The wrath of God
Often God’s wrath is associated with the Old Testament in stories like the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah or sending ten deadly plagues upon Egypt. It is not often associated with ‘God so loving the world...’
Now by the term “wrath of God” I do not mean God losing his temper, but instead God responding both emotionally and wilfully against everything that neglects His divine nature by giving it just punishment.
I would like to propose to you that God’s wrath is part of the very nature of His love.
We’ve all heard people say the somewhat over-used phrase “God is love” right? Despite the fact it might grate on our ears when used in that wishy-washy generalised sense, it is true. God is entirely loving and there are many facets of his love. There is the forgiving side which shows grace to us every time we screw up (Eph 1:7), the sacrificial side that brings us redemption through the offering of His son, Jesus, the unconditional side which says He still loves in spite of our sinful nature (Eph 2:4-5) and that’s just to name a few.
Now you might say, “Wrath doesn’t sound like such a loving thing to me, John”.
Oh, but it is.
It’s likely you will have sung “In Christ Alone” at some point in your life at church which says,
“Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied.”
Now there’s been a bit of hoo-ha about whether this line is theologically correct and so some people decided to replace it with,
“Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The love of God was magnified.”
But for me, this is a pointless substitution. Let me explain. God’s wrath is enraged by all of the sin in the world, which is a loving thing to begin with because it shows us He wants the best for us and wants us to live without it. However, He's not the Hulk: he doesn't flip out and tear everything and everyone apart. Instead, He sets forth a plan, in love, to appease His wrath through sending Jesus as a sacrifice for our sin.
“In him we have redemption through his blood... which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time.”
Thus, the love of God is magnified through the need for His wrath against sin to be satisfied in order that we might be justified through Jesus.
In other words, God’s love shines through his wrath because its demands were met by Jesus who set us free from all sin and shame by his death and resurrection. You see, God’s wrath is loving because it displays His hatred towards everything that is bad for us, namely, all that is not Him.
So, when you replace “the wrath of God was satisfied” with the “love of God was magnified” you dumb down half of the truth of what Christ did for us on the cross.
Now, it’s also important to note that, contrary to common thinking, God’s wrath becomes more (not less) prominent in the New Testament. Previously, in the Old Testament there had been moments where God displayed His wrath in more material ways towards a certain place or group of people whereas the New Testament introduces the idea of a “day of wrath” (Romans 2:5) where God will bring judgement upon all those who do not “abide in Him” (John 15:6). Pretty intense hey? Although, it’s also worth mentioning The Old Testament gives great mention to the goodness and mercy of God. The book of Psalms continually praises God for being our deliverer and our refuge (Psalm 34:8). So, it’s key that we don’t just have an impression of a vengeful God in the Old Testament.
However, just as God’s wrath looks to increase in the New Testament, so His love also intensifies. I love Jesus’ prayer in John 17 and how it demonstrates both his love towards the Father and towards us. He reminisces in verse 5 about the glory he shared with the Father in Heaven before the world existed, revealing to us all that Jesus sacrificed in being physically separated from the Father and coming down to earth in a lowly form. He then goes on to pray for us that we would be kept from the evil one (vs. 15) and be united together in Christ (vs. 21). All of this shows us the love that the Father and His Son have for one another and for us.
So, it is from this point that the wrath and love of God increase until they crash together at the point of the cross, not conflicting with each other but instead working together to set forth the will and purpose of God, further magnifying His glory.
Do you believe the Old Testament?