Yesterday I posted an article here “Attack of the Love Buts” about how some Christians just can’t stand the idea of God being love without penciling in the idea that “God is also a God of Wrath”.
This morning I woke up to this delightful email from a brother in Christ:
Let’s start with the “…Esau I hated” verse:
The word translated as “hate” is the Greek root miseo. However, we may want to take note that this word is often used within a Jewish idiom where someone is told to “hate” one and “love” another in terms of comparison, not literal “hate”. For example: In Luke 14:26 Jesus says,
“If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.”
Please notice that Jesus draws a contrast between the love we have for him and the love we have for our family members. He uses hyperbolic language to over-emphasize the point.
He is saying that we need to love family members less than we love Him. Otherwise we would have to take Jesus at face value and teach that Jesus actually wants us to actively cultivate HATE in our hearts towards our own family? [Hopefully not.]
So, it’s in this same hyperbolic language that the scriptures tell us that God “loved” Jacob and “hated” Esau.
But, we’re not done yet. Hang on. There’s a lot more.
This verse isn’t about Jacob or Esau as people. Not at all. The context alone tells us this.
If we read the entire passage in Romans 9, we’ll notice that Paul references Genesis 25:23 which says:
“Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples will be separated from within you. One people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger”
Please note: this verse is about “two nations”, or “two peoples”.
Next, Paul quotes the original passages from Malachi 1:2-4 where once more we are reminded that the discussion is about nations [Edom and Israel], not individual people.
It helps to realize that Malachi was written about 1,200 years after both Esau and Jacob were dead.
And, those passages say that Esau would serve Jacob, but this never happened. In fact, the opposite is true. Jacob bowed down to his brother Esau and called himself Esau’s servant. There’s no indication that this passage is about the individuals, Jacob or Esau. In context it is about the nations of Edom and Israel, and the “hate” spoken of here is in the hyperbolic sense.
Later when both Edom and Israel were taken into captivity by the Babylonians, it was only the Israelites who were allowed to return to their homeland, not the Edomites. So, the “God hated Esau” statement is more in reference to how Israel received better treatment from Babylon than the Edomites [descendants of Esau] were treated in comparison.
That pesky hyperbole tends to snag literalists every time.
Now, the second passage in Romans [chapter 12, verses 17-19], says “…leave room for God’s wrath”, and my friend is convinced that this qualifies as an example of where the Bible actually says, “Love…BUT…” by assuring us that we should love our enemies but take comfort in knowing that God will roast them alive, eventually.
However, Romans is a book that most Christians misunderstand. Especially Biblical Literalists. Why? Because it features an argumentative device known as “Prosopopeia” employed extensively by Paul to argue with an imaginary opponent, (the Teacher of the Law), to counter a few common misunderstandings he wants to correct in the epistle.
So, just because Paul says something in Romans, we should not assume that Paul himself necessarily believes this. If we keep reading, we may see that he turns around and corrects this teaching with the Gospel.
So, let’s look at the verse:
“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord (Romans 12:17-19)
First: let’s read the entire passage to the very end of Paul’s thought:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:20-21)
Paul’s point here is that if we show love to our enemies, we will overcome evil with good.
And isn’t this exactly what Jesus wants us to understand when he tells us to love our enemies because this is what God does to His enemies!
Please understand: The reason we should love our enemies as Jesus and Paul instruct us to do is simply this: Because God does!
We are not being told by Paul that we should be held to a higher standard of love and mercy than God. Far from it!
We are held to the same standard of love and mercy that God Himself follows.
It’s because God loves His enemies that we should too.
It’s because God overcomes evil with good that we should do the same.
We are not loving our enemies because God doesn’t love them. We love our enemies because God first loved us, and them.
We are imitating God, not trying to outdo God in the love department.
To me, this verse is not problematic since “God’s wrath” is simply the fruit of our disobedience. I’ve written a lot about this in my book “Jesus Undefeated” about what the Wrath of God is all about, but you may not find that convincing. I’ll let you decide for yourself.
I would point to this verse which comes just before the one mentioned, which is Romans 11:32:
“For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.”
God thus shuts all of us up to the consequences of our own disobedience, which can sometimes be a fearful thing , in order that he may ultimately be merciful to all of us. In that way, even his wrath is an expression of his boundless mercy to us.
Also, I don’t believe that God’s wrath is “in” Himself. It is the direct result of our own disobedience.
Remember: The wages of sin is death. In other words, sin carries its own reward. The judgment or “wrath” that falls upon us is like throwing rocks into the air and then blaming God when they fall on our heads.
ALSO: The “wrath of the Lamb” in Revelation is a wonderful example of how the NT subverts the concept of the wrath of God by reframing it as the “Wrath of the Baby Lamb” [similar to saying, “The Wrath of the Kitty” or “The Wrath of the Puppy”].
Simply put, baby lambs have no wrath.
In fact, the overarching sweep of the entire Scripture is that God’s entire posture towards us is always good. As my friend and Bible teacher Steve Gregg puts it:
“None of God’s actions, including His judgments, are without a positive purpose. This is often affirmed in Scripture…Since there are many such [verses] that speak of God’s judging as a function of His love and mercy – while there are none that tell us that God’s judgments are merely retributive…it seems inappropriate and gratuitous to interpret the few verses in Scripture about hell as if we did not have ample testimony elsewhere revealing the divine purpose and intention of saving all that were lost.“
As I have said many times before:
If wrath and vengeance were truly attributes of God’s character and reflections of His Divine Nature, then we might expect to see these listed alongside the other Fruits of the Spirit found in the Scriptures. After all, the Fruit of the Spirit is simply a reflection of the nature and character of God imparted to us by the Holy Spirit as we abide in Christ. These attributes – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control – are Divine attributes. We bear these fruits because we are being transformed by the Spirit of God into people who reflect the image and nature of God as revealed in Christ.
Wrath is not an attribute of God’s nature. Vengeance is not a reflection of God’s heart. What we see in the Suckling Lamb is the true face of God.
Again, we can affirm the scriptures which reveal to us the truth that “God is love” and we can see that God is not a God of wrath. He’s a God who loves us enough to warn us when our actions are leading us to destruction and he weeps for us when we fail to see the things that make for peace.
God shows Himself wrathful to the wrathful, but merciful to the merciful. What we receive is merely a reflection of our own actions, and even then, God is a God of mercy and compassion whose love endures FOREVER but His anger is for only a moment. [Note: It does NOT say that God’s LOVE is for a moment and His wrath lasts Forever].
Now, after I received this wonderful email correspondence this morning, I responded with love and, to the best of my ability, attempted to show my friend where he was missing the point.
Hopefully, what I’ve written here will help us to see the point, even if my friend cannot.
Keith Giles was formerly a licensed and ordained minister who walked away from organized church 11 years ago, to start a home fellowship that gave away 100% of the offering to the poor in the community. Today, He and his wife have returned to El Paso, TX after 25 years, as part of their next adventure. They hope to start a new house church very soon.
Want Keith to come speak at your church or in your home town? Send an invitation HERE