18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
The Wrath of God is Upon Us
I went to church up a steep slope and sat in a row in the balcony as far from the pulpit as possible. Maybe they would not notice me as far from the preacher as possible. He wore a suit that looked like nylon or polyester or something synthetic. It was drab and the lack of colour in his necktie seemed unimaginative and servile. His hair was greased and parted at the side – although it was the eighties each previous decade seemed to rest unaware on his clothing. However, after he had read from the text fire fell from heaven. It rained sulfur and brimstone each Sunday evening. Pastors flushed with passion and pounded the pulpit, declaring God’s revulsion at sin. I knew that I too repulsed him. My eyes lost their focus. My lids grew heavy and in sleep I forgot my sin and smiled.
That was not the case every Sunday, but I was raised in an age when hellfire and wrath were regularly remembered. I longed for grace and unconditional acceptance. Thirty years later I wonder at how the pendulum has swung. We seem to be coddling ourselves and ignorant of the depth of God’s justice and his holiness. Jehovah is not a Greek god who becomes enraged when he doesn’t get his way. His anger is not dark like Hades. God’s wrath is at the offence of injustice. It is a fully righteous version of our indignation of the massacres in Syria, or the plight of a child abandoned on a subway. These things should cause anger because the goodness of God has been thwarted by freedom. The flourishing of creation is cauterized by our choices. We can agree that someone must pay – we resist the idea that the someone is ourselves.
God is good. We are not. In this age of acceptance, that does not sound too bad. However, God’s holy goodness causes separation from all that is unholy. All that is corrupted warrants destruction. The garbage should be cleaned from God’s pure streets. If we were talking homicidal maniacs, child molesters and bureaucrats we might get some sympathy for clearing the streets with a dose of God’s wrath. However, when the garbage collection comes we find loving mothers, doting fathers, young children and feeble grandparents also swept up in the collection. How can a loving God assign all walks of people to the incinerator? Because he is good and there is no-one good but him. His very creation contaminates itself by its free-will and so he designates a place where the infection can fester forever. He lovingly allows those who shake their fists and knowingly shake their heads in disbelief to live apart from him. He righteously assigns them their fate. He is love, yes. But he is good – a pure goodness that can not abide corruption. Apart from a miracle, he is the Father whose own nature alienates him from his children. We begin our story without God and without hope in the world. Why? Because that is the way it should be. Maybe when we see his wrath we will cry out. Then we will know what the true meaning of God’s mercy and grace is.
Oh God – our sin is immense. Even the most well-behaved and helpful of us has lost their way. We are an offence to your created order and we deserve the most extreme punishment. Help us to know how to communicate both your wrath and your love. Help us to communicate compassion and estrangement. The whole picture makes the most sense – help us to see it and speak it.
- What is revealed from heaven?
- What is it revealed against?
- How would you describe God’s wrath?
- Why is God’s wrath talked about less than it was 50 years ago?
- How could you communicate God’s wrath in a way that is true?