A few years back a large denomination decided to ban the popular modern hymn “ In Christ Alone” due to its lyrics “on that cross, as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied.” They had asked the songs writers to change those lyrics to “the love of God was magnified.” They had felt that this description of God was not the type of God they wanted to reveal. When the song’s writers, Stuart Townsend and Keith Getty, refused to make the change the denominational leadership voted to drop the song from their approved list of worship music.
We can all admit that it’s much easier to embrace a loving God than to embrace an angry God but scripture reveals both realities.
The fact that God is love is one of the most commonly agreed truths about God among Christians. “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:8) Love is the fundamental essence of His nature and character. God is perfect in love. God’s love is revealed by His absolutely pure desire to care for, rescue and give.
An equally true fact is that God displays wrath.
God was angry with the nation of Israel and with its kings every time they turned away from obeying Him See 1 Kings 11:9–10
Jesus got angry when religious leaders used his Father’s house for their own ambitions. John 2:13-17
God is angry when he is ignored. The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, Roman 1:18
In his famous 1741 sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God Puritan minister Jonathan Edwards used the word anger three times, “angry” six times, “fierce” seventeen times and “wrath” fifty-one times. He clearly wanted to make a point about God’s feelings but that point was more about God’s desire to save man from judgement than anything else. His message was one of mercy.
What do we do when we struggle with a revealed characteristic of God that makes us uncomfortable?
Live in the tension. God is not limited to our capacity to understand him nor will he change because there are parts of him that make us feel uncomfortable. Embrace Him despite understanding all the mysteries that surround him. Embracing him by faith comes with the acknowledgement that I cannot fully comprehend him this side of heaven and that’s ok. There is much about God that I struggle with but he is the creator and I am not so I trust him.
Read and teach all of scripture. We all have a tendency to grab a verse here and there to encourage us or prove a principle. The bible is literature and should be read as such. As God tells his story through scripture he reveals more about himself progressively as we move through the bible. The primary teacher of the scripture is the Holy Spirit so handle the word well and trust him. Don’t shy away from the tough parts of scripture to present a God that we think culture will more easily accept.
Hate your own sin. I can easily become angry at your sin and often times excuse my own. God intensely hates all sin including mine. I need to follow his example and treat my sin as seriously as he did. The slightest of sins provokes a righteous anger in the heart of a holy God. He hated it so much and loved us equally as much that he would not allow it to continue unpunished. That’s where Jesus came in.
Realize that without God’s wrath there is no mercy. God poured his wrath on Jesus for our forgiveness. “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:15) Other passages in the Bible describe God’s wrath as a cup. Jeremiah 25:15 says “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, said to me: “Take from my hand this cup filled with the wine of my wrath and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it. “Then Isaiah 51:17 says, “Awake, awake! Rise up, Jerusalem, you who have drunk from the hand of the Lord the cup of his wrath, you who have drained to its dregs the goblet that makes people stagger.” As Jesus moved closer to the time of his arrest and crucifixion he said “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” Luke 22:4
Christianity is unique in that God’s mercy is shown through His justice. Sin was punished at the cross of Christ. The penalty of sin was satisfied through Christ’s sacrifice so that God could extend His mercy to undeserving sinners who look to Him for salvation.