Many people, including many believers consider “wrath” as an idea unworthy of God. I believe this notion comes from two primary sources.
One is the exaltation of our own virtue and wisdom. We have a tendency as humans to deify our own beliefs and views without considering that said views and beliefs can be corrupted by self interest and pride. Second, we identify concepts such as “wrath” with our human experience, judging those concepts by how we have seen them operate through fallible humans. These two factors cause us to judge “wrath” as being something “below” perfection and therefore, unworthy of God. If the notion that God expresses wrath is biblical, then we judge God as unworthy of worship – He operates at a level below our own virtue and is unworthy of attention and exaltation.
Wrath is an old English word defined as “deep, intense anger and indignation”. To understand wrath, we therefore have to understand anger and indignation. Anger is defined as “stirring of resentful displeasure and strong antagonism, by a sense of injury or insult”. Indignation is defined as “righteous anger aroused by injustice and baseness”.
To a society which has sold itself to the gods of greed, pride, sex, and self-will, these attributes are “taboo” because they just don’t “fit” in the lifestyle of self-indulgence we have created. Therefore, even in the church, we don’t talk about these attributes of God because they are “unpopular” with those we are trying to “sell” our message to. Well, if you want to be truthful, they are unpopular to those who are a part of the Body of Christ! As stated earlier, corruption of our virtue is not the only reason we don’t want to focus on God’s wrath. Our human experience with anger an wrath also cause us to steer away from mentioning these attributes and God in the same sentence. We are confused as to how the God we think we know and attributes such as “anger” and “wrath” could be the same.
To some, wrath suggests a loss of self-control, an outburst of “seeing red” which is partly if not wholly irrational. We equate wrath with the rage of impotence or wounded pride or just plain bad temper. When the Bible speaks of us being created in God’s image it does not imply that the limitations and imperfections which belong to the personal characteristics of us sinful creatures belong also to the character of our holy Creator. It takes for granted that they do not! God’s love, as the Bible describes it, never leads him to foolish, impulsive, immoral actions in a way its human counterpart does. God’s wrath is never the self-indulgent, irritable, morally deficient thing that human anger so often is. It instead is the right and necessary reaction to objective moral evil. God is only angry when anger is called for. God’s anger and indignation is righteous.
Would a God who took as much pleasure in evil as He did good be a good God? Moral perfection requires an adverse reaction to unrepentant evil. Even humanity prizes that quality in its own justice system!
Cruelty is immoral but God’s wrath is judicial. It is something that people choose for themselves. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. (John 3:18-19) The essence of God’s action in wrath is to give men what they choose. We have become experts at excusing sin. The Old Testament sacrificial system; judged by many today as being “cruel”, gave us a glimpse into the gravity of our sin. The full revelation came through the death of Jesus Christ. The only penalty worthy for our sin against a sinless God is the shedding of our blood. Therefore, without the shedding of blood, there is no true forgiveness of sin!
Thank God, our holy God took the punishment on Himself! Love triumphs over judgment but does not erase it from reality. Those who choose a life of willful sin choose the wrath of God and there is no escape! It is in God’s judicial judgment that His love and His holiness meet together in perfect harmony and we see true justice devoid of self-interest and human imperfection.
J.I. Packer wrote concerning God’s wrath:
No doubt it is true that the subject of divine wrath has in the past been handled speculatively, irreverently, even malevolently. No doubt there have been some who have preached of wrath and damnation with tearless eyes and no pain in their hearts. No doubt the sight of small sects cheerfully consigning the whole world, apart from themselves, to hell has disgusted many. Yet if we would know God, it is vital that we face the truth concerning His wrath, however unfashionable it may be, and however strong our initial prejudices against it. Otherwise we shall not understand the gospel of salvation from wrath, nor the propitiatory achievement of the cross, nor the wonder of the redeeming love of God. Nor shall we understand the hand of God in history and God’s present dealings with our own people; nor shall we be able to make head or tail of the book of Revelation; nor will our evangelism have the urgency enjoined by Jude–“save some, by snatching them out of the fire” (Jude 23). Neither our knowledge of God nor our service to Him will be in accord with the Word.”