It has taken me to long to write this, and for that I am sorry, When last I wrote, I spoke of the jealousy of God and there will be some of the same themes here as well. Just as with the jealousy of God, the wrath of God is often misunderstood and because of that, often serves as an impediment to faith.
The first thing that we need to take into account is that we simply do not have the ability, linguistically or intellectually, to completely describe God. This does of course start with the presupposition that God is eternal, from everlasting to everlasting if you will. (Psalm 90 and other passages) If you are not at that place, then some of this may not make any sense to you, and I, as well as a host of others (Plato, Augustine, etc.), think that you are not understanding one of the attributes of God. Because one of the attributes of God is His aseity, that must be taken into account in this discussion, as well as numerous other attributes as well. To go along with not being able to fully describe God, we also need to take into account language, translation and context as well as the difference between our modern understandings of a word and the understandings of the words when they were written.
Understanding that the wrath of God is just as much an attribute as His love, we must conclude that without it, He is somehow less than God. Many of us try to dismiss the wrath of God as an Old Testament concept or insinuate that somehow God changed and became less wrathful as human time has gone on, but nothing could be further from the truth. To begin, we should examine what the wrath of God actually is. I think that we make a mistake in thinking that the wrath of God somehow builds up and eventually boils over. I purpose that the wrath of God is instead a fixed quality. God has a fixed and eternal disgust of sin. According to the best sources that I have, the original language seems to indicate this as well.
I am pretty sure that many of us are familiar with a verse or three about the wrath of God, and if not, they can be easily googled, or found through a concordance. I want to look at the wrath of God from a different standpoint though, using a well known, and perhaps the most well known , passage from scripture.
“Joh 3:16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
Joh 3:17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but so that the world might be saved through Him.”
As I hope we realize, the attributes of God are not in conflict with each other, we must accept that the wrath of God is played out in conjunction with the Love of God. Here we have one of the most clear examples of God’s love in Jesus the Christ. How does this demonstrate God’s wrath? It tells us simply that we will be spared from it. Saved through Him if you will.
“Joh 3:18 He who believes on Him is not condemned, but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of God.
Joh 3:19 And this is the condemnation, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than the Light, because their deeds were evil. “
Moving along we find out that by not believing in Christ, we are already condemned, that is to say subject to God’s wrath. What do we have to learn from this? Simply that we have a decision to make, and maybe the only real exercise of freewill we will ever display: will we respond to the grace that God has shown us or will we reject it? Will we humbly come before God and beg to be spared His wrath trading it for His mercy and love, or will we accept His wrath upon ourselves?
I had a plan to lay out various examples of the wrath of God and explain them in their contexts, but in writing it up, I realized that I was missing the entire point of it all. I believe that we can accept that the wrath of God is not a positive thing, and is certainly not something that we should desire. That is all we really need to know, as the rest is details. We can see examples of it in the Old Testament, and, depending on our particular eschatology, discern examples of what it may look like in the future, but what we can not do is try and make it a positive thing to us. Rather than try to describe God’s wrath, I have chosen to describe the purpose of it. The purpose is two fold. First, it is indeed a punishment. There is little doubt that is how it has been used in the past, and will be used in the future when the righteous and the unrighteous are separated. One of the other attributes of God is his righteousness and justice, and those two things demand that His wrath be played out in someway. One can not be just and then not punish transgressions. You can however, level the punishment, and then provide mercy from it, and this of course is what we have in Christ. (This is in part. There is much more to the Atonement than this, but it would be a mistake to say this is not a part of the Atonement.) There is a price for disobedience to God. There simply must be or God can not be just. God’s justice relies on His wrath. A second purpose is that His wrath, as I mentioned earlier, is tied to His justice. God has promises justice (though no promise is made of it coming swiftly in all cases) that sees it’s culmination in the new Heaven and Earth.
This is a difficult subject, and I fear that I have not done it justice. I hope that it sparks some thinking and research on your part. We all to often ignore topics such as this because they are difficult and we find it hard to rationalize. We want a God who loves us, and rewards the righteous, but we tend to at best ignore, and at worst reject, a God who will punish the wicked. We have an inability it seems to reconcile a God who is simultaneously loving, but also a God who will discipline, and eventually punish, those who are disobedient to him. Mind you, we will all discipline, and on some occasions, punish our own children, though admittedly on a much smaller level than eternal destiny. At the end of this, I hope that you explore and think on these things and consider a God who is not loving or wrathful, but a God who is loving and wrathful. The great challenge that we have in our world today is this, the conflict between the God we want and the God who is. I pray that this helps us all explore the God who is.