Ethics,  Theology

Why I Love the Wrath of God

Read the following excerpt from theologian, Arthur Pink. It is about the wrath of God.

The wrath of God is his eternal detestation of all unrighteousness. It is the displeasure and indignation of divine equity against evil. It is the holiness of God stirred into activity against sin. It is the moving cause of that just sentence which he passes upon evildoers. God is angry against sin because it is a rebelling against his authority, a wrong done to his inviolable sovereignty. Insurrectionists against God’s government shall be made to know that God is the Lord. They shall be made to feel how great that Majesty is which they despise, and how dreadful is that threatened wrath which they so little regarded (Arthur Pink, The Attributes of God, p. 96).

I couldn’t help noticing that the author delights in the God’s wrath. Some will find this repugnant. How could God’s wrath elicit delight? There is good reason for such a reaction – we are the object of his wrath. God’s holiness, his utter rejection of all evil, entails his disposition towards human sin. Under his terrible wrath we expect nothing but punishment, an eternity of suffering.

How could anyone love such a thing? There are two reasons: First, I know God is right about me. I deserve his wrath. It would be just for me to be punished by experiencing his angry nature. This might not sound like a good reason but it is the most liberating truth. It is the only truth that can get me to the gospel–the good news that Jesus has paid the price for my sin on the cross. Without such a truth, this Christian life is mere ritual, a constant chore to see if I can be perfect. Instead, knowing my helplessness, I am able to throw myself on the mercy of God. He has mercy on us wretched sinners, supplying all we need for forgiveness and eternal fellowship with our creator.

Second, such a truth is a comfort for those who desire justice. At this time in world history a person can know more about the wicked deeds of people than in any time before. And every morning my addictive nature takes me to the newsfeed, a never ending catalogue of sinful behavior. God’s wrath is a comfort because no injustice will go undealt with. The return of Jesus to judge the world and pour out his terrible wrath on all evildoers is both a horrendous vision and, at the same time, a tonic to the soul who longs for righteousness. For there will be no more unrighteousness, not in me and not anywhere in the world. The smug smile of the brute will be wiped from his face and he will realize his position. Even the worst injustices will finally be put right. I long for such a day. This is partly why Christians have been more likely to accept death at the hands of hatred. It is because they have assurance that one day the judge of all the earth will come and justice will be done.

To some, this all sounds medieval. Haven’t we moved beyond such a vision of God? Indeed, such a vision is tantamount to an immoral belief in some quarters of our society. 

A teacher recently wrote a letter in his high school magazine in which he quoted from Paul’s letter to the Romans. Apparently, the content caused quite a stir and the teacher was ushered from his job (he resigned under pressure). This is no longer surprising. To quote scripture is now considered immoral by some people and tantamount to abuse. It no longer matters what is true (that is not even mentioned); it only matters how upset we are. What did surprise me was the HuffPo headline: “Teacher Resigns After Sending Shockingly Anti-Gay Letter to Student Newspaper”  I read the teacher’s letter. Outside the quotation, he writes nothing harsh. In fact, the teacher’s own words express affection for his school and its students. He begins with: “I love the staff and students at SLOHS [the school]. My students know that. But I love God more, so in obedience to Him, I am writing this letter.” And closes with: “I write you these things in order to lift up those who have stumbled, or may stumble, and put you back on the right path. I pray you each have a great summer, a wonderful life, and a perfect eternity.” Sounds like someone who cares deeply for his students. So, what is so shocking about his letter? Apparently the shock lies in the quote from the Bible. But why is anyone shocked that the Bible condemns homosexual behavior? Did the HuffPo think that the Bible would have received an edit by now?

What will happen to me if I post Romans 1? Will there be a lynching? They are not even my words. They are Paul’s words. And they are intended to display the full gravity of human sin and God’s wrathful attitude towards it. Are they offensive? I think so. At least, I’m sure Paul intends to offend his reader. In fact, offense is a beautiful thing in the letter to the Romans because it is how Paul begins to explain that even the worst of the worst can have hope in Christ. In the first chapter of his masterful book, Paul explains that sin is ultimately a theology problem. If we exchange the truth for a lie and worship the creation rather than its creator, we are under God’s wrath, a terrifying place to find ourselves. Paul tells us that we all know God and yet, due to unrighteousness, we suppress the truth. For this we are deserving of the full force of God’s wrath. Part of his judgment on sinners is that they are ‘given over’ to their lusts. That is to say, their desires are given full reign and their behavior follows their desires. Finally, such lusts lead those under judgment to become filled with unrighteousness. Such a condition renders a person deserving of death. Here is the ‘shocking’ section about God’s wrath:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. 

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. 

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

Surely the HuffPo know this is in the Bible. Haven’t they read it? It is not as if they just found out that Christians think that sin deserves punishment, that unless we cling to the mercy of God in Christ, we are destined to experience God’s wrath first hand.

Perhaps those who don’t like the Bible might be able to persuade us Christians to get rid of it. In fact, we could get rid of all the references in the Bible to God’s wrath. One problem with doing so is that doing so would infuriate God so we’d end up experiencing the very thing we wish to get rid of. But the other trouble is that Christians love Romans 1 not because we are bigots, but because the truth has set us free.

Assistant Professor of Philosophy and History of Ideas at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and The College at Southeastern.