THE REASON FOR GOD’S WRATH

Wrath’s purpose in our lives, as well as the way it operates, is not what we imagine.

Someone once asked, “Do you believe people can change?”

“Yes,” I said, “I’ve seen it happen. I’ve also experienced it.”

“What makes them change?” He asked.

“The power of God working from within, but there is only one way to get that.”

“What is it?”

“Humility. Usually precipitated by pain.”

“Huh?” My friend didn’t like where this was going, but I could tell he was still interested so I pressed on.

“Most of us won’t do what the Bible calls repentance—giving up our role as Lord and Master of our lives, as well as giving up our sins, and giving ourselves over to God—until our way of doing things has caused enough pain and frustration to make us consider that God might have a better plan.”

What I didn’t tell him was that the pain that we experience is a manifestation of the mercy of God through the exercise of his wrath. It is one of his greatest, though severest, blessings.

Temporal wrath, the kind we experience during our earthly lives, as well as the way it operates, is not what we imagine.

When we think of God’s wrath we often think of cataclysmic natural phenomena: the great flood of Genesis or the Ten Plagues of Egypt. Some have even said that hurricanes and the like are evidence of God’s wrath. But a passage in Ezekiel, along with others in the New Testament, offers a different take.

Ezekiel 20:25-26 is a record of God’s wrath against Israel for her sins. It reads: “I also gave them over to statutes that were not good and laws they could not live by; I let them become defiled through their gifts—the sacrifice of every firstborn—that I might fill them with horror, so they would know that I am the LORD.”

Israel had become hard of hearing. God had sent plenty of warnings by previous prophets; notables like Elijah and Elisha and Jeremiah. But Israel had refused to listen. So God “gave them over.” In other words, he let them experience the full consequences of their choices. Instead of his civilization-building, order-preserving, life-giving Ten Commandments they ended up with a system of frustrating laws under which no one could flourish. Worse, instead of the purity and peace of temple worship they ended up sacrificing their firstborn, murdering their children to appease the new gods they had chosen over Jehovah. This was God’s merciful wrath in action: That they might be so filled with horror at their own behavior they would recognize their folly and return to him.

God’s merciful wrath is also visible in the New Testament. Jesus, responding to his disciples concern over some false teachers, said “let them alone, they are blind leaders of the blind, they will both fall into a ditch.” Paul, in Romans chapter one, repeats the phrase, “gave them over” when explaining God’s wrath. God “left them alone” so to speak. Each time the result is the same: people experiencing the painful and destructive consequences of their choices.

God’s temporal wrath works to induce revulsion in us, disgust at our own behavior, and such horror at the consequences of our choices that we are willing to consider another way to live.

Every one of us deserves God’s wrath, the eternal as well as the temporal consequences of rebellion against him. As Paul wrote to the Romans, “Are we any better? Not at all! … There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away. They have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”[1]

Thankfully, eternal wrath—the eternal consequences of our rebellion against his goodness—is not the end God has for us, at least not for those who hear the message in painful consequences of ungodly choices. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”[2] Christ absorbed the wrath of God for us so that the only version of it we would experience is the kind that helps us change, not the eternal version.

God’s wrath in our lives is a blessing in disguise. It is designed to help us see the awfulness of sin so that we will turn to the savior.

[1] Romans 3:9-12.

[2] Romans 5:6-8.

GOD’S LOVE AND CHOCOLATE CAKE

“I love you,” I blurted out on one of the first dates with the woman who would one day be my wife.  I’ll never forget how she replied.

“I love chocolate cake. What does that mean?” She was skeptical of a guy who would say he loved her with so little understanding of who she really was.

The Bible says “God is love.” Few people would argue with that. But most folks think God’s love is no different in kind or strength than my wife’s love for chocolate cake.

It’s much more powerful than that.

An old song says, “Love is a many splendored thing.” But when it comes to understanding the love of God it is perhaps more accurate to call it a many splintered thing. God’s love has been cut from its frame of reference, hacked to pieces by well-meaning people and heretics alike.

So let’s try to put it back in the frame with a few key concepts.

First, God’s love is sacrificial. The Apostle John, who penned the words, ‘God is love’ spelled it out for us.

“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.” (1 John 4:8b-9). John also wrote the very familiar, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him would not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16).

That tells us that God’s love is sacrificial, but a sacrifice for what?

In his excellent book, The God Who Loves, John MacArthur points out that God’s wrath is also part of our frame of reference. “We have forgotten that “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31). As Harry Emerson Fosdick said, “We do not believe in that kind of God anymore.”[1]

We can decide not to believe hurricane warnings either, but that won’t keep them from coming ashore.

“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness,” wrote the Apostle Paul, “since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.” [2]

Ever been party to the suppression of the truth? Anytime? Ever? I have. All of us have and are deserving of wrath. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Rom. 3:23.

The love of God cannot be understood apart from the wrath of God. The two are not mutually exclusive. In fact neither one can be fully appreciated without the other. God’s hatred for sin and evil is the back side of the coin of his love. He wouldn’t be loving if he didn’t hate evil, including the evil that is inside each one of us. Only the power of his love could overcome our sin and absorb his just wrath against it.

God’s love is sacrificial because it absorbed the wrath that we deserve.

If you’ve looked for a job lately you know that the benefits are almost as important as the salary. We know we’ll be paid. But will we be covered?

That’s another piece of the frame.

Psalm 103 says that God’s love ‘has us covered’. “Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits”— Then the Psalmist lists the benefits and the first on the list is: “who forgives all your sins…”

God’s love is not only sacrificial; it is also beneficial in that it makes us guilt free.

Guilt is the great crippler. Guilt stunts God-given potential. Guilt saps courage, binds us to the past, and alienates us from God and one another. A guilty mind can’t think with power. A guilty heart can’t love with abandon. Even if there was such a thing as an insurance policy for sin, a guilty soul could never do enough to cover its own deductible.

But the Psalmist says, “Praise the Lord O my soul and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your sins…” God’s love frees us from guilt.

If you are feeling burdened by guilt remember, God loves you so much that he’s paid the debt, absorbed his own wrath against our evil, and removed our shame. Take your sins to him and ask for forgiveness. He will give it. He’s got you covered.

[1]MacArthur, J., F., Jr. (2003, c1996). The God Who Loves. (10). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[2] The Holy Bible: New International Version. 1984 (Ro 1:18–19). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.