I'm preaching a summer series on "Tough Questions for the Christian" and we are currently exploring the topic of God's wrath. The question is: How can a God of love express wrath toward His creation?
Here's the outline of my sermon from this past Sunday.
1. God’s Wrath vs Human Anger
a) God’s wrath (often translated as anger) is a position against sin, death, and the devil.
b) Human anger is often an emotion that comes and goes based on circumstances.
- See Ephesians 4.26-27 – “In your anger, do not sin.” That is, St. Paul admonishes us that our anger, when it occurs, should be more like God’s anger who takes a stand against injustice and evil. God’s wrath is never sinful or wrong. He is holy.
- But if our anger is a result of an emotional flare up, then don’t let it fester. (“Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.…”)
- Why? It can give the devil a foothold (vs 27) in one’s life and thus opens the door to sin.
- Anger as an emotion isn’t necessarily wrong, but it can lead to sinful reactions and actions.
c) God’s anger/wrath is different. It’s not an emotion. It’s an expression of his love.
2. God’s Anger and God’s Love – Not “Either/Or” but “Both/And”
a) Both are a reality found within the scripture. “It is simply impossible to read the bible as a whole and not recognize the reality of God’s anger.” (Wright, p 130)
b) It is equally impossible to read the bible and not see that God is love and has love for all.
- 1 John 4.7-10 – Love is from God. God is love. This is love, that he sent his son.
- John 3.16 – For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son…
- Psalm 145.17 – The Lord is kind/faithful (expresses “covenant love”) in all he does.
c) God IS love but God HAS wrath.
- God’s love is eternal because God is eternal. Love is God’s very nature.
- God’s wrath is temporary and will end with the destruction and elimination of sin.
- Why? Because the only thing that arouses God’s wrath is evil (not his creation).
- “The very essence of evil is to resist, reject, and refuse the love of God.” (Wright, p 131)
God’s wrath is an expression of his love. “It is precisely because God loves the world so much that he is angry against all who defy the goodness of what God wants for the world.” (Wright, p 133) That is, if God were not angry with evil, he could not really claim to love the world. (Think of the injustices of the world. Could God really just wink at them in doting love or benign neglect? NO! God is rightly angry at evil and injustice because of his great love for creation.)
3. Enter the mystery of the cross.
a) The cross represents a host of wonderful metaphors (“pictures of reality”) that demonstrate God’s love: redeemed, reconciled, justified, adopted, healed, forgiven, cleansed, in Christ…
b) But the cross goes beyond metaphor. There is an actual substitution going on – God’s love and wrath work together as God takes on the sin of the world (love) in order to eliminate it (wrath).
c ) See John Stott’s The Cross of Christ. – “The concept of substitution may be said, then, to lie at the heart of both sin and salvation. For the essence of sin is man substituting himself for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for man. Man asserts himself against God and puts himself where only God deserves to be; God sacrifices himself for man and puts himself where only man deserves to be. Man claims prerogatives which belong to God alone; God accepts penalties which belong to man alone.” (as quoted in Wright, p 125)
Conclusion: 1 Thessalonians 5.9-11 (NIV)
9 For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
Basic Theology for Christ-Followers by Vic Gordon
The God I Don’t Understand by Christopher Wright