One of the objections that keeps coming up goes something like this… “All this talk about the Father’s love…what about His anger and wrath? After all, these are attributes of God, too.”
Actually, I don’t think they are. While God’s anger and wrath apparently seems to show up a lot in Scripture, especially in the Old Testament, it doesn’t necessarily follow that these are among His attributes.
I would like to give you my take on this, but understand that I’m in no way dogmatic on my position, nor do I expect you to agree with me. But I would ask that you consider what I have to share, and that you might faithfully question what you’ve believed about this up to this point.
Talking about the attributes of God is a vast and well-worn theological subject that goes far beyond what I can share here, so I will attempt to keep it as basic and to the point as possible. But I also realize that I will no doubt create questions in your mind about how we should then understand anger and wrath in the context of God’s interactions with us in Scripture. Because of these things, I will need to cover this subject in two parts.
With that said, let’s get started.
The dictionary defines an attribute as a quality or feature regarded as a characteristic or inherent part of someone or something. This will be helpful to our understanding.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism’s definition of God is said to be an enumeration of his attributes: “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.”
Interestingly, the Bible doesn’t seem to devote any space to explicitly defining God’s attributes, other than to imply that “His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead…” (Rom.1:20)
I say “imply” because there is no Greek word for “attributes” in Romans 1:20. It was added by the translators. But we will go with this description.
So, we need to ask the question. Does anger and wrath fit these descriptions of God’s character and inherent nature? There are theologians and scholars, like A.W. Pink, who insisted that wrath does fit as one of God’s many attributes. But I think that Reformed theologian, Dr. Sinclair Ferguson, can give us more clarity on the subject (emphasis mine):
“Strictly speaking, wrath is not an attribute of God. For something to be an attribute of God, it has to be something that God exercises before all worlds. It would be more appropriate to say that the wrath of God is the manifestation of the holiness of God in the context of the sinfulness of man. So, within the Trinitarian relationship, that holiness is expressed among the members of the Trinity, but not wrath.”
In other words, whatever is not expressed between the Father, Son and Spirit within the Triune nature of God, before and apart from His creation, is NOT an attribute of God. This is why my position is that wrath and anger cannot be said to be attributes of God.
What does this mean? It means that simply going through the Bible and coming up with a compartmentalized list of things pertaining to God does not necessarily define His essence and character—who He is at the core of His being.
I believe Scripture tells us that God has only one unchanging attitude toward humanity. That one attitude is LOVE. To know God is to know love (1 John 4:7-16). All of His other attributes, like His holiness (which can be defined as His “altogether otherness.”), His justice, His infinite knowledge and power, flow from and are subsumed in His unchanging love.
We know that Scripture does explicitly tell us that God IS love, and we know that He eternally expresses love between the Father and Son and Spirit “before all worlds” (John 17:24). While this is true about love, God does not eternally express anger and wrath within the Godhead. He is not angry or wrathful apart from His creation, therefore these cannot be attributes of God.
So then, how are we to look at all the verses about God’s anger and wrath since they’re all over the Bible? Ignore them? Tell people God’s not mad anymore? No, that would be scripturally dishonest. We seek to understand this language in the context of God’s love, not by trying to “balance God out,” attributing anger and wrath to His character or essence.
And we will look at how we might do that next time.