There is no subject that people struggle with more than the wrath of God. By and large, the Western world dismisses the wrath of God to be unacceptable. It is also perhaps one of the most misunderstood and misrepresented doctrines of Christianity theology as well. Some of various caricatures you see is depicting God waiting to smite us if we do not do follow his rules.
Even some Christians view God in this light. That is to say, God will punish you if you are not good enough or try hard enough.
Despite the cultural perceptions of God’s wrath, I would argue that these depictions of God is a gross caricature of the true biblical God. When you read the biblical text, you begin to understand that the wrath of God is our greatest hope.
The wrath of God proves that God is no indifferent to human suffering or evil. The Old Testament and New Testament talks about “the Day of The Lord.” We know it as judgment day. We know on this day that God will rectify all the human injustices and evils done in this world. God talks about in the Psalm 75 that he will make the wicked drink from fury of his cup–a metaphor of God dispensing his justice on the guilty. Miroslav Volf, a Christian theologian from Croatia, used to reject the concept of God’s wrath. He thought that the idea of an angry God was barbaric, completely unworthy of a God of love. But then his country experienced a brutal war:
“My last resistance to the idea of God’s wrath was a casualty of the war in the 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 grandfatherly 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.”
Because God cares about what happened in his creation. After all, what is the opposite of love? Its not hate, but rather indifference. In order to have a God of love, you must have a God who gets angry. For example, we can get angry at those we love not in spite of our love for them, but because of it. When you see people who you loved and they are harmed or abused, you get mad. If you see people abusing themselves, you get mad at them, out of love. Your senses of love and justice are activated together, not in opposition to each other. If you see people destroying themselves or others, and you don’t get mad, it’s because you do not care. If God is loving and good, he must be angry at evil angry enough to do something about it.
If you’re a secular person, you should hope for judgment day and God’s wrath. If there’s a judgment day, all the wrongs in the world will be made right. No one will get away with anything. All the oppression, genocide, injustices, will be made right and therefore, judgment day is our greatest hope. However, there’s a problem, if there is a judgment day, what hope is there for you and me? The Bible teaches that on our righteousness, we cannot stand our footing. It doesn’t matter how moral, rich, powerful, we really are, we would all fall short of God’s standard of living a right life. When we try to use fear or pride to be good, we are forgetting that we sin because of either fear or pride. One such example is so many people hate snobs, but if you hate snobs, then that makes you a snob against snobs and therefore, you’re a snob. If you hate prideful people, that makes you someone who feels superior to someone who’s prideful and you would become the very thing you hate. Therefore, judgement day, ironically enough, is the one thing we hope for while simultaneously, is something we all are terrified of.
But on another hand there’s another thing to consider as well: if you do not believe in a God of wrath you have no idea of your value. A god without wrath has no need to go to the cross and suffer incredible agony and die in order to save you. Picture on the left a god who pays nothing in order to love you, and picture on the right, the God of the Bible, who, because he’s angry at evil, must go to the cross, absorb the debt, pay the ransom and suffer immense torment. How do you know the love god loves you or how valuable you are to him? Well, his love is just a concept. You don’t know at all. This god pays no price in order to love you. In contrast, how valuable are you to the God of Bible? Priceless. But what kind of price did God pay for us and what did it cost Him?
We know the costly price of his love we look at Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus is constantly talking about the cup and he feels anguish over it. What is the cup? The cup in ancient cultures typically was symbol or metaphor of having to endure an ordeal or go through suffering. The cup is was also used a form of execution. For example, the great Greek philosopher Socrates was condemned to die by drinking poison out of a cup. But what Jesus was experiencing went way beyond physical torture or death. He then proceeded to ask God is there any other way for me to get out of it. Nobody faced a death that Jesus was facing. Why? The cup is a metaphor for God’s wrath against human evil. It’s God executing against injustice and oppression. For example, in Ezekiel 23:32-34 we read, “you will drink…a cup large and deep…the cup of ruin and desolation…and tear your breasts.” What God asked Jesus to do was bear the wrath of God and basically swallow a spiritual nuclear bomb. In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus saw the chasm and the abyss from the cup and he began to experience a foretaste of that, and he staggered.
Jesus began the reversal of our failed obedience by his obedience in the Garden. Centuries before God came to Adam and said obey me about the tree and you will live. Then God came to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and says, “Obey me about the tree and I will crush you”– and Jesus does. Jesus is the first and last person in history to be told that obedience would bring a curse. Jesus went knowingly the infinite suffering he would have to endure.
Then he goes to his friends–the disciples, and say stay with me, be here with me, and the disciples fall asleep on him. “In that garden when he could have left and seen humanity at it’s worse, it’s almost like God was saying this to him, “there is the cup you need to drink, there is the furnace you are to be thrown into, if they are to be saved, these people out here falling asleep on you that you begged to fall stay awake, either they perish or you perish. Do you love them enough to do this?” Jesus Christ did not say, “Why should I such a good and great glorious person die for these idiots when they can’t even stay awake? Why should I die for people who constantly forget me?” Jesus didn’t say any of those things. He obeyed and died willfully and gladly for us.
Jesus Christ loves you so much. Because it’s not just death that kept him from loving you. God poured hell itself on Him and Jesus stayed on the cross. In the Old Testament, when Cain killed Abel, the blood of Abel cried from the ground, “justice!” But in the New Testament, the blood of Jesus cries out from the ground, “grace!” He drank from the bitter cup of justice, that we rightly deserved, so that you could drink from the sweet cup of salvation.