Toward an Understanding of the Wrath of a Loving God

If there is no God whose wrath will produce ultimate justice, we who are justice-minded have no recourse other than to respond in kind


I am currently reading, A Gentle Answer: Our “Secret Weapon” in an Age of Us Against Them, by Scott Sauls. The following statement in the book reminded me of similar observations made by Miraslav Volf:

“Some [people] object [to the idea of God’s anger] strongly: ‘…. If there is a God at all for me, it’s not an angry God. My God is loving. My God would never lash out or punish or judge or get angry at people.’ When I hear someone discount or downplay the biblical idea of God as a judge, whose holiness sometimes includes expressions of anger, I wonder if they have ever been the bullied kid, or the abused woman, or the oppressed slave, or the assault victim? I wonder if they have sat down and listened to the story of a holocaust victim, or of someone whose child was kidnapped, or of a woman whose husband abandoned her for a younger mistress?’”

I have heard Tim Keller talk on the subject, and the most poignant source of his ideas that he quoted was writings by Miraslov Volf, the Croatian theologian, professor of Theology and Director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture at Yale University.

Volf was influenced by his own experience with the Yugoslav Wars, characterized by the ethnic cleansing that raged in what is now known as Croatia in what is, perhaps, his most influential writing: Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation (1996). According to Wikipedia, “Exclusion and Embrace deals with the challenges of reconciliation in contexts of persisting enmity in which no clear line can be drawn between victims and perpetrators and in which today’s victims become tomorrow’s perpetrators—conditions that arguably describe the majority of the world’s conflicts.”

That context might represent a large portion of the world we live in at various times and places. Think Hatfields and McCoys, for instance. In a later work, Volf reflected:

“I used to think that wrath was unworthy of God. Isn’t God love? Shouldn’t divine love be beyond wrath? God is love, and God loves every person and every creature. That’s exactly why God is wrathful against some of them. My last resistance to the idea of God’s wrath was a casualty of the war in former Yugoslavia, the region from which I come. According to some estimates, 200,000 people were killed and over 3,000,000 were displaced. My villages and cities were destroyed, my people shelled day in and day out, some of them brutalized beyond imagination, and I could not imagine God not being angry. Or think of Rwanda in the last decade of the past century, where 800,000 people were hacked to death in one hundred days! How did God react to the carnage? By doting on the perpetrators in a grandparently fashion? By refusing to condemn the bloodbath but instead affirming the perpetrators basic goodness? Wasn’t God fiercely angry with them? Though I used to complain about the indecency of the idea of God’s wrath, I came to think that I would have to rebel against a God who wasn’t wrathful at the sight of the world’s evil. God isn’t wrathful in spite of being love. God is wrathful because God is love.

“Once we accept the appropriateness of God’s wrath, condemnation, and judgment, there is no way of keeping it out there, reserved for others. We have to bring it home as well. I originally resisted the notion of a wrathful God because I dreaded being that wrath’s target; I still do. I knew I couldn’t just direct God’s wrath against others, as if it were a weapon I could aim at targets I particularly detested. It’s God’s wrath, not mine, the wrath of the one and impartial God, lover of all humanity. If I want it to fall on evildoers, I must let it fall on myself – when I deserve it.

“Also, once we affirm that God’s condemnation of wrongdoing is appropriate, we cannot reserve God’s condemnation for heinous crimes. Where would the line be drawn? On what grounds could it be drawn? Everything that deserves to be condemned should be condemned in proportion to its weight as an offense – from a single slight to a murder, from indolence to idolatry, from lust to rape. To condemn heinous offenses but not light ones would be manifestly unfair. An offense is an offense and deserves condemnation…” (From Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace pp. 138-139)

These poignant reflections work toward the “appeal”, or at least makes some sense of, the idea of a wrathful, but loving God. I sense, though, that people of modern sensibilities may still be reluctant to credit the goodness of a wrathful God. This is where Miraslov Volf brilliantly exposes the faulty thinking of the western mind that has been largely untouched by evils that are reality in many other areas of the world: Continue reading “Toward an Understanding of the Wrath of a Loving God”

What Does God Want from Us?

This question gets at the whole point of Scripture….


If God is the creator of the universe, of everything seen and unseen, as the Bible says, if God was intentional in His creation and made us in His image as the centerpiece of His creation, what was His intention for us? What does He want from us?

This question gets at the whole point of Scripture, but I think we miss the point among all the words sometimes.

Even people who believe that God exists and acknowledge God made us get lost in the words sometimes. We see in Scripture lists of “do’s and don’ts” and rules and warnings, and we fail to see the big picture, the purpose of God. We fail to see God’s character and heart.

The Law was intended by God to show us what is right and, more importantly, to reveal to us that we are incapable of doing what is right in and of ourselves. (Rom. 7:7-25) We all fall short (Rom. 3:23), and we fail to do what we know we ought to do. (Rom. 7:18-19)

Anyone who depends on doing right to make themselves right with God are cursed (Gal. 3:10). If they fail at one point, they fail at everything. If a person refrains from killing anyone his entire life except for one time, he is still a murderer – not because of all the people he didn’t kill, but because of the one person he did kill. If a person lies only once, he is a liar.

If you sin once, you are sinner. “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8)

The point of the law is to help us understand that we can’t achieve righteousness by our own efforts. It’s impossible for us. We must depend on God for it. The Law was given alongside the promise of God to show people their sins to that we would receive the grace that God offers us through Jesus. (Gal. 3:19)

Salvation (from sin and death) is a gift God gives us by His grace; God gives us salvation by grace so that none of us can boast about having earned it. (Eph. 2:8-9)

But is this all God expects from us? Is this all God wants from us – to be saved from sin and death? If salvation from sin and death was all God wanted for us, He could have made us without the capability of sinning, and He could have made us eternal from the beginning.

Continue reading “What Does God Want from Us?”

The Counter Culture of Gentleness in an Angry World


The Bible verse of the day today in the YouVersion app is from Proverbs 15:1:

“A soft [gentle] answer turns away wrath.[1]

I try to read Scripture every day. I have a reading plan (reading through the Bible chronologically this year), and I usually read the Scripture of the day. Every once in a while, the Scripture I am reading for the day comes up that day in another context.

Today is Sunday, and the sermon I listened to today by Jeff Frazier at Chapelstreet Church in Batavia, IL was about the misconception that we should not judge. I would post the message (because it’s a good one), but it isn’t on the Internet yet for viewing. The message was somewhat along the lines of an article I wrote, 8 Important Points About Judging and Judgment.

Keys points are that God didn’t tell us to judge; he told us to judge others with the same measure we judge ourselves; we need to take the logs out of our own eyes before we can take the specks out of our brothers’ eyes; we are not instructed to judge the world (God is their judge), but we are to judge those in the church; we need each other’s righteous judgment and gentle help in dealing with sin (speaking the truth in love to one another).

Jeff said something about removing specks from brothers’ eyes that I hadn’t thought about before. I note that we must be close to our brothers to remove specks from their eyes, and that requires close, intimate relationship. He added that we don’t go about removing objects in our loved ones’ eyes with a screwdriver and a pliers! We do it gently, carefully with a delicate touch.

The real take away for me in his message, and the reason that I write is not about relationships in the body of Christ among the brothers and sisters in the faith, but our relationship to the world with people who do not subscribe to the faith. This is where he used the statement in proverbs – a gentle answer turns away wrath – and it couldn’t be more relevant to the times.

Continue reading “The Counter Culture of Gentleness in an Angry World”

Should We Hate the Sin, and Love the Sinner?

The focus on hating the sin, but loving the sinner is is a distortion of what Jesus instructs us to do.


The phrase, “Hate the sin, but love the sinner”, sounds biblical. The phrase, itself, isn’t found anywhere in Scripture, but it sounds kind of right, right?

God certainly does hate sin. No punches are pulled on the subject. For instance, we read the following in Proverbs 6:16-19:

There are six things the Lord hates,
    seven that are detestable to him:
        haughty eyes,
        a lying tongue,
        hands that shed innocent blood,
        a heart that devises wicked schemes,
        feet that are quick to rush into evil,
        a false witness who pours out lies
        and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.

And there is no doubt that God loves sinners. Paul made that perfectly clear when he said:

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8)

To that extent, we can say that God hates sin, but He loves sinners. The phrase, however, is usually stated as a way that we should orient ourselves toward other people. More specifically, the phrase is usually suggested as a way of orienting ourselves (Christians) toward “certain” people. We say it because we hate the sin, especially their sin, and we are reminding ourselves to love the sinner.

It’s a phase that Christians generally seem to like, but non-Christians don’t seem to like it nearly as much as do. We could chalk it up to them not understanding, not believing in the Bible and not appreciating what Jesus did on the cross for us. But is it really biblical?

While it’s biblical to say that God hates sin, but loves sinners, is it biblical instruction for us to say, “Hate sin but  love sinners? Jeff Frazier at the Chaplestreet Church in Batavia, IL (who preached on this subject August 2, 2020, and who’s sermon inspires this post) suggests that it isn’t biblical, at least not in the way it is usually applied.

Continue reading “Should We Hate the Sin, and Love the Sinner?”

Justice Means Working in the Fields Among the Wheat and the Weeds

Jesus warned us that weeds would grow up with the wheat, but the fields are ripe for the harvest.


The recent turmoil that was triggered by the killing of George Floyd has put a focus on justice in our country. In a sense, justice is on trial. Racial justice is the primary focus, but justice generally is implicated.

Most people are focusing on racial justice right now, but I have seen people with signs at rallies with messages aimed at “police brutality” generally. The spark of emotional reaction has ignited the flames of passion in all people who believe that injustice exists in our systems of justice.

One good example of that more general focus on justice is the “autonomous zone” created by protestors in the City of Seattle, WA.  (Seattle protesters set up ‘autonomous zone’ after police evacuate precinct by Danielle Silva and Matteo Moschella for CBS News June 11, 2020) The police have abandoned the East Precinct in response, and the protestors have replaced the sign on the police station to read “Seattle People Department”.

Many Christians, especially evangelicals, who tend to be conservative, having traditional values and respect for authority, react negatively to such extreme radicalism, and for good reason. In doing so, though, we fail to see, ignore, or gloss over real justice issues that should be addressed.

Our God is just. Righteousness and justice are the foundation of God’s character. (Ps. 89:14) Righteousness and justice should be priorities to us as they are to God.

We might think of justice in terms of punishment, but that is a very warped and inaccurate view of biblical justice. “Biblical references to the word ‘justice’ mean ‘to make right.’ Justice is, first and foremost, a relational term — people living in right relationship with God, one another, and the natural creation. From a scriptural point of view, justice means loving our neighbor as we love ourselves and is rooted in the character and nature of God. As God is just and loving, so we are called to do justice and live in love.” (What does social justice really mean? by Adam Taylor, World Vision February 20, 2012)

Many Christians get tripped up by the term, social justice, because of secular baggage associated with the term. Indeed, social justice has taken on connotations that might by antithetical to some biblical principles. Because justice is a primary characteristic of God, however, we can’t let competing visions of what justice looks like to get in our way of doing justice.

God desires for us to be salt and light in the world. That means getting involved. Jesus warned us that weeds would grow up with the wheat (Matt. 13:24-30), but the fields are ripe for the harvest. To be involved in the harvest, we need to venture out into the fields, weeds and all.

Continue reading “Justice Means Working in the Fields Among the Wheat and the Weeds”