From Tim Keller’s The Reason For God:
The Bible says that God’s wrath flows from his love and delight in his creation. He is angry at evil and injustice because it is destroying its peace and integrity. ‘The Lord is righteous in all his ways and loving toward all he has made… The Lord watches over those who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy’ (Psalms 145.17-20).
It is at this point that many people complain that those who believe in a God of judgment will not approach enemies with a desire to reconcile with them. If you believe in a God who smites evildoers, you may think it perfectly justified to do some of the smiting yourself. Yale theologian Miroslav Volf, a Croatian who has seen the violence in the Balkans, does not see the doctrine of God’s judgment that way. He writes: ‘If God were not angry at injustice and deception and did not make a final end to violence — that God would not be worthy of worship… The only means of prohibiting all recourse to violence by ourselves is to insist that violence is legitimate only when it comes from God… My thesis that the practice of non-violence requires a belief in divine vengeance will be unpopular with many… in the West. … [But] it takes the quiet of a suburban home for the birth of the thesis that human non-violence [results from the belief in] God’s refusal to judge. In a sun-scorched land, soaked in the blood of the innocent, it will invariably die … [with] other pleasant captivities of the liberal mind.
Jeff spoke this past Sunday on Matthew 11:20-30, about the wrath of God. It has stirred something in my heart and I feel like I am coming to become deeply moved by this attribute of God and realizing how foundational it is, though I am still working through it in my heart. Still, it is bringing me to a deeper worship for the cross and what Christ bore for us.
I have always been naturally a non-confrontational person. I have been sinned against, but, as of now, not so deeply as others in my life and in the world have experienced. People have been generally “nice” to me in my life, and this has been part of what’s allowed me to fight to keep my own sheltered, optimistic, and naive view of the world and of people. Not only that, but despite what I believed about the depravity of man, I strove to hang on to an, in practice, “people aren’t that bad” point of view. I didn’t want to hear about what others saw as wrong or anything that would damage my view of people that I respected or liked. I wouldn’t get angry about sin I saw, and not only that, I thought that I was spiritual, humble, and forgiving because of it.
In many ways my views have been shaped by the culture around me. My refusal to see the full depth of the sinfulness of sin has been encouraged by the importance placed in our culture to not be judgmental or, in Christian culture, to forgive quickly. Personally, that has affected the way I’ve dealt with forgiving people in my life and recently I have learned that only in admitting to being sinned against and not in making excuses for others do we actually start to feel what it costs to forgive. But more than that, I have realized how much culture has shaped my view of God and how I’ve talked and thought about him.
Looking back, I believe that I have subtly been influenced by reading/hearing from people who also don’t understand the anger, wrath, and justice of God. Things like, “Why can’t God just forgive?” (without the cross), even to the extent that there are those who would claim that the doctrine of substitution, if true, is “divine child abuse”. The culture around us talks about God’s anger and wrath as primitive, unloving, etc., putting those who claim to believe in the Bible on the defensive. I have heard and used ways Christians have tried to deal with it, but mostly in embarrassed or apologetic manner. Often the response would be briefly mentioning and explanation of God’s holiness, but then quickly moving towards “but he’s also loving!” or “hell is just separation from God because you don’t want God so he won’t make you be with him!” or “heaven is perfect so you can’t go if you have sin because then you’d sin against others”, etc- all answers that never really got to the heart of how to think about God’s anger or punishment.
In recent years though, as I have allowed myself to be brought to those places of rightful anger and in seeing the depths of the effects of sin, I have come to take solace in thinking about God’s wrath and justice. I am seeing that I cannot trust a God would claim to love what is good without hating what is evil. There are things that I think about that have been done towards those I love and know that make me so angry and sick to my stomach, that honestly in my heart I have wanted to see the wrongdoers suffer and/or die. I never thought that Romans 12:19 would mean so much personally to me, that I would be taking heart in the fact that vengeance is God’s and that he will repay.
In Death by Love, Mark Driscoll counseled a man filled with anger and bitterness towards his father who had been a violent, abusive, drunk whose whole family lived broken lives as a result. The man struggled to know what to do when way later in life his father accepted Christ. Pastor Mark exhorted him in letting him know that in forgiving, it was not letting his dad “of the hook”, but that “the demands of justice have been met for both you and your dad…Jesus has propitiated the sins of you both.” People who have abused and hurt people I know will turn to Jesus and be forgiven, the justice they deserve having been poured out on Jesus already- or they will face the consequences of their sin when they see God after they die. The same is true for myself. Either way, justice will be carried forth, sin brought to light, and the punishment for it dealt.
Jeff’s message’s main thrust was that we cannot understand the love of God without understanding his wrath. When thinking about those I know who have been deeply wronged, or wrestling with how to think about the nauseating things I’ve been hearing in class at Westminster about the nature and consequences of child sexual abuse, I am seeing how the only way to make sense of the world and sin is within the Biblical worldview. More specifically, it only comes to make sense at the cross. Nowhere else has the sinfulness of sin been shown to be as horrifying as it really is. There we see the depth of justice and rightful, righteous anger towards sin that isn’t just “let off the hook”. And there our minds are blown away- it just doesn’t make sense… that a righteous, holy, God, the only one who does not deserve wrath, would suffer for us. Not only that, but that he would lovingly pursue those who would reject the cross as unnecessary and seek to deny him.
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!