The beautiful wrath of God

Before I launch into this, I want to say up front that this is a topic that I want to be exceedingly careful in approaching. For one thing, I know the topic of God’s wrath is not a popular one. I do not want to seem like I glory in the idea of punishment, nor that I wish to carry out His judgments on the earth myself (neither of those being what I include in my definition of wrath, but just so we are clear). Secondly, I see that this topic is holy, and if I am to tread on holy ground at all, I want to be very careful that I honor it while I do so.

So first, let’s define God’s wrath. I do not see God’s wrath as an eagerness to punish, a petulant fury or some kind of whimful tantrum. God’s wrath, to my truest understanding, is much more simple. It is the reaction of a holy God to that which he cannot abide: sin. It is a loving father’s reaction to that which destroys his children, and though it does involve punishment, it is equally and in perfect tension balanced by love and the wisdom to know just exactly how much and when to do so.

So why should I love such a thing?

Well, for one thing, because it’s one of the attributes of God with which I most resonate. When I see people (Christians, myself and otherwise) entangled in sin, in the anxiety, depression, anger, darkness, etc. it causes, it burns me up. I hate what sin does to people and how crushing a weight it is, and I desire more than anything for people to be free of it, including, so we are clear, myself.

Secondly, because wrath is one of the ways that I understand that God loves me. I live in the generation of unsubscribe. Disagree with something? Unfollow. Tired of political posts? Block. I live in a world of easy divorces, abandoned children, and friendships often designed to only assist oneself, and in the midst of that there is One who loves me so fiercely that He is unwilling to give up on me under any circumstances, one who hates to see me suffering so much that He is willing (and able, yay  God!) to do whatever it takes to see me free of the things that are causing it, even if it means taking me down brick by painful brick and starting all over again. And, since He is God, there are no mistakes in that process, no ulterior motives misdirecting Him, no unforeseen circumstances. God is perfect, and with that comes the perfect knowledge, love and power required to see me rescued from my own destruction, often at the hands of myself.

Third, because without the wrath of God, the cross means nothing. I think it is often hard for us to reconcile God having wrath and being loving. We think that God “changed” after the crucifixion or that in the past we misunderstood a really nice guy, but that simply isn’t true. God is immutable, he never changes, he doesn’t have parts, and the fact that he is a wrathful God is as true today as it always has been and will be. What we fail to realize when we pretend like he’s just some chill guy (which would be the case if he did not have wrath), is that we diminish Christ’s work on the cross. It wasn’t that God stopped being wrathful, it’s that Jesus was willing to step in and change the object of His wrath, to take all of the punishment we deserved on His own shoulders. If God is just some nice guy who is willing to look past our problems, then there is no reason for Christ, the very foundation of our faith, to have died at all, let alone to be alive today working with us towards our perfection.

And that’s the difference between a wrathful God and a “nice” one. Just like good parents who long to see their children healthy, strong and of good character, God is willing to step up to the plate and set boundaries. A nice guy God wants to see me happy. A good God wants to see me free. C.S. Lewis talks in his book The Great Divorce about how ultimately good and evil can never in the end be meshed, how they eventually travel down diverging paths towards either greater and more varied forms of goodness or towards narrower and more terrible forms of evil. There is no side by side walk with both in the end, and God knows this. He is also willing to fight for it, even if the person he is fighting is more often than not myself. C.S. Lewis once wrote in a letter “Turn God’s wrath into mere enlightened disapproval, and you also turn his love into mere humanitarianism.” Fewer quotes seem to ring truer today.

Lastly, and not least importantly, I love the wrath of God because well, it’s part of God. I think the wrath of God is a tender subject for a lot of people. Many point to fire and brimstone preachers, the crusades, the fact that God lets people go to hell to suggest that God’s wrath is bad, that we should perhaps try to gloss over it or worse, water it down, but what I would say to them is this: Wrath is one of the attributes of the one, holy God. God is beautiful, and is not made of parts. He is all beautiful, and that means that yes, even His wrath has beauty. If we could, as His church, learn to see that, learn to approach it in a healthy manner and even yes, use it as a motivation to see people freed, how much more effective would the church be? If rather than carrying out what we see as God’s wrath ourselves, we left that to Him and loved people instead, using his same zeal to see people set free from sin to fuel our own evangelism, or even more, to see the church made pure?

God is perfect, and as I said before, he doesn’t come in pieces. He can’t be perfect except for that one thing we don’t like, and if He is, well, then we aren’t really serving God. We’re serving something we made up, a false God. All of God is worthy of praise. All of God is beautiful. We need to stop putting the harder parts of Him away in boxes like they’re some secret nobody should know.

God is bigger than a humanitarian, his love is deeper than anyone else’s, and yes, His wrath is real. I have found a greater love for God through it and I hope, with fear and trembling, that I have done a fair enough service to it here that you might find the same.