How can a loving God have wrath?

Christ Cleansing the Temple / Luca Giordano, mid 1670s

God is love. If you want to know what love is like, look at God. But the same Bible that proclaims God’s love also proclaims his wrath. We usually see Jesus as gentle, kind, and loving, but he lost his temper once and got violent in the temple. He also described hell more graphically than anyone else in all of Scripture.  What’s going on here?

First of all, just what is wrath? The original Greek word is variously translated anger, indignation, vengeance, and wrath. It comes from a word that means to stretch oneself or reach out after. That root means to covet or desire. It is not the only Greek word for some kind of anger. It means a settled habit of anger as opposed to an impulse. Human anger of either kind is such an ugly thing. People get angry when their will is thwarted or frustrated. Human wrath often destroys relationships and much more. It is the seed from which war and all manner of violence grow. As I explained in my post about the Japanese earthquake, God’s wrath does not result from his insecurity or hurt feelings. For one thing, no one can ever thwart his will.

Adam and Eve expelled from Eden

God reveals his wrath against  human godlessness and wickedness. Adam (the generic word in Hebrew for both male and female humans) chose to obey Satan instead of God. That act of rebellion marks the origin of sin. Adam willfully decided not to obey his creator and chose to give his allegiance to Satan, who promised him what seemed like a better deal.

Satan’s promise turned out to be a lie. Sin always causes harm. God could have walked away from Adam and left him to his fate. God’s opposition to sin affirms his love for the humans he created. Since “wrath” means a settled habit of mind and not an impulse, God can express it with utmost patience and calmness.

Nature as God created it offers ample proof of what God is really like, but human godlessness and wickedness suppress the truth and essentially call God a liar. In Bible times, a false view of nature turned people to the worship of the sun, moon, and stars; to various animals; and to whatever else God created. We don’t have that kind of paganism in modern America. Instead, modern pagans tend to worship themselves and whatever they can accumulate, or hope to accumulate, through their own efforts. Beneath the different outward behaviors lurks the same mindset. “The fool says in his heart, there is no God” (Psalm 14:1). Only nowadays, we have plenty of people who are darn fool enough to say it out loud!

God in his wrath says to the ungodly, “All right. Be that way.” He gives them license to live as they please. Of course, their disobedience has natural consequences, which they will suffer. When you read the scripture I linked to, you will find the most explicit condemnation of homosexuality in the entire Bible, but don’t miss the long list of other sins that follows. Not every sinner sins sexually, but all ungodly people have one thing in common: God in his wrath gave them over to a depraved (reprobate, castaway, rejected) mind. The Greek word for “depraved” means “tested and not approved.” People who reject God simply can’t have anything in their minds that he can approve.

But remember. God does not contradict his love in opposing sin. He affirms it. By God’s grace, no one can ever sin enough that he loses the right or the ability to repent and turn back to God. God’s wrath is real and long lasting. God’s love and grace are real and even longer lasting.

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