’re exposing yourself to what will only prove to be a fatal, never-satisfying addiction. No drug or virus, manmade or otherwise, will ever cause you as much damage as this “life-giving” water.
For the rest of us within the church (those of us who abide by and preach from the Word of God as is), we know these sects exist and are aware of the poison they’re distributing, but rather than say or do anything about it, we let it happen. What’s worse, we do it silently, knowing we possess the actual truth—a truth which will only bring life to those around us and eternal life at that—but not caring enough to share it. Or if we do care, we’re more concerned about what others would think of us if we did anything rather than what God would think of us.
And while all of this is happening here on Earth, God is looking down on us from Heaven and asking, “Why are so many of you choosing a mildew-infested puddle of lies over my pure, satisfying fountain of truth? Why are my people not preventing their fellow humans from ingesting such poison?”
No drug or virus, manmade or otherwise, will ever cause you as much damage as this "life-giving" water.
Do you see how such behavior could spur God’s just wrath?
We don’t like to think about it and we definitely don’t like to believe we could be the cause of such wrath, but whether we admit it or not, our God is a God of wrath and we, especially those who claim to be His, are what motivates His just wrath.
But God’s wrath is not like our human anger, it’s more complex than that; it also doesn’t compare with the wrath we hear of other “gods” possessing, like that of Allah and the countless Hindu “gods.”
The Christian God (and the only true God, for that matter) exhibits a wrath we as humans can never understand, just like we can never truly comprehend His joy, wisdom or love. After all, He is God and we are...well, not. However, we can still contemplate His wrath in the best way we know how, and that is through our human perspective and therefore, human imagery, which is what we will do now. Yes, these illustrations will pale in comparison to their real manifestations in God, but they can still help us on our path to considering God’s character.
Okay, shall we begin then?
Imagine a child disobeys his parents by playing with a pair of scissors (note, this child is old enough to understand the dangers/consequences of such an action). As the child attempts to trim his younger sibling’s nails with said scissors, one of his parents runs over, yanks the scissors from his hands and chastises him.
The child blatantly disobeyed the parent. He intentionally decided to use the scissors on his younger sibling, knowing full well the dangers/consequences that accompany such a decision. Does the child deserve the parent’s chastisement? Yes, if the parent’s reason behind the initial command and his subsequent action when the command was disobeyed was based on love. If a parent doesn’t love his child, why would he care if he played with a pair of scissors, whether by himself or with his younger sibling?
It is only because of the parent’s love for the two children that the chastisement (anger) ensues.
So if a human parent, one who is infinitely flawed no matter how many “#1 Dad” mugs he has in his cupboard, can demonstrate love-based anger toward his child, why would a God who is the ultimate perfect Father not do the same, if not more so?
Again, this is a simplified, human illustration of God’s character, but it is one to which we can relate and better comprehend. (For more about God’s love-based discipline, look at Hebrews 12:3-11.)
So if a human parent...can demonstrate love-based anger toward his child, why would a God who is the ultimate perfect Father not do the same, if not more so?
Let’s look at another example.
A breaking news story flashes on your television screen: a group of school children in a foreign country have been kidnapped and murdered. You, as will the average person, are outraged and saddened by such news. You cannot imagine how anyone would want to do such a thing to another human being, let alone a child, and you desire for justice to be done to those who committed such a heinous crime.
Are you justified in feeling this way? Of course! But wait, how could you, a person who makes all sorts of mistakes every day be justified to judge what another person does or does not deserve? Sure, you (hopefully) have never killed someone, especially a child, but you have lied, put yourself before another, disobeyed an authority figure, failed to do what you know is right, thought ill of another, said something you knew was wrong and countless other sins.
No, these latter sins are not equal to that of the people who kidnapped and murdered those children, but that’s according to us, not God.
I’ll use another example to illustrate this point. Take a glass of water. Pour a couple drops of a second liquid into it. It doesn’t matter what kind of liquid, just pick one; it can be oil, dish soap, peroxide, benzene, etc. Whatever liquid you put into the water, that liquid then contaminates the water. Some of these liquids are more harmful than others, but they all contaminate the water nonetheless.
Murder is literally more lethal than lying, but they both pollute the person committing them and the one (or more) suffering as a result of them.
Another simplified illustration, yes, but hopefully it gets the point across. In the end, all of us “have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We’ve all sinned, and all sin deserves punishment, the ultimate punishment being eternal separation from God the Father (Romans 6:23, James 1:15, Ezekiel 18:20).
Because our God is a perfect, flawless God who knows no sin and commits no sin, any form of sin is detestable to Him (2 Corinthians 5:21, 1 Peter 2:22, 1 John 3:5). And if it is detestable to Him, would His subsequent wrath not then be justified?
If murder is detestable to you, as I hope it is (just as I hope lying, gossiping, slandering, and all the other sins previously mentioned), is not your anger toward the one who commits it justified? We already answered that question.
But unlike us humans, God’s anger, or wrath, stems from a perfect love we can never imagine let alone muster ourselves. He cares for every person; after all, He is the One who made each person in His likeness (Genesis 1:26-27). He is the One who thought of each person before they were in their mother’s womb (Psalm 22:10, 139:13). He is the One who constantly considers each person and His path for them (Jeremiah 29:11). He is the One who willingly gave up His position next to God the Father in Heaven, came to Earth to be ridiculed, beaten and eventually killed, and finally bore the humanly insufferable pain of being separated from our Father—all for the sake of saving sinners like us (Isaiah 53:5, Philippians 2:5-11, 2 Corinthians 5:21, 1 Peter 2:24).
As humans, our love can never come close to God’s love, let alone match it. Just as our compassion can never match His, nor our wisdom, knowledge or anger. We act based on our emotions and culture, God acts based on His character and part of that character is His purity. Therefore, all of God’s attributes are in the purest form. Everything He says, thinks or does is the result of His pure, perfect being. He exercises wisdom in the purest sense because He is wisdom (James 3:17, Proverbs 2:6). He demonstrates compassion in its purest form because He is compassion (Psalm 86:15, 2 Corinthians 1:3). He extends love to all because He is love and therefore cannot do anything but out of love (1 John 4:7-8, 16). He also demands justice because as a perfectly sinless God, He cannot be in the presence of anything but what is pure justice (Deuteronomy 32:4, Isaiah 30:18).
Yes, God is a God of love, but He is equally a God of wrath. God exhibits all of His attributes in the purest sense, 100% of the time. If that were not the case, He would not always be loving, nor would He always be just. Any fluctuation in these characteristics would mean God changes, and we already know God cannot change (Hebrews 13:8, James 1:17).
It’s a complex idea to entertain, and one none of us will fully understand, but it’s true nonetheless. Our inability to completely understand something does not make it any less true or relevant. If we only believed what we could fully understand, our world would be a simple, uniform and boring world.
So rather than try to understand it all, why don’t we just wonder at the beauty of God’s complexity? It’s a wonderful thing to have a God who’s so vast, let’s not take away from it by trying to bring Him down to our level just so we can say we understand Him in entirety. God has given us the beautiful gift of learning more about Him and simply enjoying Him for who He is, how about we just accept His gift and appreciate it. Life would be much simpler and more enjoyable if we did.
English Standard Version Bible. (2001). Crossway Bibles.
This post originally appeared on County News Online.