The Wrath of God


But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.  

Romans 2:5 ESV

Only a handful of generations after Adam and Eve were expelled from Paradise, we find the following description of humanity: “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart” (Genesis 6:5-6).

Lest we treat these words as an exaggeration, the LORD opens the very literal floodgates of His wrath, drowning the earth in a global flood. Only Noah and his family (eight people in total) were sparred upon an ark, alongside a sampling of the earth’s animals. Cast aside the nursery-room murals of goofy animals on boat, and imagine, instead, the horror of this ancient apocalypse. When the waters resided and Noah stepped onto the now silent planet, he worshiped the Almighty. “Then Noah built an altar to the LORD and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar” (Genesis 8:20). Unlike the rest of mankind, blood continued to flow through Noah’s veins by the pure grace of God, so Noah covered the ground in blood offerings in humble gratitude.

THE WRATH TO COME

Despite many attempts to downplay or ignore entirely God’s wrath, a person would scarcely need to read more than a couple of pages of the Bible to be confronted with this attribute of God. In Genesis 2:17, we receive our first glimpse of God’s wrath through His pledge of death as a consequence for sin. Then the annihilation of all humanity, save eight, in the flood remains even today the largest display of God’s anger against sin, only to be eclipsed by the day of judgment when the fire of God shall consume the ungodly (2 Peter 3:1-13). Smaller pictures of this day of wrath are scattered throughout history, such as Sodom and Gomorrah, the plagues of Egypt, and the Babylonian Captivity.

Yet we have so far passed by an essential question: what is the wrath of God? A. W. Pink provides a remarkably powerful summary of this neglected attribute:

The wrath of God is His eternal detestation of all unrighteousness. It is the displeasure and indignation of Divine equity against evil. It is the holiness of God stirred into activity against sin. It is the moving cause of that just sentence which He passes upon evildoers. God is angry against sin because it is rebelling against His authority, a wrong done to His inviolable sovereignty. Insurrectionists against God’s government shall be made to know the God is the Lord. They shall be made to feel how great that Majesty is which they despise, and how dreadful is that threatened wrath which they so little regarded.[1]

The wrath of God, therefore, is intimately connected to His holiness, His goodness, His jealousy, His righteousness, His justice, His sovereignty, and even His love. If God is supremely good and just and the highest of all authorities, how can He not be angry against sin? How could He not judge sin with the outpouring of His wrath?

Nevertheless, Packer suggests that our hesitancy to speak of God’s wrath stems from “a disquieting suspicion that ideas of wrath are in one way or another unworthy of God.”[2] He explains that our view of anger typically involves the idea of losing control in a fit of rage, leading to reckless destruction. God, however, is absolutely not reckless, nor does He lose control. Instead, God’s anger must be understood as an example of anthropomorphic language, which is whenever human imagery is used to describe something that is not human. Therefore, we should not conclude that God’s anger works exactly like our anger but instead that God compares His anger to ours that we may understand something about His hatred against sin and evil.

In fact, the utter lack of any recklessness behind God’s anger against sin makes it more terrifying, not less. Natural disasters, like hurricanes, tornadoes, or earthquakes, are frightening to experience, yet a level of comfort is found by remembering that the earth or wind are simply inanimate forces, possessing neither glee nor reluctance to harm anyone or anything. They are merely elements of a sin-scarred world. God’s wrath against sin, however, is marked by the utmost precision. Even in hell, the eternal dying place for the recipients of His wrath, not one pain or agony will be haphazard. Evil will be given by the righteous Judge its exact reward.

Yet I believe the most common reason for downplaying the wrath of God is the simple belief that it is not justified. Many view sins as mere errors or mistakes to be corrected or ignored, not as acts of evil that require retribution. Furthermore, we fail to understand that the eternality and infinity of God mean that transgressions against Him yield an eternal and infinite consequence. A simple analogy helps explain this truth. The very same lie can yield different consequences depending on who it was told to. Lying to stranger is likely to produce little lasting impact. Lying your spouse, however, can produce a long-lasting breech of trust. Furthermore, lying under oath is the crime of perjury and can place you within a very physical prison cell. Likewise, all sins, no matter how small, are of eternal weight to God because He is the eternal Holy One. His wrath against sin, therefore, is not cruel nor is it excessive; rather, it is wholly justified, righteous, and good.

NOT DESTINED FOR WRATH

Although I previously noted that the flood was the largest display of God’s wrath, that statement requires some clarification. I mean largest in the sense that it spanned the entire breadth of the earth. It was not, however, the most perfect and complete display of God’s wrath. That distinction goes to the cross of Jesus Christ. The crucifixion of our Lord was far more than simply a violent execution. Isaiah prophesied about Christ’s death by saying, “he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities… and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all… Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him” (Isaiah 53:5-6, 10). The Father crushed His Son in our place. And because Jesus is eternally existent with the Father, His sinless death abundantly paid our eternal debt to God. As we discussed previously, this maintains the justice of God because His wrath against our sin has been dealt with. The consequences of our sin have not been ignored; they have been turned away from us and onto Christ. Jesus was thus able to declare, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36).

Notice that Jesus said, “the wrath of God remains on him.” Apart from salvation in Christ, the default state of humanity is to be under God’s wrath. Indeed, Paul described our pre-Christ selves as being “by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:3). In this state, every new sin committed stores up even greater wrath for the day of judgment (Roman 2:5). Even still, some will scoff at such ideas, pointing toward their success and prosperity as evidence against being children of God’s wrath. Daniel Cawdray answers this objection with a simple analogy:

As water is deepest where it is the stillest, so where God is most silent in threatening and patient in sparing, there He is most inflamed with anger and purpose of revenge; and, therefore, the fewer the judgments be that poured forth upon the wicked in this life, the more are reserved in store for them in the life to come.[3]

In fact, the absence of judgment from God in the present may indicate being given over to “a debased mind” by Him (Romans 1:28), which is very much an act of His judgment.

For followers of Christ, however, our relationship to God’s wrath is wonderfully different. Because Jesus has fully taken God’s wrath in our place, we have no fear of His wrath to come or in the present. In Christ, a fundamental transformation has occurred. We have been raised from death to life, and in Him, we are no longer children of wrath but are now children of God (Ephesians 1:5; 5:1). Therefore, even when the Father afflicts us, He does so only as an act of loving discipline to correct us and make us more like Himself. Because His wrath is no longer directed toward us, we can confidently believe that He is working all things, even our suffering, for good (Romans 8:28).

Finally, since we are no longer under God’s wrath, we can also take comfort in knowing that all evil will be justly given His wrath. No evil will escape His righteous anger, and all who refuse to have their wrath received by Christ must receive it themselves. And that is very good. God’s wrath reminds us that evil will not last forever, that the broken world will be made new. Harsh though it seems, peace will reign in the kingdom only when traitors and rebels either come to love the King or are forever cast out of the kingdom. Let us, therefore, throw ourselves into the merciful arms of our Lord, fleeing the wrath to come and embracing the love of our Father.


[1] A. W. Pink, The Attributes of God¸83.

[2] J. I. Packer, Knowing God, 150.

[3] As cited in I.D.E Thomas, A Puritan Golden Treasury¸125.

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