LOVING GOD: The Revelation of God, Volume 1

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The Church age had begun. Jesus gives John a direct personal message to seven literal churches in Asia Minor, but they represent every church from Pentecost to the present. Many believers are in areas where the church suffers terribly every day. Jesus would rather have you out and out against Him, than lukewarm, on the fence. Immediately John hears what is likely the trumpet of 1 Corinthians In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: It may happen at any moment.

Not one more prophecy awaits fulfillment before this can take place. At the trumpet sound, the Lord Jesus is going to come. Some teach that the Church is going to go through part if not all of the Tribulation. He has not appointed His beloved Bride to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ 1 Thessalonians 5: God never pours out his wrath upon his children. God will chastise his children—we're the objects of his chastisement—but never His wrath. God's wrath is only for the unsaved.

What a terrible seven years this is going to be. What a weeping and wailing when the lost are told of their fate, they will cry for the rocks and the mountains, they will pray but their prayer is too late. Demons will come out of the bottomless pit and infest the earth. The Battle of Armageddon. The Lord will destroy him. At just the last moment, the Lord Jesus, who spoke them into existence, will speak them into oblivion with just a word from His mouth.

Jesus Christ will literally reign here upon this earth. We shall be priests of God and reign with him a thousand years v. Satan makes one last attempt to overthrow God. He is cast into the lake of fire. Then the final judgment. Every unsaved man, woman, boy and girl will stand before God to be judged. There will be a category of overcomers and a category of those who will suffer in a place the Bible calls hell.

And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: This is our panoramic overview of prophecy—The whole book of Revelation in a snapshot. But reach for your Bible and read Revelation 21 and It will take only a minute.

Then rest upon and be encouraged by what awaits you and every other believer—joy unspeakable and full of glory. For, if You are impassible You have no compassion. And if You are not merciful, from where do the wretched derive their great consolation? You are merciful according to our experience but not merciful according to Your experience. For when You behold us in our pitiable condition, we feel the effect of Your mercy, but You do not feel any emotion. And so You are merciful because You save us miserable creatures and spare us though we sin against You.

And You are not merciful, because You experience no compassion for misery. In other words, God's compassion is an effectus , but not an affectus. Such a doctrine of divine impassibility has rightly been rejected by recent theologies that have stressed the suffering of God. How ironical that at the very same time the reverse process has taken place with regard to the wrath of God! The seriousness of this issue can be seen by a simple example.

Hanson expresses the Dodd view clearly by emphasizing that God's wrath is not an affectus , a feeling or emotion, and that God does not have a personal feeling like "displeasure. It follows, therefore, that God views the sexual molestation and murder of a little child without any feeling of displeasure. It is not open to Dodd or Hanson to say that God feels displeasure toward the sin but not the sinner. They make no differentiation between those passages which speak of God's wrath against sinners and those which speak of his wrath against sin. To grant that God feels anger or displeasure against sin would be to undermine the whole basis of their exegetical case.

If they wished to make the distinction between God's wrath against sin and his wrath against sinners they would have to rebuild their case from scratch. Dodd's position is not immune from the charge of deism, as was preemptively noted by P. Hanson rejects the charge as follows: Of course God works both through "the laws of nature" and through "the natural moral order. Hanson, who are willing to speak of God actively punishing are immune from this particular criticism. But for others the aim in talking about impersonal wrath appears to be to dissociate God from wrath and punishment, to portray wrath as a mere by-product of sin, not actually willed by God.

Such a position is not free of deistic implications. Similarly, Dodd in particular is not exempt from the charge of neo-Marcionism. He argues that in the New Testament "anger as an attitude of God to men disappears, and His love and mercy become all-embracing. This is, as I believe, the purport of the teaching of Jesus with its emphasis on limitless forgiveness.

This approach is avowedly contrary to the teaching of the Old Testament; it is based upon a particular interpretation of Paul and is supported by a truncated as we shall argue appeal to the teaching of Jesus. The similarities to Marcion are striking. But what of the biblical evidence? Space permits no more than a brief review. First, let us look at the Old Testament. Baird refers to six different words used for the wrath of God a total of times, while Morris extends the list to over twenty words used more than times.

He is then very angry concerning sin, injustice and blasphemy. Indeed, it is largely because wrath is so fully personal in the Old Testament that mercy becomes so fully personal, for mercy is the action of the same God who was angry, allowing His wrath to be turned away. What of the New Testament? Dodd claims that in the teaching of Jesus "anger as an attitude of God to men disappears, and His love and mercy become all-embracing. He finds in the New Testament "the entirety of the Old Testament view of judgment," including the wrath of God.

In the New Testament teaching on judgment, and especially in the teaching of Jesus as found in the Synoptics, he finds the full Old Testament teaching with an emphasis on "God's condemnation and wrath. A major difference is that Baird works from the whole sweep of Jesus' teaching on judgment and wrath while Dodd appears to look solely at the use of the word wrath, a procedure criticized by James Barr in his The Semantics of Biblical Language. But there are many passages where he clearly expresses the divine hostility to all that is evil, though without using the actual term "wrath.

What of the parables? In the parable of the unmerciful servant, the master in anger hands him over to the jailers to be tortured Matt. In the parable of the wedding feast, the master is angry at the excuses made by the invited guests Luke In the Matthaean version the guests killed the servants who brought the invitations, and the king is so enraged that he sends his army to destroy them Matt. Is it legitimate to deduce the wrath of God from these parables? Dodd, followed by A. Hanson, claims that we can no more conclude from this parable that God is angry than we can conclude from another parable that he is an unjust judge.

The impersonal character of his talk about God's wrath should be acknowledged, but not exaggerated. In the first chapter of Romans Paul three times states of the depraved that God "gave them over" to various sins vv. In 1 Corinthians Hanson disapproves, stating that here "Paul is not at his most profound with respect to the wrath. In short, while much of Paul's talk about God's wrath is relatively impersonal, the evidence of his writings as a whole is that he did not wish to eliminate the concept of wrath as affectus. If this conclusion is at least plausible for the teaching of Paul, it is much clearer in Hebrews.

This is the one place in the New Testament where God is unequivocally the subject of a verb meaning "to be angry. Finally, there are places where judgment of sin in this age is portrayed as the direct act of God Acts 5: The case that God's wrath is purely an impersonal process of cause and effect, the inevitable consequence of sin in a moral universe, can be maintained only with considerable difficulty. It necessitates rejection of the clear teaching of the Old Testament, dubious interpretation of some passages of the teaching of Jesus and Paul, and the rejection of other New Testament passages.

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This neo-Marcionite procedure rejection of the Old Testament teaching and selective use of Jesus and Paul yields no more than a silence about the affective side of God's wrath. No passage in either Testament is alleged that denies the personal and affective nature of God's wrath. The case rests simply on an argument from the alleged and highly contestable silence of Jesus and Paul. The fourth way in which God's wrath is muted is that found in the majority of Western evangelical churches today. The wrath of God is not denied and is indeed given formal recognition.

But in practice it is neglected. In preaching and teaching it is ignored, largely or totally. The fact is that the subject of divine wrath has become taboo in modern society, and Christians by and large have accepted the taboo and conditioned themselves never to raise the matter. Where the idea of the wrath of God is ignored there also will there be no understanding of the central conception of the Gospel: As Hanson notes, "the contemporary rejection by Christians of the biblical doctrine of the wrath of God is a typical example of our allowing secular, non-Christian ideas to creep into our understanding of the Christian faith in such a way as to distort it.

There are at least three ways in which it offends against the Enlightenment mind-set. First, if there is any room for God in a "world come of age" it is for a God whose purpose is to serve humanity. A genuinely theocentric concept of God is intolerable, because "modern man, through the influence of the thought of the Enlightenment, is so accustomed to think that God's function is to stand surety for human purposes.

Such a proclamation of God gives birth to benevolent, sceptical apathy. By contrast, the response to proclamation of the wrath of God is more likely to be very different, either hostility or conviction of sin John Christians are, of course, not exempt from these pressures, and sentimental, anthropocentric views of God are to be found in almost every sector of the modern Western church.

Why has the biblical doctrine of the wrath of God not been more effective in correcting these trends? One reason may be the fear that it is incompatible with God's love, a misconception that this essay will seek to dispel. The conclusion thus far is that God's wrath is to be understood neither as purely impersonal nor in crudely anthropomorphic terms.

So to what does "the wrath of God" refer? It is God's personal, vigorous opposition both to evil and to evil people. This is a steady, unrelenting antagonism that arises from God's very nature, his holiness. It is God's revulsion to evil and all that opposes him, his displeasure at it and the venting of that displeasure. It is his passionate resistance to every will that is set against him.

These "definitions" raise an issue that is often ignored. What is the object of God's wrath? Is God angry with evil or with evil people? In the New Testament both are true. Often God's wrath is referred to without precisely specifying the object of that wrath e.

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In one place the object of God's wrath is evil Rom. Where an object is mentioned it is usually evildoers e. Thus a comprehensive verdict would be to say that God's wrath is directed primarily against evildoers because of the evil that they do. There are two ways in which it could be taken.

The first, which is undoubtedly the way that most people take it in the modern liberal West, is as a comment about the wrath of God. God's displeasure is against sin but not against the sinner. Apart from the fact that this reverses the emphasis of the New Testament, there are problems with it.

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As William Temple observes, "that is a shallow psychology which regards the sin as something merely separate from the sinner, which he can lay aside like a suit of clothes. My sin is the wrong direction of my will; and my will is just myself as far as I am active. If God hates the sin, what He hates is not an accretion attached to my real self; it is myself, as that self now exists. It is to be understood not as limiting the objects of God's displeasure to sinful actions but as affirming God's grace.

God loves sinners, not in the sense that he does not hate them along with their sin, but in the sense that he seeks their salvation in Christ. While his attitude to sinners as sinners is antagonism and wrath, his good will toward them actively seeks their conversion and forgiveness. But does the Bible ever talk of God actually hating people? First, there is the repeated statement that God loved Jacob but hated Esau Mal. We should beware of reading too much into this given the question of the extent to which it is individuals or nations that are in mind, and the question of whether "hate" here is to be understood as in the injunction to hate one's own relatives and one's own life Luke Second, it is thrice stated that God hates evildoers Psalm 5: Finally, God twice states that he hates Israel Jer.

Clearly these last affirmations do not preclude God's love for Israel, as is proclaimed especially by Hosea. Perhaps we would remain closest to the emphasis of the Bible if we spoke of God's hatred of sin and his wrath against sinners, though we cannot exclude talk of God's wrath against sin or his hatred of sinners. A new slogan might be "God hates the sin and is angry with the sinner. Two of the leading theologians of the church have tackled the question of God's love and hate.

Augustine, in discussing the atonement, warns against the idea that God did not begin to love us until Christ died for us. He wrestles with the tension between the fact that Christ's death flows from God's love for us Rom. He reaches the paradox that God both hated and loved us. He hated us for our sin and loved us for that which sin had not ruined and which is capable of being healed.

He maintains that "God loves sinners as being real things of nature," as created. But "in so far as they are sinners they are unreal and deficient" and as such God "holds them in hatred. The wrath of God relates to a number of other themes, some of which can be mentioned briefly in passing.

The first theme is the question of the moral order and the exercise of moral judgment. Jonathan Sacks laments the situation that prevails in our society, a situation that is not unrelated to the rejection of the wrath of God. In our society, he maintains, the word "judgmental" is used "to rule out in advance the offering of moral judgement.


Adultery is acceptable; judgment is not. A worthy and biblical reticence in passing judgment on individuals has been confused with an unwillingness to make moral judgments, to distinguish between what is morally good and what is evil. Davis argues that the wrath of God rescues us from just such a moral relativism by showing us that right and wrong are objectively real and pointing us to the moral significance of our deeds.

The second theme is the fear of God. Together with the demise of the wrath of God there is the rejection of fear as a valid motive. Augustine rightly observed that the person who fears hell fears burning, not sin. It is not a reluctant, fearful, slavish obedience that God seeks but a joyful, free response of love. But the mainstream Christian tradition has not been so naive as to imagine that this dispenses with the need for fear. Augustine, whose grasp of human psychology was profound, came to recognize that the free response of love is often preceded by the constraints of coercion.

Children need initially to be disciplined at least in part by fear. But if the process of discipline is successful the values being conveyed are internalized. That which initially is done in order to avoid parental disapproval or punishment is done freely and willingly. The motivation of fear is not invalid as is so often implied today but insufficient. Jesus had no qualms about telling his disciples to "fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell" Luke A third theme is the doctrine of hell.

It is very popular today to portray hell as locked on the inside only. Again we have here a half-truth. The mainstream Christian tradition has always acknowledged that God's "No" to the unrepentant at the Last Judgment is in response to their "No" to him in this life. Again, the Bible testifies to God's reluctance in executing judgment e. But there is another side to the picture that should not be suppressed. It is not enough to say that God's punishment is simply the sinner punishing himself. The final judgment involves God's wrath as well as his sorrow e.

While it remains true that those who are lost have excluded themselves from heaven, it is also true that God actively excludes those who at least at one level wish to be included e. Jesus emphasized not the difficulty of escaping from God's grace but the need to strive for it: He stressed not the perpetuity of the opportunity to enter but the great danger of ignoring it until too late e. The final theme is the cross. Belief in the wrath of God has, as its correlate, belief in the work of Christ in dealing with that wrath. Hanson explicitly rejects the idea that God's wrath is an affectus on the grounds that this leads to theories of propitiation.

The time has come to turn to our central concern, the relation between the wrath of God and the love of God. In the popular imagination they are simply opposed to one another. Yet, as has often been observed, "the opposite of love is not wrath but indifference. As Barth puts it, if we truly love God, "we must love Him also in His anger, condemnation and punishments, or rather we must see, feel and appreciate His love to us even in His anger, condemnation and punishment.

First we should note that there is no true love without wrath. The Old Testament teaching on the wrath of God has been summarized thus: A husband who did not respond to his wife's infidelity with a jealous anger would thereby demonstrate his lack of care for her. Failure to hate evil implies a deficiency in love. Cranfield illustrates this with a well-chosen modern example. He asks whether God could be the good and loving God if he did not react to human evil with wrath.

A man who knows, for example, about the injustice and cruelty of apartheid and is not angry at such wickedness cannot be a thoroughly good man; for his lack of wrath means a failure to care for his fellow man, a failure to love. But the basic point, that lack of wrath against wickedness is a lack of caring which is a lack of love, is indisputable. Unless God detests sin and evil with great loathing, He cannot be a God of Love. Forsyth daringly states that "the love of God is not more real than the wrath of God. Brunner insists that the wrath of God is a reality not to be denied or explained away.

But it is not the essential reality of God. In Himself God is love. If God's love is seen simply as a general truth it either loses its holiness or becomes limited by it. The fallacy of those who deny the wrath of God lies in the attempt to reduce God purely to love. As Brunner notes, "the Nature of God cannot be exhaustively stated in one single word. Forsyth has made this point forcefully with his talk of "the holy love of God. Here we come to an issue that divides. Should we think of God's love and his holiness, his mercy and his wrath, as attributes that somehow need to be reconciled to one another?

Barth emphatically rejects any such idea. He quotes with disapproval from Bernard's sixth sermon on the Song of Songs in which he describes mercy and judgment as the two feet of God. Bernard warns his monks not to neglect either foot. They must temper sorrow for sin with the thought of mercy, so as to avoid despair; they must temper contemplation of God's mercy with remembrance of his judgment, so as to avoid lukewarm negligence. Hanson equally rejects the idea, accusing it of "an unpleasant suggestion that God suffers from schizophrenia, and is not quite in control of himself.

Hanson, acknowledges that such thinking is found in the Old Testament, [c] but sees it as overcome by the recognition that God's wrath is not his attitude or feeling. Others defend the concept. Stott takes issue with Forsyth, pointing to passages in both Old and New Testaments that acknowledge a "duality" in God and citing Brunner especially. Only where this dualism exists, only where God is known as One who "outside Christ" is really angry, but "in Christ" is "pure love: Therefore the dualism of holiness and love, of revelation and concealment, of mercy and wrath cannot be dissolved, changed into one synthetic conception, without at the same time destroying the seriousness of the Biblical knowledge of God, the reality and the mystery of revelation and atonement.

Here arises the "dialectic" of all genuine Christian theology, which simply aims at expressing in terms of thought the indissoluble nature of this dualism. In fact the concerns of Forsyth and those of Stott and Brunner are not necessarily incompatible.

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  6. In God's innermost being, his attributes are perfectly united. There is no love of God that is not holy and no holiness of God that is not loving. There is nowhere where God is love but not light, and nowhere where he is light but not love. Likewise, God's love and his justice are united in his essential nature.

    In his holy, loving wrath he judges us for our sins. In his holy, loving mercy he forgives our sins. It is mistaken to divide the attributes by suggesting that wrath is the manifestation of holiness or justice, but not of love. It is equally mistaken to suggest that mercy is the manifestation of love, but not of holiness or justice. But there is a clear duality in God's dealings with humanity. In salvation history, in Christ, and in Scripture we see God acting both in wrath and judgment and in mercy and forgiveness. Clearly these two differ and are in some sense contrary to one another.

    Yet both originate from the one holy, loving God. Thomas Aquinas asks whether justice and mercy are found in all of God's works. He concludes that "in everyone of God's works justice and mercy are found.


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    Yet mercy appears even in the damnation of the reprobate, for though not completely relaxed the penalty is sometimes softened, and is lighter than deserved. And justice appears even in the justification of the sinner, when fault is forgiven because of the love which God himself in mercy bestows. But while both wrath and mercy have their origins in the holy love of God, how do they relate together "where the rubber hits the road"? How does God's wrath cohere with his love? Hanson rejects the idea that "God is somehow loving and angry at the same time;' on the grounds that wrath is not an attitude or characteristic of God.

    Stewart likewise rejects the idea that God's wrath means that he "for the time lays aside His love and acts like a man who has lost his temper. Paul tells us that while we were still sinners and therefore under the wrath of God God showed his love for us in Christ's death Rom. The juxtaposition of love and wrath is clear. As Stott puts it, God's wrath is free from personal vindictiveness and "he is sustained simultaneously with undiminished love for the offender.

    One who is by nature a child of wrath Eph. In this sense, for the converted sinner wrath and mercy are two distinct and non-overlapping experiences. Again, the Old Testament speaks of the mercy of God restraining and limiting his wrath. A question needs to be asked at this stage. It has been argued that God's wrath against sinners is matched by his love for them and that these two come together supremely in the cross.

    But to affirm that God loves the object of his wrath falls short of saying that his wrath toward that person expresses his love for that person. It has indeed been argued that God's love necessitates his wrath. But this has been argued from his love for righteousness rather than his love for the object of his wrath. Can it be argued that his wrath against a particular sinner is demanded by his love for that particular sinner? In answering that question, we have to distinguish between God's wrath here and now, where it can lead to repentance, and God's wrath in the final judgment, where there is no further opportunity for repentance.

    In the case of living human beings, wrath plays its subsidiary role in God's dealings with them, as does the law in the Lutheran dialectic of law and gospel. The situation is clearly different where the opportunity for repentance has ceased. It is less obvious how God's wrath against those who are finally lost is an expression of his love toward them in particular. Thomas Aquinas saw such love expressed as leniency in punishment. There is no dichotomy in God's being between his mercy and his wrath, but there is a clear dichotomy between them in the way that they encounter us.

    Bernard was justified therefore in describing mercy and judgment as the two feet of God.

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    They are feet that are united in the single person of their owner but that we encounter to some extent separately. The lesson that Bernard draws from this - that sorrow for sin be tempered by remembrance of God's mercy to avoid despair; that contemplation of God's mercy be tempered with remembrance of his judgment to avoid lukewarm negligence - is in harmony with the balance of the teaching of the Bible. One further way of holding together wrath and love needs to be considered. There is a surprising consensus of opinion that God's wrath is the obverse, converse, or reverse side of his love.

    Wrath is but love spurned. The wrath of God is the love of God, in the form in which the man who has turned away from God and turned against God, experiences it, as indeed, thanks to the holiness of God, he must and ought to experience it. How true is this? As with so many other such sayings, it is partly true. Judgment is according to one's response to the love of God in Jesus Christ John 3: But why is this? It might appear that God's judgment is no more than the macabre revenge of a jilted suitor.

    If wrath is nothing more than rejected love, God is open to the following charge: We are God's creatures and owe him our love and obedience.