God’s Love and God’s Wrath

Dr. Don Carson writes the following in his outstanding article “God’s Love and God’s Wrath” published in Bibliotheca Sacra, vol. 156 (1999), pages 388–390:

The Bible speaks of the wrath of God in high-intensity language. “The Lord Almighty is mustering an army for war. … Wail, for the day of the Lord is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty. … See, the day of the Lord is coming—a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger—to make the land desolate and destroy the sinners within it” (Isa. 13:4, 6, 9). Even allowing for the unusual nature of language in the apocalyptic genre, Revelation 14 includes some of the most violent expressions of God’s wrath found in all literature. …

How, then, do God’s love and His wrath relate to each other?

One evangelical cliché has it that God hates the sin but loves the sinner. There is a small element of truth in these words: God has nothing but hate for the sin, but this cannot be said with respect to how God sees the sinner. Nevertheless the cliché is false on the face of it, and should be abandoned. Fourteen times in the first fifty psalms alone, the psalmists state that God hates the sinner, that His wrath is on the liar, and so forth. In the Bible the wrath of God rests on both the sin (Rom. 1:18–23) and the sinner (1:24–32; 2:5; John 3:36).

Our problem in part is that in human experience wrath and love normally abide in mutually exclusive compartments. Love drives wrath out, or wrath drives love out. We come closest to bringing them together, perhaps, in our responses to a wayward act by one of our children, but normally we do not think that a wrathful person is loving.

But this is not the way it is with God. God’s wrath is not an implacable blind rage. However emotional it may be, it is an entirely reasonable and willed response to offenses against His holiness. At the same time His love wells up amidst His perfections and is not generated by the loveliness of the loved. Thus there is nothing intrinsically impossible about wrath and love being directed toward the same individual or people at once. God in His perfections must be wrathful against His rebel image-bearers, for they have offended Him; God in His perfections must be loving toward His rebel image-bearers, for He is that kind of God. …

The reality is that the Old Testament displays the grace and love of God in experience and types, and these realities become all the clearer in the New Testament. Similarly, the Old Testament displays the righteous wrath of God in experience and types, and these realities become all the clearer in the New Testament. In other words both God’s love and God’s wrath are ratcheted up in the move from the Old Testament to the New. These themes barrel along through redemptive history, unresolved, until they come to a resounding climax in the Cross.

Do you wish to see God’s love? Look at the Cross.

Do you wish to see God’s wrath? Look at the Cross.

Read the entire article here.

The Bible Would Have No Plot-Line Without …

A sobering fact articulated well by D. A. Carson in his book The Gagging of God (Zondervan, 1996), page 233:

Although many have tried to contrast the “gentle Jesus, meek and mild” with the God of the Old Testament, the naked reality is that no one in the Bible is reported to talk as much about hell as Jesus. Yes, he weeps over Jerusalem, but his compassion does not prevent him from uttering the woes of Matthew 23. Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost is an invitation to flee the corruption of the day (Acts 2:40): the “fleeing” is appropriate terminology precisely because, in line with the inherited theology of the Old Testament prophets, that corruption will surely bring judgment. Paul can describe the gospel he preaches as that which saves men and women from the coming wrath (1 Thess. 1:10). No New Testament writer has provided a more profound, terrifying, and yet strangely compassionate account of the wrath of God than Paul in Romans 1:18–3:20. And the last book of the Bible not only depicts, in apocalyptic imagery, horrific sequences of judgments, but peaks of “the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath”; those who worship the beast “will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torments rises for ever and ever” (Rev. 14:10–11).

The point that cannot be escaped is that God’s wrath is not some minor and easily dismissed peripheral element to the Bible’s plot-line. Theologically, God’s wrath is not inseparable from what it means to be God. Rather, his wrath is a function of his holiness as he confronts sin. But insofar as holiness is an attribute of God, and sin is the endemic condition of this world, this side of the Fall divine wrath cannot be ignored or evaded. It is not going too far to say that the Bible would not have a plot-line at all if there were no wrath.

Are We Mice or Men?

From J.B. Phillips’ book, Is God at Home?:

Every year in the harvest fields of England there are thousands of little tragedies. The victims are those charming little creatures the harvest mice.

Earlier in the year the growing corn seems to them to be the ideal place in which to settle and bring up a family. Food, shelter and building-material are there in plenty, and everything seems perfectly adapted for their needs. The forest of innumerable cornstalks is their whole world, and in it they court and play, mate and bring up their families. Their happiness seems to be complete.

Until the Harvest. For when the day comes for the owner of the field to reap his harvest, tragedy inevitably begins for the harvest-mouse. The whole world of waving corn which seemed so snug and secure, so specially designed for his comfort and nourishment, comes crashing about his ears. The field which he thought was his world never really belonged to him at all, and the fact that the growing corn was not meant for his food and shelter has, alas, not entered his tiny head.

The life of the harvest-mouse is not a bad picture of the way in which some people live in this world. They too work and play, court and get married, bring up children in the happy belief that it is their world, and that to believe in an eventual ‘harvest’ is old-fashioned and silly. Yet Jesus Christ, who claimed to be the Son of God, said quite plainly that this world is like a field that belongs to God and that it is moving inevitably towards a Harvest. You can read His words about it in Matthew 13:22-43. For this little world is not, as some imagine, a permanent thing at all. When God decides that His great Experiment has gone on long enough, He will reap the Harvest. To quote Christ’s words: “The harvest is the end of the world.”

The field mouse is deceived because for months he is left to his own devices. He never sees the owner of the field and naturally knows nothing of the coming harvest. Many people allow themselves to be deceived because God, the Owner of the world, does not put in an appearance, and for the purposes of the Experiment we call Life does not interfere with man’s power to choose. Many of them imagine that the ‘field’ belongs to man and that there is no such thing as an eventual ‘harvest.’

But if Christ really was, as He claimed to be, God, then His statement about this world being an experimental field with an inevitable harvest should surely be most seriously considered. No one could blame the little harvest-mouse for not realizing the true purpose of the cornfield or the certainty of the eventual reaping. But what are we–mice or men?

[HT: Tom Bombadil]