How Can a God of Love Also Have Wrath?

How Can a God of Love Also Have Wrath? May 24, 2023

Lightning has oftentimes been seen as God's wrath in creation.
Photo: Pexels.com | Pixabay

The love of God is what motivates me.
But…I read about God’s wrath in the Bible.

Does the God of Love also present Himself with wrath?

The Psalms have been used throughout Christian history. It is the most quoted “book” of the Old Testament by Jesus and the New Testament writers. The primitive church appears to have used the Psalms in their worship.

I have read through the Psalms more than 10 times, but have never spent time looking closely at them. It was surprising to read about “wrath” and “judgment” almost immediately. I decided to read some of my fellow Patheos writers to hear their thoughts on the subject of God’s wrath. Not surprised, I disagree with many things I have read. So, I will offer some comments to show…
WHY Early Church History Matters.

This will be a four-part series:
“How Can a God of Love Also Have Wrath?”

1. How is the wrath of God depicted in the biblical text?
2. How is this topic addressed in the earliest non-biblical writings?
3. When did the idea of universalism begin?
4. Philosophically, how do we grapple with the concept of judgment?

Here are a few verses from the first three Psalms that caught my attention:

Not so the wicked!…the wicked will not stand in the judgment
the way of the wicked leads to destruction.    Ps 1:4-6

Why do the nations conspire?…the Lord scoffs at them.
He rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath…Kiss his son, or he will be angry and your way will lead to destruction, for his wrath can flare up in a moment.
Ps 2:1,5,12

Deliver me, my God! Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked.
Ps 3:1,7   [NIV used in all citations as a base translation – emphasis added.]

I spend 90-95% of my biblical reading in the NT.
I have to wrestle with some of the differences between the OT and the NT. The topic of God’s wrath certainly comes up. BUT, the wrath of God is also found in the teachings of Jesus and in almost every single NT book. Yet this is what a patheos.com colleague writes about the wrath of God:

…there are zero verses that say “God IS wrath”, but there are lots that teach us that “God IS Love,” and the book of Revelation even mocks the idea of God’s wrath by comparing it to the “Wrath of the Suckling Lamb,” which is equal to saying “The Wrath of the Kitten” or “The Fury of the Puppy.” It’s laughable. – Keith Giles

Cute little lamb
Photo: Pexels.com – Kat Smith

The Passover Lamb in Revelation

This photo of a cute little lamb is how Keith has pictured the lamb in Revelation. Reading Keith on the wrath of God would be “laughable” if it were not so incorrect. His public bio states that Keith “walked away from organized church.” In his “deconstruction” seminars he teaches others how to “properly” read the Bible. Keith’s methodology for reading the Bible appears to be very different from mine. In the above quote he says there are “zero verses” that say “God is wrath.” While that statement is technically true, I repeat: almost every book in the NT has statements about the wrath and/or judgment of God.

Yes, “lamb” can indicate an innocent wee pet that the Israelites were to raise with all the love children can offer…in order to slice it’s throat, bleed it out, skin it, cook it over a fire…and then eat it. This is the Passover Lamb which John the Baptist spoke of when he saw Jesus and cried out “Behold, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” [NASB] The next photo is closer to what that Passover lamb would really look like.

Lamb cooking over a firepit
Photo: Pexels.com – Vidal Balielo Jr

Are We Soft?

Does this sound violent? Culturally, we are FAR removed from this kind of human activity – killing an animal for a sacrifice. Christian faith does not require animal sacrifice. But our ancestors regularly had to kill an animal so they could eat meat. Unless you grew up hunting, most Americans have NEVER actually killed an animal to eat it.

I think this is partially why “wrath” is such an odious thing in our “woke” post-modern world. Most of us cannot fathom having to kill an animal in order to eat meat – we just go to a drive-through. And many will not eat animals because it hurts their sensibility.
We are soft…and we want our God to be soft…like us.

The Wrath of the Lamb of God

Mr. Giles references the lamb, but fails to give the reader ANY real biblical context for why and how the lamb is depicted. Jesus is the Passover Lamb. Keith’s cute little lamb depicted in Revelation opens the seven seals [these seals include various judgments by the way!].

Upon opening the fourth seal the people cry out to the mountains:

“Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him [our Loving Heavenly Father] who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!”   Rev 6:16

Now, let me be clear: John’s Revelation should not be taken “literally” in every instance. This is apocalyptic literature. We do need to learn how to read it. Apocalyptic literature, speaking about the “end of the world,” typically uses metaphor and hyperbole (exaggerated language to make a point).

I do not fully understand Revelation. The word translated “revelation” is the Greek word apocalypse which means “to uncover.” This literature is meant to reveal “hidden” things. In this context “hidden” things are assumed to be obscure and difficult to understand.

QUICK SUMMARY – THIS IS WHAT I BELIEVE:

  1. God is Love.
  2. AND God is Just.
  3. There will be a time when all humans will be accountable for their lives. This is typically seen as the “White Throne Judgment” [Rev 21:11-15] and/or the “beama seat” for believers [Rom 14:10; 2 Cor. 5:10].
    There appear to be several references to this event: Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.  Rev 21:15 (explanation and comments forthcoming)
  4. Early Christianity believed in a Just God that will judge all people.

I will go into more detail in the coming weeks. In case you do not want to read more I will simply say that I believe God is Love AND God is Just. There are many things about the eternal One that we cannot fully see nor understand.

Some quickly accept the concept that space is expanding and contracting at the same time, yet cannot accept that the eternal One could have characteristics that appear to be self-contradicting. I accept that God is beyond my understanding. I welcome your comments: rabstandrews@gmail.com

About Al Baker
Al Baker has served on multiple short-term missions to South America, served 20+ years as a pastor (university pastor and local church) and was an adjunct/associate professor of Philosophy and Religion at Saint Augustine’s University in Raleigh NC. In 2005 he started churchhistory101.com, surpassing 1 million unique visitors in 2016. On that site there are several articles on different aspects of early Christianity and two PDF eBooks you can download (click on the images to the right): “A Concise History of the Christian Church: The Apostles to the Council of Nicea” and “Christians, War and Military Service: From the New Testament to Emperor Constantine.” You can read more about the author here.
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