A great disservice has been committed against the present generation of Americans. An inaccurate picture of the character and nature of God has been created. But only God’s Word can provide us with a balanced, healthy comprehension of God’s personal attributes. Only the Bible can bestow upon us the appropriate interplay between the love and mercy of God, as well as the wrath and anger of God. Many people today have failed to assess properly the reality of God’s wrath. They have substituted emotion and human feelings for truth and the clear statements of God.
A general attitude of permissiveness, laxity, and undiscriminating tolerance has blanketed American society. Many Christians comfortably relax in the presence of impenitent sin and open defiance of the laws of God—using the refrain that, after all, “nobody’s perfect.” Christians demonstrate a willingness to toy with unscriptural innovation—after all, “God wants us to be happy and to express ourselves.” Church members entertain fellowship with false religion—after all, “it’s sincerity that counts,” not whether you conform to the objective, absolute will of God. Churches lose their sense of alarm and urgency in providing wayward church members and the unevangelized with the divine antidote to sin and their lost condition.
Out of this context, voices have arisen that focus almost exclusively upon the love of God. Emphasis is repeatedly placed upon God’s compassion, mercy, and grace—to the neglect of other attributes of God. While one never can emphasize God’s love enough, one can be guilty of misrepresenting the true nature of that love. One can so present the love of God that the equally biblical doctrine of God’s wrath makes no sense, and eventually fades into irrelevance.
THE LOVE OF GOD
Many Bible passages detail the amazing love of God. Consider the following from the New Testament:
Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things (Matthew 6:30,32).
If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! (Matthew 7:11).
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved (John 3:16-17).
For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:6-8).
He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? (Romans 8:32).
By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren (1 John 3:16).
In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:8-10).
[T]he kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared (Titus 3:4).
Even in the Old Testament, God’s amazing love is expressed repeatedly:
And the Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (Exodus 34:6-7).
As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us (Psalm 103:12).
“Come now, and let us reason together,” says the Lord, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18).
I had great bitterness; but You have lovingly delivered my soul from the pit of corruption, for You have cast all my sins behind Your back (Isaiah 38:17).
I have blotted out, like a thick cloud, your transgressions, and like a cloud, your sins. Return to Me; for I have redeemed you (Isaiah 44:22).
He will again have compassion on us, and will subdue our iniquities. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19).
Of course, the Bible contains many more similar allusions. These few serve to summarize the basic nature of the incredible love of God. God loves every single human being. He wants every single person to obey Him so that He can usher every person into eternity in His presence. “God…is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).
THE WRATH OF GOD
But, having noted the reality of the wonderful love of God for all people, the reader is urged to integrate and harmonize this attribute of God with what the Scriptures teach about God’s wrath. Numerous passages in both the Old and New Testaments depict God as a God Who executes His wrath against people. Notice the following from the Old Testament:
For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me (Exodus 20:5).
[B]y no means clearing the guilty (Exodus 34:7).
[L]est the anger of the Lord your God be aroused against you and destroy you from the face of the earth (Deuteronomy 6:15).
For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe (Deuteronomy 10:17).
Then the anger of the Lord was aroused against this land, to bring on it every curse that is written in this book. And the Lord uprooted them from their land in anger, in wrath, and in great indignation, and cast them into another land, as it is this day (Deuteronomy 29:27-28).
Then My anger shall be aroused against them in that day, and I will forsake them, and I will hide My face from them, and they shall be devoured. And many evils and troubles shall befall them, so that they will say in that day, “Have not these evils come upon us because our God is not among us?” (Deuteronomy 31:17).
Moving to the New Testament, notice the following verses:
And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him! (Luke 12:4-5).
[S]ince it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9).
God struck dead two Christians, a husband and wife, in the church at Jerusalem (Acts 5:1-11). The writer of Hebrews provided this sober warning:
For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. Anyone who rejected Moses’ law died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God under foot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. And again, “The Lord will judge His people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:26-31).
He then added: “For our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29). Given today’s religious climate, many people do not believe that such verses exist in the Bible. Or they ignore them or insist that they do not apply today. What a tragic mistake! The Bible is replete with such references to the wrath and justice of God, and it is imperative that we accept them and respond accordingly.
Consider the example of the great Judean king Hezekiah. He endeavored to bring the nation back into harmony with God’s written revelation. Why?
“...that His fierce wrath may turn away from us.” That expression is used three times in the context (2 Chronicles 29:10; 30:8; 32:26). King Josiah found himself in a similar circumstance. When he realized the extent to which the nation had departed from God’s will, he tore his robes and declared: “[G]reat is the wrath of the Lord that is poured out upon us, because our fathers have not kept the word of the Lord, to do after all that is written in this book” (2 Chronicles 34:21).
People in our day go merrily on their way, out of harmony with God’s written Word, consoling themselves with a false view of God’s love. They are like Jeremiah’s contemporaries, who tried to heal the hurt of the people “slightly.” “Slightly” meant they did not consider their neglect of God’s will to be all that serious. They said, “Peace, Peace” when there was no peace as long as they were out of harmony with the Scriptures (Jeremiah 6:14).
The time has come to approach the situation the way the prophets of God did. Read the Old Testament books written by the prophets—like Amos, Joel, and Habakkuk. As they did, we need to warn people today about the reality of God’s wrath and its inevitable occurrence. One day, all people will know what God’s wrath is. Listen again to the words of Paul in 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9: “[T]he Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who know not God, and who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ; who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord.”
It is absolutely imperative that we live our lives everyday with a correct understanding of both the love of God and the wrath of God. The same God Who speaks of the availability of an eternal home of bliss called heaven is the same God Who will provide an eternal place of conscious pain called hell. Consider closely Paul’s summary given to Christians in Rome, warning them of the danger of losing their salvation: “Therefore, consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off ” (Romans 11:22).
Did you know that God cannot save everybody? “But I thought God can do anything?” Not true! The Bible certainly represents God as omnipotent—all-powerful (Romans 1:20; Ephesians 1:19). But we misunderstand the power of God if we think He somehow is going to gloss over people’s rejection of His words and save everyone. God simply cannot do that and still be God! God, as a loving Being whose nature demands that He grant humans free will, is powerless to save people who do not want to be saved. He cannot save people who refuse to take advantage of the antidote to sin that He has provided. He is incapable of saving those who reject the one and only means by which they can be forgiven of sin.
God made provision for human sin by sending His Son to die in place of us. Only the sacrifice of Christ had the atoning power to pay for our sin. But the very nature of the Universe is such that God gave us free moral agency. He cannot interfere with our own wills and coerce us to be saved. We must make the choice. We are responsible for all of our choices. If we wish to take advantage of the free gift of salvation available in Christ, we must freely choose to believe, to repent of our sins, to confess Jesus to be divine, and to be immersed in water for the forgiveness of our sins. Passage after passage in the New Testament indicates that this is the divine plan of salvation for human beings. Hear the Gospel message of salvation and choose to believe (Romans 10:17). Change your mind about your past sinful conduct (Acts 17:30). Confess with your mouth that Jesus is the Son of God (Romans 10:9-10). Then allow someone to baptize you, that is, immerse you in water with the understanding that in that action, the blood of Jesus will wash away your sins by the grace of God (Acts 2:38; Acts 22:16; Titus 3:5; 1 Peter 3:21).
If you deliberately reject these simple instructions on how to become a Christian, then you will have no one else to blame in eternity when you experience the wrath and punishment of God. When one becomes a Christian, then a new life commences. Now that person will study the Scriptures in order to learn how to live the Christian life. He or she will find out how God wants to be worshipped. “You mean, I can’t just worship God spontaneously out of my own inclinations?” Jesus said, “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24).
A person also will determine which church Christ endorses, and refrain from associating with churches spawned by mere men. “You mean one church is not as good as another?” That’s correct. Jesus did not build a multiplicity of churches. He built only one (Ephesians 4:4; 1 Corinthians 12:20). He declared: “I will build My church” (Matthew 16:18).
A fitting summary regarding the nature of God and how all people must make preparation now for eternity is found in 2 Corinthians 5:10-11: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.”