After all, our punitive assumptions create some rather embarrassing conclusions… “God loves you…but if you mess up He’s going to torture and fry you alive forever! Um…excuse me?
But is this the only biblical answer we can give inquiring minds? Well, maybe not, and that’s the point of this post on wrath and my next one on hell.
I bring this up to point out that the traditional view you and I grew up with isn’t the only accepted views on wrath and hell in the body of Christ. In other words, you don’t have to give a “hellfire and brimstone” answer and be guilty of being a last days apostate who has fallen away from the faith…or worse, be called a liberal! 🙂
Much of our Western “Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God” paradigm on wrath and hell is the legacy we’ve inherited from medieval Christianity and the Reformation. As Jonathan Edwards said in that famous sermon…
“The wrath of God burns against them, their damnation does not slumber; the pit is prepared, the fire is made ready, the furnace is now hot, ready to receive them; the flames do now rage and glow.”
Or his view of God casting people into hell…
“We find it easy to tread on and crush a worm that we see crawling on the earth; so it is easy for us to cut or singe a slender thread that any thing hangs by: thus easy is it for God, when he pleases, to cast his enemies down to hell.”
So God is cruel and hateful like us, seeing us like a worm to be crushed or dropped into hell whenever He pleases? Fortunately, we don’t have to project our psychological issues onto God in order to defend Him. As we saw in my Easter series on the atonement, our angry God who needs appeasement paradigm was not shared by the early Church or the Eastern Orthodox church.
Our ideas about wrath and hell go far deeper than can be adequately deconstructed here, so I will mostly quote from people with the alternate but historically orthodox views. Today, we will briefly look at wrath.
Let’s start with Paul’s statement in Romans 5:9-10 (bold-type added):
“Much more then, having now been justified by His blood,
we shall be saved from wrath through Him.
For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God
through the death of His Son, much more,
having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” (NKJV)
First, the Greek word for wrath is ὀργή (orgē). It comes from the verb oragō meaning, ‘to teem, to swell’; and thus implies that it’s not a sudden outburst. In other words, as with God, it’s a controlled and fixed passion.
First, let’s look at whose wrath Paul is talking about here. Orthodox theologian, David Goa, said about Romans 5:9-10 (bold-type added):
“Many translations of this passage speak of us being “saved from the wrath of God” a phrase that sets up and nurtures notions of God that are akin to many pagan theologies. The “wrath of God” is the way we see God when we are out of communion with God. Without communion our mind is abandoned to its own projections, as every therapist knows.”
As Goa alludes, the word “God” is not in the original Greek, but some English translations add it because of our “angry God” assumptions.
The Bible shows wrath as an alienated state we are in when we are out of communion with God. We are the ones, like Adam and Eve, hiding from Him as Goa points out (bold-type added):
“When Eve and Adam sinned in the garden it was they that walked away and hid from Him who came seeking them in the cool of the evening. It was God who sought them and called out to them. As it was for Adam and Eve, so it has been for me and so many men and women. But Adam and Eve were filled with guilt and shame and fled and hid and covered themselves. Their mind was filled with fear and they saw wrath stalking the garden, heard only wrath in the loving words of Him who was their lover, maker and sustainer. Our mind in the flesh sees wrath as stalking life because we are outside our God-given way of being in communion.”
This is the psychological damage done by eating from the wrong Tree, which Paul calls the “flesh” in Romans. Paul ends this passage by declaring that Jesus was the antidote to this spiritual neurosis, “much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.”
God had to reconcile us back to Himself, not the other way around (see also 2 Cor.5:19). His perfect love reverses our orphan-hearted fear of judgment, because fear involves torment (1 John 4:1-7-18).
Jesus didn’t come to change God, but to change us. It was our fallen nature that was “alienated and enemies in our own mind” (Col.1:21). Jesus nailed this to the cross and, by His Spirit, has given our darkened minds His mind (1 Cor.2:16), so that we could be restored to our original purpose and enjoy fellowship in the Triune Godhead through Him!
In other words, God saved us from ourselves.
Don’t get me wrong. God does have wrath. He has a fixed disposition against all unrighteousness and injustice. However, it must be seen in the context of His love. Furthermore, while the Bible does use anthropomorphisms, simile, and metaphor to help us understand God, He’s not schizophrenic or emotionally thin-skinned like us. He does not change; we are the ones with these unstable characteristics.
God is unrelenting love and a consuming fire (1 John 4:8; Heb.12:29). But fire can both warm us or burn us. The same fire that provides warmth and comfort in a house can also destroy it. His unchanging and infinite love generates passion and fullness of joy in those who love Him while the same fire angers and torments those who hate Him.
Paul also talks about this double-sided response to God’s love (bold-type added):
“For we are to God the fragrance of Christ
among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.
To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death,
and to the other the aroma of life leading to life.” (2 Cor.2:15-16 NKJV)
Wrath is revealed when we refuse to turn our face toward His love. It reveals our heart, not God’s (Rom.1:18). This is because love requires freedom of choice. When people refuse to reciprocate God’s love, He gives them up to their vile passions and bitter enmity. But if they change their mind and turn back to His love, this Prodigal Father’s same unchanging love receives them back into communion with Him.
As C.S. Lewis said, there are two kinds of people–those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, “Thy will be done.”
From this context, we will look at hell next time.