The Wrath of God and the Gospel

The biblical writers do not present divine wrath as a necessary attribute of God as he is in himself but as the necessary outworking of God’s holiness in reference to sin.

The good news is not that God has side- stepped his justice in order to save us – that he has just let bygones be bygones and overlooked our sin as though it didn’t matter. No, just as his righteousness demands righteousness, so also his righteousness demands punishment for all unrighteousness. 

 

Preachers today often complain that the concept of sin is so foreign to today’s postmodern mind that it seems nearly impossible to get across. Indeed. But if this is so (perhaps we should say, because this is so), the concept of divine wrath is still more difficult.

How could God be angry—much less very angry—with us?

But of course the notions of sin and wrath are inseparably linked, and Scripture never loses sight of them as such. The biblical writers do not present divine wrath as a necessary attribute of God as he is in himself but as the necessary outworking of God’s holiness in reference to sin. Wrath is the inevitable response of God to all that is contrary to him and therefore in rebellion against him.

The Nature of Divine Wrath

The righteousness that God requires of us is not abstract or theoretical. What he requires is that we, creatures made in his image, reflect himfaithfully—that we display (“image”) in our own persons and behavior the moral and ethical uprightness that is characteristic of him. Because (1) we are God’s image-bearers, and because (2) his law is reflective and expressive of him, he cannot but require that we conform. It is one function of his righteousness that he require the same righteousness of us.

It is because of this connection that God has a deep interest in our ethical and moral conduct. For example, measuring scales and all devices for determining honest dealings with others are said, ultimately, to have been issued by God. “Honest scales and balances belong to the LORD; all the weights in the bag are of his making” (Prov. 16:11). Whether we speak in terms of inches, centimeters, pounds, grams, bushels, or ounces, all such “truth” scales are reflective of God’s justice and the justice he requires of us. They all are “from him” in that sense. Accordingly, a just weight delights him, reflecting as it does his own justice. And by the same token, a false balance is repugnant and abhorrent to him as a personal affront and violation of his justice.

All of this figures into the biblical presentation of God’s wrath. Sin is a treacherous refusal of his righteous reign, and given this, God is not indifferent to it. It angers him. In every sin, every transgression of his law, the sinner sets himself in opposition against the lawgiver and thus, inevitably, becomes the object of his holy wrath.

Wrath and Love

We Christians insist that we have “good news” for the world. But not for a moment can we think that the news is good because it has somehow done away with notions of an angry, wrathful God. Wrath is the necessary outworking of God’s holiness in reference to sin. “God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day” (Ps. 7:11), and Scripture is replete with reminders and demonstrations of it. From the Flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, the destruction of the Canaanites, and the exile of his own chosen people Israel, to the eschatological battles and the horrors of hell, God has gone to lengths to impress us with the fact of his wrath toward sin.

Moreover, the good news is not that God has side- stepped his justice in order to save us – that he has just let bygones be bygones and overlooked our sin as though it didn’t matter. No, just as his righteousness demands righteousness, so also his righteousness demands punishment for all unrighteousness. “If you eat of that tree you will die” (Gen. 2:17). “The one who sins shall die” (Ezek. 18:20). “The wages of sin is death”(Rom. 6:23). Sin is an outrage, rebellion against the infinitely righteous rule of our Creator, and as such it requires the ultimate penalty.

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