Both of my children love to play at the mall play area. Stephanie and I love that they love it. It’s fun enough that they have a blast and soft enough that they’re safe – so we can just sit and watch.
One day, when Noah was 2 years old, he was playing with a boy who was too aggressive. I understand that all little boys hit and push when they play, but this kid took it to the next level. Before I knew it, he had Noah by the throat and was pushing him against the play equipment. In an instant I was on my feet yelling, “get your hands off of him!” I didn’t have to think about what to do for a second. That kid was going to hurt my son and I wasn’t just going to sit there and let it happen. Wrath was welling up inside of me and I had to do something about it.
Learning to love wrath
We justify and understand the reasons for our own wrath, but we’re naturally uncomfortable with God’s. Even people who are OK with it tend to apologize for Him. We act as if he’s a rabid pit bull who keeps biting through his chain. But we don’t need to apologize for God. His wrath isn’t out of control like an angry dog. His wrath is far more controlled than our own. The answer is not to apologize for or be embarrassed by God’s wrath. The answer is to love all of God’s qualities – even His wrath.
God’s wrath makes us squirm because we’re aware of our own sin. We may try to deny it, but we can’t run from it for long. The Bible says that the heart is “deceitful” and “desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17:9 ESV) and that we are “by nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3 ESV). Even when our sin is against others, we know that God is the most offended party (Psalm 51:4). So what offends us isn’t God’s wrath. What offends us is being the object of God’s wrath.
We want to believe we’re innocent. We know we’re not perfect, but we can always compare ourselves to someone worse than us. If all else fails we can say, “at least I’m not Hitler,” and feel a lot better. We form our own standards of what is right and good, instead of what the Bible says is right and good.
Look at the Scales
By volume, the Bible talks about God’s wrath far more than His love. We all want God to be loving – and He is – the Bible says that “God is love.” However, it also says that He is “Holy, holy, holy.” So loving is not his only quality. He is also just, holy, immutable, omniscient, all powerful … and more. There is nothing more unloving and unjust than a God who has no wrath towards evil. God’s wrath illustrates and emphasizes His love. Theologian P.T. Forsyth said, “If we spoke less about God’s love and more about his holiness, more about his judgment, we should say much more when we speak of His love.”
The best way to love God’s wrath is found in the word propitiation. This probably isn’t a word you’ve ever used in conversation. In fact, this may be the first time you’ve ever seen it, but it’s a beautiful word. Propitiation comes from the Greek word hilasterion, which means an atoning victim. Jesus is both described as being the propitiation (Romans 3:25 ESV, 1 John 2:2 ESV, 1 John 4:10 ESV) and making propitiation (Hebrews 2:17 ESV) for our sins. By being a willing atoning victim, Jesus absorbed the wrath of God on the cross. Jesus (the God-man) took on the weight of God’s wrath and became the only acceptable “mediator between God and men” (1 Timothy 2:5 ESV). So to hate God’s wrath is to hate the cross, where His wrath was satisfied. We can love God’s wrath because, in Christ, we don’t have to bear it.
God’s wrath executes judgment against evil. God’s wrath vindicates the innocent. God’s wrath displays his power over wickedness. Some people can’t believe in a God of wrath. I can’t believe in a God who has no wrath.