The other night my little girl was on the toilet when she started yelling. “There’s a spider!” Normally, I would encourage my kids to face their fears and deal with spiders on their own but I could hear panic in my daughter’s voice. Poor kid. Stuck on the porcelain throne she was in no position to deal with a terrifying spider.
Time for Daddy to be a hero!
I charged into the bathroom like a grizzly bear. “Where is this terrible creature that dares to frighten you, sweetie?” She pointed and I saw a tiny black spider on the floor. I pretended not to see it. Then I planted my foot on it as I looked around.
“Where is that nasty spider?” I asked in mock confusion. “I can’t see it?”
“Daddy, you’re standing on it!”
I lifted my foot revealing one squashed spider. Threat removed, problem solved, one happy kid.
God’s wrath is something like that.
The wrath of God should never scare you. Knowing that God is more than able to protect his kids should comfort you. God’s wrath should give you peace and security.
Hardly anyone talks about the wrath of God anymore and those who do typically view it through an old covenant mindset. It’s as though the cross changed nothing. We need to look at God’s wrath through the lens of the new covenant.
If you are frightened of God’s wrath, this new series is going to set you free. Yes, God’s wrath is terrifying just as my foot is terrifying to bugs and spiders. But you are not a spider! You are a dearly loved child of God.
So, let’s begin with a question.
What is God’s wrath?
God’s wrath is a stomping foot from heaven. In a word, God’s wrath is a reaction. It is a reaction to everything that contradicts his good, loving and just character.
Think of the spider. I am not against spiders. In fact, I think spiders are pretty cool. But scaring my daughters while they sit helpless in the bathroom is not cool. Now from the spider’s perspective, my heel looks like wrath from heaven. But while it may appear that I have it in for spiders, I don’t. I am not opposed to spiders. I am opposed to things that terrify my children.
Do you see the difference? My wrath is not an expression of my hatred for spiders but an expression of my love for my children.
Similarly, God’s wrath is an expression of his love. God is love, so when he acts wrathfully, he acts in accordance with his loving nature. The wrath of God is his love in action. This is why you never need fear his wrath (see 1 John 4:18).
It is simplistic to describe God’s wrath as punishment or a big foot from heaven. It is not. God’s wrath is a reaction to all that opposes his nature. Although it seems God destroyed a fair number of Egyptians in Genesis, God doesn’t hate Egyptians. In fact, he loves Egyptians! And although God destroyed wicked people in the flood, God doesn’t hate the wicked. In fact, he loves sinners (Rom 5:8)!
Think about it. The Egyptians of Moses’ day were wicked slavers and came under judgment. Yet there are still slavers today but God doesn’t judge them as he did the Egyptians. Doesn’t that seem inconsistent to you? If God’s wrath were a big foot on the head of slavers, he’d be stomping all over the place.
This is why I say God’s wrath is not a big foot. It is not punishment. It’s a reaction to something, but what? You may say, “Well, sin obviously.” But sin is not a good answer. It’s a cross-less and Christ-less answer. It’s an answer that is 2000 years out of date.
Wrath in the old covenant
In the old covenant, there was a strong connection between sin and wrath. Back then, it made sense to say things like this:
Warn them not to sin against the Lord; otherwise his wrath will come on you and your brothers. (2 Ch 19:10)
In the old covenant the fear of the Lord’s wrath was an incentive not to sin. God’s wrath was the Big Stick that kept you honest. The wrath of God gave teeth to the law because “the law worketh wrath” (Rom 4:15). Consider what happened to the idol-worshipping Israelites (Psa 78:58-59) and rebellious Korah (Nu 16:31). When they broke the law they got wrath.
When Jesus came and preached law to those under the law, he included a healthy dose of scary wrath:
And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due. So shall also my heavenly Father do unto you, if ye forgive not every one his brother from your hearts. (Mat 18:34-35, ASV).
A law backed up by the wrath of God will terrify and condemn you. It will cause you to tremble at the utter hopelessness of your situation. But don’t take my word for it. Here’s Moses:
We are consumed by your anger and terrified by your indignation. You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence. All our days pass away under your wrath; we finish our years with a moan. (Psa 90:7-9)
And here is Jesus saying something similar:
Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (Mat 10:28)
Hell – however you define it – is the ultimate expression of wrath. I know a lot of people don’t believe in hell anymore but Jesus certainly did. Or at least, he believed in some form of divine wrath that expressed itself in burning anger.
But keep in mind that Jesus lived and preached in a time of law and we are not under law but grace (Rom 6:14). This is why you need not fear Jesus’ scary words in Matthew 10:28.
Prior to the cross, it made sense to talk about a righteous God being provoked to anger by sin. But it doesn’t make sense anymore. Why not?
But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. (Heb 9:26)
If the cross was the once and final solution for sin, then God will never be provoked to wrath by sin again. And if Christ is the end of the law for all who believe, then those who believe will never experience the wrath that the law brings.
Does that mean God will never be wrathful? No. The Bible has plenty to say about “the coming wrath” and the “day of wrath,” as we will see. It’s just that God’s wrath will not be in response to sin. The sin problem has been dealt with.
Given that, the question stands. What provokes God’s wrath today, now, after the cross? What arouses God’s wrath now? If not sin, then what? We’ll find out in the next post.