This may sound absurd to you, but I believe that if you do not understand and accept the wrath of God as truth, then you will not even begin to understand the depths of His love. It is essential to understand the just anger of God, in order to begin to understand God’s heart for lost people. I feel very small and very weak to try to explain such profound and complex truths. Please test everything I say through scripture, and if I falter than toss it aside.
God’s Word reveals that His anger is intensified because of His loving kindness.
I have noticed that God’s most intensely emotional, personal and angry responses to sin are fuelled in part by His love and strong desire for His chosen people Israel when they sinned. Look at God’s words to Israel found in Hosea 7:13-16.
“Woe to them, for they have strayed from me! Destruction to them, for they have rebelled against me! I would redeem them, but they speak lies against me! They do not cry to me from their heart, but they wail upon their beds, for grain and wine they gash themselves; they rebel against me. Although I trained and strengthened their arms, yet they devise evil against me. They return, but not upward; they are like a treacherous bow; their princes shall fall by the sword because of the insolence of their tongue. This shall be their derision in the land of Egypt.”
Do you hear how deeply personal this is? God is grieved, and cut to the heart because of His chosen people’s sin. God could have been a distant God, having no love or concern for a sinful people. He could have remained far off, not bearing with man, not pursuing man, not revealing Himself and calling out to man. He could have left us to ourselves, and let each of us perish. But rather there He is in the pages of scripture saying:
“I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me; I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me. I said, “Here am I, here am I,” to a nation that was not called by my name. I spread out my hands all the day to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices; a people who provoke me to my face continually (Isaiah 65:1-3).”
Just think about it. If you had no love or care for a person, how deeply would they be able to offend you? Would you not be much more affected, angered, and hurt if your own Mother or spouse railed against you, calling you names, and dishonouring your wishes, than if a complete stranger sinned against you? To the extent that you care about a person, to the extent that you have invested in them and value them, you will be grieved by their trespasses against you.
With that in mind, do you think that God’s anger is a sign that He cares nothing for us? Don’t get me wrong, He would still be angry because of our sins against Him even if He didn’t love for us. In that case, there would be nothing for us but anger. But my conclusion is that, based on an abundance of scripture that portrays God as a loving (and yet angry) husband pleading with an adulterous wife to return to Him, God has revealed His anger to us in a way that should help us see that He cares about this world. He cares even though, on account of our rebellion, He is not obligated to.
Psalm 8:3-4 “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?”
What an appropriate response to our Great God of Glory.
If we won’t understand what great enemies of God we have been, we will never appreciate or understand God’s love and mercy as we ought to.
Some people may think I have been harsh to write the way I have, to speak so openly about the wrath and even hatred of God. People today think it loving to spare others from unpleasant thoughts about Hell, sin, and “that angry God of the Old Testament.” On account of this, many of today’s Christians have a shallow love, a shallow joy, and a faith that is not sustainable through life’s trials. We’ve been robbed of understanding the “depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God (Romans 11:33).”
Do you realize that the love of God is so great, so beyond our comprehension that Paul prayed this for believers: “That he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit…so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith- that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses understanding.”
Is that how we view the love of God today? Is it not more often, made a thing that is common, mandatory of God to offer, unsurprising, general, and therefore far from special? If love is something He owes us, if it is something that we should just expect from Him, then why do we need to be strengthened by God to understand it?
The love of God today is expected, and trivialized because men think they deserve it. But what does the Word of God say about man’s relationship to God, apart from salvation in Jesus Christ?
We are all originally “alienated (from God) and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds (Colossians 1:21). We are friends of the world and therefore enemies of God (James 4:4). We are “dead in trespasses and sins” and follow the “prince of the power of the air” who is Satan, living in the “passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and mind” and are by nature “children of wrath like the rest of mankind (Ephesians 2:1-3).”
How do we feel about the true God in Heaven? We are “gossips, slanderers, haters of God… Romans 1:29-30).” In our unrighteousness, we “suppress the truth (Romans 1:18)” that we do know about Him. When told about God’s kindness and patience, in and of ourselves we don’t repent, but rather take it as an excuse and motivator to continue in rebellion. We “presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead (us) to repentance (Romans 2:4).”
Between us and God is a “dividing wall of hostility (Ephesians 2:14)” which only He can abolish. If a person cannot identify these truths within himself, if he is blind to his own depravity and does not view himself as an enemy of God, than the cross can accomplish nothing for him and has no purpose for his life. You will have to change your gospel to reach this man, and the gospel you give him cannot save him. If you impersonalize and abolish the wrath of God and the reign of sin in man’s heart, than you will successfully remove the offense of the cross, and the necessity of Christ’s atoning work, and will create false converts for yourself.
If a person can recognize himself as an enemy of God, deserving nothing short of immediate Hell, than the preaching of the cross will be to Him a beacon of light and a floodgate of mercy. Jesus Christ will be to him, the most beautiful person he has ever seen. He will need supernatural strength to comprehend such an undeserved and extreme love.
Ephesians 2:4-8 “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ- by grace you have been saved- and raised us up with him and seated us with him the in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing: it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
That He would love us should astound us.