Love and Wrath

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people.

Romans 1:18

How can a loving God bring wrath against his own beloved creation? Is wrath incompatible with love?

I personally find this to be one of the more challenging tensions of the Bible. But as I study Romans with BSF (Bible Study Fellowship) this year I’m learning how to hold these ideas in a delicate balance. Here are two analogies that I’m finding to be helpful.

Justice System

The idea of justice is engrained in our DNA. Every civilized society has a system (however flawed) of rules/laws by which its members agree to live and consequences intended to bring justice when they fail to do so.

Can society turn a blind eye to wrongdoing and still call itself compassionate? What would it look like not to hold someone accountable who steals from an elderly widow, damages a neighbor’s property or lies about another person to damage his or her reputation?

We yearn for justice. We call for it. We fight for it.

While human justice is as flawed as those who create it, God’s justice is perfect and righteous, as he is.

One of the first gifts God gave his chosen people was the law; it was the first step in setting them apart. His law was detailed, fair and righteous; the consequences involved punishment, restitution and often, redemption.

Yet the Israelites failed miserably and repeatedly to uphold God’s law.

And since then all of humanity has followed in their footsteps:

There is no one righteous, not even one;
there is no one who understands;
there is no one who seeks God.
All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.”

Romans 3: 11-12

Good Parenting

Another idea I found helpful in understanding wrath and love is the parenting analogy. Can a parent hold both love and wrath for a child? (The Greek word for wrath, orgē, means “anger exhibited in punishment, hence used for punishment itself.”)

To answer the question let’s envision what it would look like to love your children without wrath. Let’s imagine an older child who was consistently violent toward his younger sibling, and you as parent simply giving him a pass because you “love” him too much to punish him.

Does parenting this way show love to either child? The offending child is deprived of an opportunity to learn that his actions are hurtful or to change his behavior for the better. Left unchecked the child may do serious harm to the younger child, and certainly to his relationship with his sibling. And without experiencing consequences for this action he will be emboldened toward other derelict behavior.

On the other side, the child who is the victim of his sibling will be left feeling unprotected, undefended…and unloved.

From this perspective we can begin to grasp “the problem of sin” and the requirement for justice. How then, do we expect a loving and righteous God simply to overlook sin?

Bad News, Good News

The one story told throughout the 66 books of the Bible is the bad news, good news story of humanity:

The bad news is that we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). The good news that we often miss is what Paul adds in his next breath:

…and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

Romans 3:24

What loving parent wouldn’t willingly die in his child’s place, regardless of how rebellious or poorly behaved that child is. Well, that is how our perfect Father sees things too:

God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:8

God and Jesus and the Spirit are one in a divine mystery that we will not comprehend on this side of heaven, but this means that God is Jesus, as Jesus is God begotten in human form.

God himself stepped into this world and took the punishment and the full weight of the righteous wrath for the sins of you and of me and of anyone who says “Yes” to this incredible, free gift.

This is life-changing, life-saving, really good news; so good that it should inspire both gratitude and an urgency to share it with others so that they too might be saved.

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