God’s Love vs. God’s Wrath

I don’t often read through Christianity Today articles, but recently I was perusing the one page columns in the back (full disclosure- they are shorter, easier to read, and usually more interesting). When I was perusing, I ran across a column entitled “The Grace of Wrath” by Carolyn Arends (May, 2005, page 64). The title jumped out at me of being an article with some theology and thought involved, so I gave it a quick read and found an interesting conversation.

Arends’ main point is that we have frequently, and often mistakenly, created a bipolar God. We think of the God who is loving and gathers children in His arms, and then we think of the wrathful God punishing sinners with eternal damnation. Arends says, “I unconsciously developd a theolgy that intermittently had God the Son and God the Father in a good cop, bad cop routine, with the Holy Spirit stepping in as a sympathetic parole officer”. She finds a tension between two different pictures of God that we have developed. We don’t want to make God out to be the big downy soft cuddle bear in the sky (my words, not hers), so we remind ourselves that God is also a God who hates sin and must punish it.

Are those two things contradictory? Can a God of love also be a God of wrath? Arends says that God’s wrath is driven by God’s love. Up to here, I agree with her. God is not a hateful God who finds pleasure in arbitrarily punishing His creation. He’s not sitting in Heaven sending hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, or earthquakes just to mess with people. But what Arends says next I disagree with.

She says, “What if God’s wrath is not a caveat, qualification, or even a counterpoint to his love, but an expression of it? What if God grieves sin less because it offends his sensibilities, and more because he hates the way it distorts our perceptions and separates us from him?” She adds that God’s wrath is “his emphatic ‘NO!’ to anything that leads to our destruction.”

Arends has just managed to make God’s wrath man-centered. In other words, if I understand her correctly, God punishes people to show them that the path they are on is not in the best interest more than punishing sin because it transgresses His nature. God is more concerned with man than Himself. God’s ultimate purpose resides in the preservation of man rather than the preservation of His own glory.

I think Arends fails to distinguish a couple of very important things here. First, what is God’s wrath? God’s wrath is focused and reserved for those that have not repented of their sins. Does God correct those whom He loves? Absolutely. But she fails to distinguish what God’s wrath is here. For believers, they need not fear God’s wrath. Romans 8:1 says that there is no condemnation for those that are found in Christ. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t consequences for sin. But I wouldn’t classify that as being the wrath of God. I think that God allows us to suffer the consequences of sin, corrects and chastens us so that we realize that sin is detrimental to us.

Secondly, God’s wrath is not centered on man, but on the preservation of His own glory. It is God’s fury focused on rebellious sinners. God’s ultimate concern is not with pointing people on the right path, but rather with satisfying His love for His own glory. It sounds awfully self centered and prideful to us, but God must satisfy His own glory because He is worthy of it. To say that the primary function of God’s wrath is man-centered, misses the the point. That can be a secondary reason for God’s wrath, but not the primary.

There is grace in wrath shown to man on this side of eternity, because it is another opportunity for man to repent before the final judgment. But Arends fails to distinguish between God’s eternal wrath and the current punishing of sinners on this side of eternity. God can be providing more opportunities for repentance, but ultimately, it is to satisfy His own glory and His love for His own holiness. For God to be motivated by anything rather than his holiness would be idolatry simply because there is no higher cause or motivation for anything.

This article sounded more like dangerous speculation, rather than the result of an honest and deep study of God’s Word. This picture of God was born out of speculation rather than from His Word. God does correct believers to show us the dangerous nature of sin, but that isn’t God’s wrath, and ultimately, God’s wrath exists to satisfy God’s love for His own holiness. If we get this wrong, we get very close to getting the Gospel wrong. We must keep God in the center.

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5 comments on “God’s Love vs. God’s Wrath

  1. Beth says:

    Does God show His wrath before people are judged after death? Natural disasters, disease etc. are not God’s wrath, but a temporal consequence of sin- a fallen world. He’s not judging individual sin with hurricanes or cancer- it’s a general result of sin that we all experience, but He can still use the general consquences to bring people to Himself. Then, there’s the heaps of general grace that we all have until we die- then we are exposed to God’s wrath or claim Christ’s reception of God’s wrath. No one alive has seen God’s wrath.

    Maybe some day there will be one accurate, intelligent , theogically sound, godly Christian female author!

  2. BethsMomToo says:

    I am saddened by the propensity of the modern Christian women to want to exclusively read “Christian” books by female authors or to only want women to speak at Ladies’ events, etc. Yet there are so few qualified, sound women available and they settle for what often ends up being more world-view than God-view.

    My advice would be…Ladies….be careful whose teaching you sit under. It’s more important the speaker/writer is able to rightly divide the Word, than what gender they are.

    And let’s keep praying for faithful women worth reading and listening to. Personally, I am encouraged MOST by female missionary writers. There are some great classic books out there… Those women tend to have their eyes upon the Lord and to have experienced a life lived in faith and reliance upon God.

  3. ehudadams says:

    hahaha, ok mom. didn’t take you long to find your soapbox there. I don’t think this lady is necessarily an ‘author’. when I did a search for the article, it looks like she normally writes reviews/recommendations of movies, not theological articles. That’s one thing that struck me about the article was how haphazard she was and dependent she was on speculation. She didn’t seem to be someone who had really studied the Bible to find an answer, more just read an author and speculated about it, then added a couple verses she could recall that could support her view. Didn’t seem like any critical scholarship that such a topic deserves.

  4. Hey — I hope I can feel free to post here. Your blog was brought to my attention. It’s intriguing to listen in on this conversation. As a mother of a Beth I feel I somehow belong.

    I am the author of the article in question. I appreciate your critique and think you certainly represent one perspective very well. I will beg to differ on the amount of “Scripture consultation” involved in my own position. I believe that Genesis to Revelation (and certainly the primary revelation of the person of Jesus) shouts a Salvation history of a God very concerned with the restoration of His creation. His glory is never in question and needs no defense. In my view, God’s wrath is somewhat “man-centered” in the sense that there was no wrath (no need to say NO to brokenness) within the perfect harmony of the Godhead … in other words, no humans (or at least no fall), no wrath. But I understand our difference goes beyond this — I feel God says “no” to sin primarily because He hates what it does to His creation, you believe God says “no” to sin primarily because it violates His nature and somehow interferes with His concern for His own glory. (Of course I do believe sin is a violation of God’s nature, and that really those statements are the same thing — God IS wholeness and thus hates brokenness.) Here we have a genuine difference. But a difference in conclusions does not automatically imply a lack of biblical study.

    I never used the word “punish” or listed natural disasters in my discussion of God’s wrath. I defined God’s wrath simply as His opposition to sin. Working out all the implications Scripture gives us of what that looks like is beyond the scope of an 800 word article.

    Anyway, I’m glad you found something within the piece thought-provoking, and I do appreciate your perspective. Tackling Big Ideas within an 800 word column is a challenge, and critiques like yours help me to refine my approach.

    Peace of Christ to you,
    Carolyn

    http://www.carolynarends.com

  5. bill borch says:

    Will try to keep this as short as possible: meaning will have to leave out a lot of supporting stuff. I’m a retired minister (over 35 years) ((LtCol,Chaplain,USARet.); PhD (psychotherapy). Religion/theology is not a “hobby” with me. And, yes, I’m “born-again”.Now then.
    1. Carolyn A. is just about absolutely right.; light years ahead of whoever the author of “Preferences and Principles” is. 2. God is no egomaniac. He lives for his glory , yes, – but we are his glory; or don’t you believe we are his “image”. 3. The worst part of Calvin was separating Jesus from God. (“…has seen me has seen the Father.”) The glory of the Almighty Sovereign God may be observed in the little dead lamb (now risen). He’s not the “bad cop”. He’s never bad; and I mean by my- our- standard. We know what “good” is; he taught us. He’s no monster, damning big parts of his “beloved” creation whenever he takes a notion to. 4. He’s my Father. I won’t let you talk about him like that! Does it make you feel pious and powerful to be on the side of the “big guy”- as they say today. There’s a lot more psychology goes into people’s “theology” than a lot of so-called Bible study sometimes. 5. Early Christians understood that if you walk away from God you are separating yourself from Love, Light and Life; in short you have chosen hell. 6. Anybody who tells you he just goes by the Bible is an ignorant parrot; he heard someone else say that! Rather than elaborate for days- as I could- on this subject, I’d better quit. Arends is right; largely because she seems to understand Christ/God and is therefore more human. And isn’t God human? Or is the Incarnation a cruel joke? And, by the way, I’m really more conservative than any one who’s written or commented so far. So, it won’t do to write me off as some kind of “liberal”. Thank you for sharing with us, Carolyn. ( forestphilosopher.blogspot.com)

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