This is piggy backing on a previous post on an article that I read by Carolyn Arends in Christianity Today. Carolyn was kind enough to find the post and give a little explanation and defense, and instead of writing a long response in a comment, I thought, hey, it’s my blog. I can just write a new post. You can refer to the link of you’d like to see the original post and Carolyn’s comment.
Let me first say that the topic of God’s wrath isn’t a topic I necessarily like talking about. I don’t get off on being able to stand behind a ‘big, bad wolf’ and stick my tongue out at people who haven’t repented. If anything, its the exact opposite. I still see the sin in my own heart and when I read of the wrath of God, my knees shake, knowing that that is what I deserve. But, thankfully, Christ bore that wrath on my account. I had nothing to do with averting God’s wrath, and I’m fully aware that I deserved it. When I speak of those on which the wrath of God still dwells, I don’t do it casually, but with the knowledge that, there but by the grace of God, stand I.
I would say that the definition of God’s wrath is one of the most important things here. You define God’s wrath as opposition to sin, but I think that is incomplete. God’s wrath is more than his opposition to sin. It is his punishment of that sin which He opposes. I don’t have to fear God’s wrath, but God still disproves of the sin that entertain in my heart. It is more than opposition. I’d like to go through some passages to see how God’s wrath is defined in the Bible.
In John 3:36 we see that the wrath of God is reserved for those that do not believe in the Son of God for eternal life. The wrath of God ‘remains’ on them. This idea of the wrath of God remaining on those that do not repent is seen also in Ephesians 2:3 where it says that unbelievers are ‘children of wrath’. Romans 2:8 says ‘for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury’. In Colossians 3:6, Paul says that the wrath of God is coming on account of the works of the flesh of the old man. We are not to seek those things on the account of the fact that we have been raised with Christ.
From a quick look at these passages, I think it is clear that the wrath of God is something that is reserved for those who are not believers. I don’t think the article reflects the fact that God’s wrath comes down on those who refuse to repent, and is an eternal punishment, not a temporary correction to steer people away from sin and destructive habits. God’s wrath is eternal in nature, not temporal and correcting.
I also believe the Bible clearly conveys the fact that wrath comes as a result of sin that is ultimately and primarily an offense of God’s nature. God’s holiness is His transcendent attribute that affects and influences everything that He does. He is lovely and righteous altogether. Sin is anything that fails to live up to God’s holy standard and God’s love. Romans 3:23 is simple and clear. Sin is falling short of God’s glory, not His perfect plan for man.
We can see the fact that sin is primarily a sin against God’s holiness by looking at the cross. Christ was put forward as a propitiation for our sin. He took the wrath of God against our sin. It was not done primarily to create a perfect society or to correct a culture, but to satisfy His righteous demand of holiness.
If we confuse this, we make man the center of everything, and remove God’s glory from that position. I think Wayne Grudem says it well: “Although God’s punishment of sin does serve as a deterrent against further sinning and as a warning to those who observe it, this is not the primary reason why God punishes sin. The primary reason is that God’s righteousness demands it, so that he might be glorified in the universe He has created.” (Italics are the original authors, Systematic Theology, 509)
Here is the second comment that was left. I’m copying it here so it can be referred to as a respond to it:
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)
To Bill Borch, I have a few comments.
No, I don’t believe we are His glory or His image. That is Jesus Christ. We are made ‘in the image of God’ (Gen 1:27). Colossians 1:15, speaking of Christ, says “He is the image of the invisible God”. Hebrews 1:3 says that he is the exact imprint of the nature of God. There is a stark differnce between being created ‘in the image of God’ and being the image of God. I don’t believe that man is God’s glory, but I do believe that God’s glory is evident through the lives of His redeemed, through Christ.
You say I’ve (presumably through Calvin) separated Christ from God. But you have just done that yourself by attributing the nature of Christ in relation to the image of God to the nature of man. I don’t separate Jesus from God, but I see that they have different, complementary roles within the Trinity. The Son wasn’t sent unwillingly by a power hungry God, but embraced the cross for the joy that was set before him (Hebrews 12:2). I never used the term ‘bad cop’, but I think my list of God’s wrath in relation to those of His creation that have rejected their Creator speaks for itself.
This is not my own idea or my own my leanings on Calvin. This is my impression from what I read in the Word of God. I don’t get my marching orders from Calvin, but from what God has communicated to me through His Word. It doesn’t mean that its easy to accept the doctrine of God’s wrath being reserved for the rebellious Creation, but my preferences don’t matter. It is what God has said, therefore I must accept it and trust that He has a better understanding of His holiness and the insult that sin is to it than I do.
It is true that I may have been taught by men, but I was taught in the Word of God. If you see an area in which I have failed to represent the Word of God accurately, I’d love to talk about that. But until then, here I stand, for I can do no other.
Finally, on your suggestion that God is human, I’d like for you to defend that belief through the Word of God. The incarnation wasn’t ‘a joke’, but Christ “who, though he as in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross.” (Philippians 2:6-8) Christ took on flesh and lived a life that you and I cannot, paid a debt that you and I cannot pay, so that we can be granted a righteousness that we don’t deserve and could not attain.
God is not human. Humanity is God’s creation. I don’t know what being ‘conservative’ has to do with anything. I find it amusing to be accused of not being conservative enough, as I’m usually accused of the opposite. I’m not really concerned with being conservative. I’d rather be biblical, and that is what I strive to be. If you see an area in which I have misrepresented the Word of God, please let me know. I’d like to continue this discussion, but only on the grounds that it is grounded in a discussion of the Biblical text. Like you, man’s opinions don’t really matter to me. I’d rather focus on the revelation of God.