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]

Mumbling on

“Those who still believe in the wrath of God (not all do) say little about it; perhaps they do not think much about it. To an age which has unashamedly sold itself to the gods of greed, pride, sex and self-will, the church mumbles on about God’s kindness but says virtually nothing about his judgment. How often during the past year did you hear, or, if you are a minister, did you preach, a sermon on the wrath of God? How long is it, I wonder, since a Christian spoke straight on this subject on radio or television, or in one of those half-column sermonettes that appear in some national dailies and magazines? (And if one did so, how long would it be before he would be asked to speak or write again?) The fact is that the subject of divine wrath has become taboo in modern society, and Christians by and large have accepted the taboo and conditioned themselves never to raise the matter.”

–J.I. Packer, Knowing God, 148–149.

He drank my cup…

Psalm 75:7–8

but it is God who executes judgment,
putting down one and lifting up another.
For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup
with foaming wine, well mixed,
and he pours out from it,
and all the wicked of the earth
shall drain it down to the dregs.

Isaiah 51:17–22

Wake yourself, wake yourself,
stand up, O Jerusalem,
you who have drunk from the hand of the Lord
the cup of his wrath,
who have drunk to the dregs
the bowl, the cup of staggering.
There is none to guide her
among all the sons she has borne;
there is none to take her by the hand
among all the sons she has brought up.
These two things have happened to you—
who will console you?—
devastation and destruction, famine and sword;
who will comfort you?
Your sons have fainted;
they lie at the head of every street
like an antelope in a net;
they are full of the wrath of the Lord,
the rebuke of your God.
Therefore hear this, you who are afflicted,
who are drunk, but not with wine:
Thus says your Lord, the Lord,
your God who pleads the cause of his people:
“Behold, I have taken from your hand the cup of staggering;
the bowl of my wrath you shall drink no more;

Ezekiel 23:31–35

You have gone the way of your sister; therefore I will give her cup into your hand. Thus says the Lord God:

“You shall drink your sister’s cup
that is deep and large;
you shall be laughed at and held in derision,
for it contains much;
you will be filled with drunkenness and sorrow.
A cup of horror and desolation,
the cup of your sister Samaria;
you shall drink it and drain it out,
and gnaw its shards,
and tear your breasts;”

for I have spoken, declares the Lord God. Therefore thus says the Lord God: Because you have forgotten me and cast me behind your back, you yourself must bear the consequences of your lewdness and whoring.

Jeremiah 25:15–29

Thus the Lord, the God of Israel, said to me: “Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it. They shall drink and stagger and be crazed because of the sword that I am sending among them.”

So I took the cup from the Lord’s hand, and made all the nations to whom the Lord sent me drink it: Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, its kings and officials, to make them a desolation and a waste, a hissing and a curse, as at this day; Pharaoh king of Egypt, his servants, his officials, all his people, and all the mixed tribes among them; all the kings of the land of Uz and all the kings of the land of the Philistines (Ashkelon, Gaza, Ekron, and the remnant of Ashdod); Edom, Moab, and the sons of Ammon; all the kings of Tyre, all the kings of Sidon, and the kings of the coastland across the sea; Dedan, Tema, Buz, and all who cut the corners of their hair; all the kings of Arabia and all the kings of the mixed tribes who dwell in the desert; all the kings of Zimri, all the kings of Elam, and all the kings of Media; all the kings of the north, far and near, one after another, and all the kingdoms of the world that are on the face of the earth. And after them the king of Babylon shall drink.

“Then you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Drink, be drunk and vomit, fall and rise no more, because of the sword that I am sending among you.’

“And if they refuse to accept the cup from your hand to drink, then you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: You must drink! For behold, I begin to work disaster at the city that is called by my name, and shall you go unpunished? You shall not go unpunished, for I am summoning a sword against all the inhabitants of the earth, declares the Lord of hosts.’

Matthew 26:36–42

Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.”

Mark 14:32–36

And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he [Jesus] said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

Luke 22:39–44

And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.

John 18:10–11

Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?”

Freud’s Flub re: the Fear of God

“…In trying to explain the universality of religion, Sigmund Freud asked why it is that people are so incurably religious. He claimed that we have invented God to deal with things in nature that we find frightening. He explained that by inventing God we personalize or sacralize nature. We feel deeply threatened by hurricanes, fires, tornadoes, pestilence, and armies, but we do not have the same terror concerning our personal relationships. If someone is hostile toward us, there are many ways we can try to defuse that anger. We can try to appease the angry person with words or gifts or flattery. We learn how to get around human anger, but how do we negotiate with a hurricane? How do we mollify an earthquake? How do we persuade cancer not to visit our house?

Freud thought that we do it by personalizing nature, and we do that by inventing a god to put over the hurricane, the earthquake, and the disease, and then we talk to that god to try to appease him.

Obviously, Freud was not on the Sea of Galilee when the storm arose and threatened to capsize the boat in which Jesus and his disciples were sitting. The disciples were afraid. Jesus was asleep, and so they went to him and shook him awake, and they said, ‘”Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?’ Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace, be still!’ And the wind ceased and there was a great calm” (Mark 4:38–39).

There was not a zephyr in the air. You would think the disciples’ gratitude would have led them to say, “Thank you, Jesus, for removing the cause of our fear.” Instead, they became very much afraid. Their fears were intensified, and they said to one another, “Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!” (v. 41). They were dealing with something transcendent.

What we see in the disciples is xenophobia, fear of the stranger. The holiness of Christ was made manifest in that boat, and suddenly the disciples’ fear escalated. This is where Freud missed the point. If people are going to invent religion to protect them from the fear of nature, why would they invent a god who is more terrifying than nature itself? Why would they invent a holy god? Fallen creatures, when they make idols, do not make holy idols. We prefer the unholy, the profane, the secular—a god we can control.”

—R. C. Sproul, Romans: The Righteous Shall Live By Faith, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary (Crossway, 2009) p. 45. Paragraph breaks mine {gasp}.