Our Righteously Wrathful God

39 Look now; I myself am he!
    There is no other god but me!
I am the one who kills and gives life;
    I am the one who wounds and heals;
    no one can be rescued from my powerful hand!
40 Now I raise my hand to heaven
    and declare, “As surely as I live,
41 when I sharpen my flashing sword
    and begin to carry out justice,
I will take revenge on my enemies
    and repay those who reject me.
– Deuteronomy 32:39-41 NLT

36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.John 3:36 ESV

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. – Romans 1:18 ESV

The wrath of God seems to be a forbidden topic among many Christians. We’re almost embarrassed to bring it up in polite conversation. We treat it as if it’s some kind of flaw in the character of God that no one wants to admit or talk about. Like that drinking problem that your favorite uncle has struggled with for years. Everybody knows about it, but it’s just easier to treat it as if it doesn’t exist.

But it’s difficult to ignore the wrath of God. It’s an unpleasant yet unavoidable reality that shows up throughout the Scriptures. And it’s can’t be relegated to the pages of the Old Testament.  Many believe that the God described in the gospels is far more loving, gracious, and kind than the God who commanded Abraham to sacrifice His Son, told the Israelites to massacre entire communities, and decreed the stoning of rebellious sons . And yet, Jesus Himself said, “anyone who believes in God’s Son has eternal life. Anyone who doesn’t obey the Son will never experience eternal life but remains under God’s angry judgment” (John 3:36 NLT).

The prophet Nahum provided a stark warning regarding the pagan people of Nineveh:

The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord is avenging and wrathful; the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies. – Nahum 1:2 ESV

Ezekiel delivered God’s warning regarding the Philistines, the enemies of Israel:

I will execute great vengeance on them with wrathful rebukes. Then they will know that I am the Lord, when I lay my vengeance upon them.”Ezekiel 25:17 ESV

Isaiah prophesied of a future day when God’s wrath would come on all mankind:

Look! The Lord is coming from heaven to punish the people of the earth for their sins. – Isaiah 26:21 ESV

And if you fast-forward all the way to the end of the final book of the Canon of Scripture, you find the wrath of God revealed yet again.

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. – Revelation 19:11-16 ESV

So, what are we supposed to do with this uncomfortable aspect of God’s nature? Do we simply ignore it, rationalize it away, or reject it out of hand? A. W. Pink provides us with a powerful response to those questions.

It is sad to find so many professing Christians who appear to regard the wrath of God as something for which they need to make an apology, or at least they wish there were no such thing. While some would not go so far as to openly admit that they consider it a blemish on the Divine character, yet they are far from regarding it with delight; they like not to think about it, and they rarely hear it mentioned without a secret resentment rising up in their hearts against it. Even with those who are more sober in their judgment, not a few seem to imagine that there is a severity about the Divine wrath which is too terrifying to form a theme for profitable contemplation. Others harbor the delusion that God’s wrath is not consistent with His goodness, and so seek to banish it from their thoughts.

Yes, many there are who turn away from a vision of God’s wrath as though they were called to look upon some blotch in the Divine character, or some blot upon the Divine government. But what saith the Scriptures? As we turn to them we find that God has made no attempt to conceal the fact of His wrath. He is not ashamed to make it known that vengeance and fury belong unto Him. – A. W. Pink, The Attributes of God

At some point, we have to ask the question: What is the source of God’s anger or wrath? We inherently know that God does not have an anger “problem.” He’s not an angry individual who lacks self-control and is unable to manage His emotions. It is far too easy to view God through a lens that is heavily distorted by our own human flaws and frailties. We struggle with anger, so we assume that God’s anger manifests itself in the same way. In our minds, anger is a liability, not an asset. It is negative, not positive. But because we are talking about the holy, righteous, perfectly sinless God of the universe, we can’t attribute His anger to some flaw in His character. His anger, like every other one of His character qualities, is fully justified and holy.

So, why would anger be an attribute of God? It is because He is holy. The apostle John wrote, “God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all” (1 John 1:5 NLT). Darkness is a metaphor for evil or wickedness. It stands in stark contrast to the “light” or righteousness of God. That’s why Paul wrote, “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18 ESV). What truth? The truth of God’s existence as revealed in His creation.

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. – Romans 1:19-20 ESV

But Paul goes on to point out that, despite God’s revelation of Himself in creation, mankind “became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Romans 1:21 ESV). And “they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:25 ESV). As a result, God’s wrath was revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.

But what is the nature of God’s wrath? Is it some kind of out-of-control, vengeance-laced tirade against those who don’t agree with Him? Is God some petty tyrant who uses His power to punish those who refuse to do what He wants? To understand God’s wrath, we have to see things from His perspective, not ours. Again, A. W. Pink provides some helpful insights into this matter.

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 evil-doers. 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. Not that God’s anger is a malignant and malicious retaliation, inflicting injury for the sake of it, or in return for injury received. No; while God will vindicate His dominion as Governor of the universe, He will not be vindictive. – A. W. Pink, The Attributes of God

To add further clarity to this topic, J. I. Packer gives us a much-needed word study on the meaning behind “wrath” and “anger.”

“Wrath” is an old English word defined in my dictionary as “deep, intense anger and indignation.” “Anger” is defined as “stirring of resentful displeasure and strong antagonism, by a sense of injury or insult;” “indignation” as “righteous anger aroused by injustice and baseness.” Such is wrath. And wrath, the Bible tells us, is an attribute of God. – J. I. Packer, Knowing God

A sense of injury or insult. About what? Deep, intense anger and indignation. Against what? Against the ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. Or to put it in more simplistic terms, against sin. Sin is an affront to a holy, righteous God. Mankind was created by God. Mankind exists because of God. And when men reject Him as their God or rebel against His divine sovereignty as their creator, provider, and sustainer, God is rightfully offended.

Robert L. Deffinbaugh describes divine wrath as “God’s righteous anger and punishment, provoked by sin.” It is never arbitrary or unwarranted. God’s wrath is never unjustified or undeserved.

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. – A. W. Pink, The Attributes of God

The God of the universe is the ultimate master of the domain which He created and over which He rules. And He will vindicate His sovereign rule, but He will never do so vindictively.

One of the things we overlook when discussing the wrath of God is how it demonstrates God’s hatred for sin. We tend to tolerate sin and view it as little more than a flaw in the human character. But God sees sin as rebellion. It is a rejection of His Word, His ways, and His divine will for mankind. That is why Paul describes it as ungodliness and unrighteousness. Sin is ultimately anti-God and anti-righteousness. It is the anthesis of all things having to do with God. It stands in direct opposition to the very essence of God.

Paul paints a bleak picture of man’s rebellious condition, revealing that sin has serious consequences.

…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. – Romans 1:28-32 ESV

Notice those three simple words in the middle of the preceding paragraph: Haters of God. Ultimately, sin is an expression of hate for the Almighty. And that hatred results in godless actions and attitudes, each of which is a proof of man’s rejection of God. These outward displays are God-directed, but also self-destructive. Sin does irreparable damage to the individual, a family, a community, the nation, and the world. And that is not something a holy God can or will tolerate. But more on this in tomorrow’s post.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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