After reading several recent articles about “the wrath of God,” it has suddenly hit me why there is so much confusion about this controversial topic. We need a PLAYBILL, a theatre program, listing all the players which operate in any given event which is perceived as “the wrath of God.”
In other words, in any supposed wrathful event, what is God’s role? Our role? Satan’s role (whether you consider him a dark cosmic dynamic or a dark angelic power)? Exactly who initiates exactly what against exactly whom to exactly what degree for exactly what purpose?
Is God’s wrath the punitive dynamic which catalyses creation’s crushing ways when we displease Him?
Is God’s wrath the punitive dynamic behind all debilitating diseases, wasting cancers, pulverizing plagues, mashing mudslides, ravaging rapes, genocidal tsunamis, horrific hurricanes, mortifying molestations, cruel murders, world wars, and toxic terrorism?
Add to this countless infant deaths, innumerable teenage suicides, along with billions of widow-making and orphan-leaving tragedies, and we are left with a pointed question. Who or what is behind all this daily destruction from what has been aptly named “Serial Killer Earth” by a recent cable series?
Are all these horrific events just random destructions with which God has no connection at all? If not, does He then sit idly by while the creation He gave kills us and tortures us in various ways and at various speeds? Would He put us in such a death trap and just leave us on our own? Or, perhaps, is God punishing multitudes of us for past wrongs which some or all of us have committed? Or, could it be Satan attacking us through these events? Jesus did say in John 10:10 that Satan steals, kills, and destroys, while the Lord Himself only brings life abundant to us– the giving of it, the protection of it, and the thriving of it. Is it possible that the wrath of God is more accurately described as the wrath of Satan?
Lastly, what part, if any, do we play, or fail to play, in the expansion, prevention or reduction of these wrathful and destructive events’ occurrence?
Let me start off with an allegory I will apply throughout this essay.
START OF ALLEGORY
Using similar imagery from Hosea, I want us to imagine a faithful, strong, and loving husband. His beloved wife is the apple of his eye and heart. But, she is a troubled, restless, and wandering soul. She has never truly and freely fallen in love with her husband. He wants to give her everything but she will receive nothing. True love can only oxygenate where there is true freedom. The husband tries to woo her, comfort her, and reason with her. But divine love can never be forced, for then it wouldn’t be love at all, but rapacious coercion.
The husband is stunned one day to find a bill of divorcement from his beloved wife. She has left him not just for another man, but for soon to be many other men. He goes after her, but she will not have him. She is ashamed, condemned and is convinced she will never be fully forgiven and received back by her husband even if she did want to return to him. She has believed the lies of her treacherous suitors that her former husband is at heart cruel, violent, and vengeful.
The woman is eventually abused by each of her suitors in different ways. The first suitor physically and repeatedly beats her to a pulp. The wife eventually leaves him and stumbles half-alive to the hospital. The staff there calls the husband to come to her side. He helps encourage and nourish her and stays with her until she is strong again. The husband’s heart soon becomes grieved when he discovers she has slipped out of the hospital window to go back to her abusive suitors.
She lustfully moves from suitor to suitor, being repeatedly abused by each one in different ways. She contracts all sorts of diseases from the toxic relationships and filthy environments. And broken bones. And broken promises.
The husband continues to save her or mitigate her devastating injuries on multiple occasions, but she won’t remain with him for any length of time. She repeatedly pushes him away and rejects the immediate fulness of his protective presence. He is always nearby to help when she will let him, but that is seldom. He knows he can’t force her to do anything because his form of love simply can’t coerce another.
So he hovers near her and follows her in the wakes of all her destructions. He tries to help her on the limited access levels he has been given. Like a brave foreman, he stays vigilant and ever ready to respond and rush in to her immediate circumstances whenever she consents to broaden his access into her life. He waits so long in vain, quenched and grieved, but he will not surrender. Again, as would a heroic fireman, he tries to warn her of the circumstantial fire hazards she always approaches, but she seldom listens. And her inner injuries and emotional burn wounds accumulate and worsen. But she is always just as beautiful as ever to him.
He knows that one day she will reach her limit and come to her senses. She will remember him and return to his love. She will find her rest in him. And his quenched and grieved state will be over. Nobody or no thing will ever harm or defile her again. They will be eternally one.
END OF ALLEGORY.
Now let’s weave some imagery from this allegory into the issue of our divine marriage to God. Remember that mankind is called to form the corporate bride of Christ, a bride who will make herself ready by ultimately putting all forms of darkness under God’s foot. Paul called this ongoing growth into union a great mystery, the marriage of Christ and His church-bride (Ephesians 5:25-32). Hosea 2:16 likewise prophesies a day when God’s people would once again know Him as their husband (Ishi). So let’s blend this imagery with the allegory from above.
1) Did Adam and Eve, as archetypes of the human condition, reject a husbandly connection WITH God in favor of other suitors– the serpent Satan, the forbidden fruit of good and evil , their own egos, and the ultimate embrace of death itself?
Yes. God warned against partaking from the deadly fruit of the suitors on the tree of good and evil. They nonetheless harkened to the hissing serpent’s refutation of God’s warning. They then ignored the warning and partook of the forbidden fruit, and in so doing, cast God out of the gardens of their hearts. Death then became their destiny, fear their primary motivation, and Satan their carnal manipulator.
2) Were Adam and Eve convinced by the lies of their suitors that God was really angry, unforgiving, greatly to be feared, and that they needed to hide from His immediate presence?
Yes. They “hid from His presence among the trees in the garden” while donning aprons of fig leaves with which they sought to set up another boundary to unfettered intimacy with God.
3) Has mankind followed in the first Adam’s footsteps and refused to believe in the flawless goodness of God, choosing instead to see him as a bipolar and Janus-faced deity who was the source of BOTH good and evil, BOTH love and wrath, BOTH healing and affliction, and BOTH saving and killing?
Yes, the dualistic view of God is the conceptual fig-leaf we use to cover and hide ourselves from God. It justifies atheism, icy deism, angry fundamentalism, several other forms of dualistic religion, and a thousand other tainted mindsets which keep us distracted and restless.
4) Is God “grieved” at our infatuation with our toxic suitors?
Yes. Ephesians 4:30-32 exhorts us to “grieve not the Holy Spirit of God” by inwardly courting the false suitors of “bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, and malice,” instead being “kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another….”
5) In addition to being “grieved,” is God’s protective presence also “quenched” from not being given our full consensual access to enter into our hearts, minds and souls?
Oh yes. “Quench not the Spirit.” 1 Thessalonians 5:19. Several translations use the word “stifle” instead of “quench.” But what is it exactly that is quenched or stifled? Lexicons tell us that this word in the Greek expresses a metaphor describing His “divine influence being quenched, suppressed or stifled.”
6) Do we play a part in causing the Lord’s quenched state?
Yes, in the surrounding context, this passage indicates that the things that stifle, squelch, and inhibit the Spirit are: a habitual lack of gratitude, a habitual despising of prophecy, a habitual lack of prayer, a habitual lack of joy, and a habitual rendering of evil for evil. 5:15-22.
7) So what exactly happens when God’s Spirit is “quenched” or “grieved?”
God’s quenched state comes from us giving place within our souls to the devil.
Quenching and grieving God’s Spirit causes His protective presence to “wane” and Satan’s wrathful spirit to “wax” strong. Waxing and waning. Waning and waxing. Does Satan have wrath? Yes. Revelation 12:12 confirms his “great wrath” is towards “the inhabitants of the earth and sea.” The Old Testament writers imprudently called Satan’s great provocations against David and Israel “the anger of the Lord” (see 2 Samuel 24:1 and 1 Chronicles 2:1).
Consider these astounding verses below.
“And again THE ANGER OF THE LORD was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, Go, number Israel and Judah.” 2 Sam. 24:1.
“And SATAN stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel…” 1 Chr. 21:1.
The above passages describe the same event where David sinned by numbering Israel. Same event. Same David. Same sin. Same result: 70,000 dead Israelites, but a different cause of evil. The Samuel passage attributes it to the anger of the Lord while the later Chronicles passage attributes it to Satan.
So, if the Old Testament viewed “the wrath of God” as the exact same thing as “the provocations of Satan,” where does that leave us in the New Testament? Well, it leaves us in need of a better understanding of all the parties’ roles who are involved in the transaction of wrath.
We need a Playbill in other words, a syllabus, where the exact role of each participant is better delineated. This will show us that the governing dynamics of wrath are not unilateral, a one way street in other words. Rather, there is multi-party, multi-dimensional, and interdependent dynamic being played out here between several participants.
So here is the proposed Playbill.
PLAYBILL FOR THE WRATH OF GOD
1) OUR PART: We misuse our freedom by continually rejecting or neglecting God’s virtuous leading, thereby diminishing His access to fully penetrate our circumstances with His protective presence. As we “give Satan place” (violating Paul’s warning in Ephesians 4:27), God’s divine influence wanes and Satan’s destructive influence fills the vacuum. Mark 6:1-6 provides a clear example of this tragic dynamic, where Jesus, upon returning to Nazareth, was ready, willing, and able to to the mighty works of God in their midst. But, the people had quenched God away with their unbelief, an unbelief at which Jesus marveled (and not in a good way). Nonetheless, Jesus still healed a few sick people, but could there do no mighty works. The wrath of Satan abided on them corporately to the extent that it “stifled” and “suppressed” God’s mighty works from manifesting in their midst.
As Aristotle famously said, “Nature abhors a vacuum.” We create the vacuum, while Satan then fills it with as much oppression and affliction as he can. God meanwhile seeks full return access into our core being through our repentance, the prayers of self and others, and the re-asserting of our devotional focus. These things, in counter fashion, quench and suppress Satan’s destructive access into our lives and circumstances. A counter vacuum is then created which allows and invites God’s Spirit to re-fill and re-establish His virtuous and protective presence.
This is the daily wrestling Ephesians 6:10-17 describes. As we neglect our so great a salvation, God’s protective presence wanes. But, as we bring ongoing devotional focus to our “so great a salvation,” God has ever increasing access and elbow room to flood us with His divine and rescuing energies, both in our hearts and in our circumstances. This works to a degree on an individual basis, but works even more powerfully on a corporate level where there is devotional unity of mind and heart on the part of larger groupings of the body and bride of Christ.
2) GOD’S PART: As we harden our hearts toward His immediate and intimate presence, His divine influence and protective presence is grieved, quenched, stifled, and suppressed from fully manifesting His divine energies into our hearts and circumstances. Is the Lord pleased here? Certainly not.
But is God angry in the way men understand that term– as reactive, violent, and vengeful? Well, He is certainly both grieved and anguished at the needless damage we are causing ourselves and others, not to mention His lament at missing intimate moments with us. But He is never vengeful or brutal against our personal well being. Just as it is unimaginable that the husband in the allegory would ever brutalize and abuse his bride in the same way her wicked suitors did, so too is it inconceivable that the Lord would brutalize, harm, or abuse us utilizing the very methods which Jesus said Satan uses to crush us– lies, condemnation, violence, disasters, oppression, and sickness. That is unthinkable. He simply misses the tender walks together in our heart’s garden. He is anguished because His access into our hearts is largely shut down by our lukewarmness toward Him and our habitual lust for other things.
The Lord longs to flood into and penetrate our beings with His virtue and strength, but He won’t and can’t until we open the doors of consent. Like the grieved and quenched husband in the allegory, God hurts and is anguished for His beloved’s sakes, but not for His own sake, never for HIs own sake. His focus is forever and always on us– healing that in us which is lost, lukewarm and carnally lustful. God is our rescuer, our heroic fireman, and our relentlessly pursuing husband God.
3) SATAN’S PART: Satan, who the New Testament calls “the tempter” (Matthew 4:3; 1 Thessalonians 3:5), continually seeks to lure us away and keep us away from God’s presence. Like the serpent who “beguiled Adam and Eve” away from the Lord’s presence, Jesus explains these dynamics in the Parable of the Sower. Like the “cares of the world” which Jesus said “choke” out the logos seed of God’s presence within us from ever growing and producing a harvest in our lives. Like the rocky heart soil which keeps the logos presence of God from penetrating into the deep core of our heart. Like the evil birds which pluck up the logos seeds of God’s presence which He has sown into our heart. Satan’s sole plan is to lure us away and keep us away from God’s presence ever penetrating and abiding within our core being, our heart of hearts in other words.
Satan knows that as we give his accusations and temptations greater and greater heed, we also give the Lord lesser and lesser consensus access to lead us out of temptation and protect us. When this occurs, God’s protective and virtuous presence is grieved and quenched way, and a vacuum is formed. Satan then fills that vacuum with his oppressions, afflictions, and destructions. THIS is the satanic wrath which comes on the sons of disobedience (Colossians 3:6). THIS is the satanic wrath which comes from the disbelief and rejection of Jesus (John 3:36). THIS is the “great wrath of Satan against all the inhabitants of the earth” which Revelation 12:12 describes. THIS is the wrath of the death angel of the Old Testament, the one whom Jesus called a murderer and liar from the beginning (John 8:44; Hebrews 2:14-15). THIS is the wrath of the law with which Satan accusatorially seeks to afflict and curse us with day and night as we “give him place” (Deuteronomy 28; Revelation 12:10). THIS is the wrath Satan inflicted against the fearful Job in chapters one and two of that book. It includes three major areas where he attacks men, the same three areas of destruction Satan operates in today: 1) NATURE (lightning: “fire from heaven”; tornado or storm: “great wind”); 2) MEN (Sabeans and Chaldeans); and 3) SICKNESS (“boils from the sole of his foot unto his crown”).
This is strong authority that Satan, whom Jesus called thrice called the “prince/archon of this world” (Jn. 12:31; 14:30; 16:11), is indeed an enemy presence in whose power, as “WE give him place,” lies the entire carnal world according to John the beloved (1 Jn. 5:19). Satan likewise uses these three key weapons to likewise attack us: nature, man and sickness. Jesus rebuked a demonic storm, rebuked a Satanically inspired Peter, and rebuked thousands of demon spirits of infirmity. Satan is able, as the bride of Christ “gives him place” by “neglecting our so great a salvation,” to bring disaster, destruction, disease and depression (Hebrews 2:3; Ephesians 4:27).
******END OF PLAYBILL******
There is one last question I want to address. If the above analysis is true, and Satan, rather than God, is the actual bringer of destructive wrath, then why does Scripture call this dynamic “the wrath of God” instead of “the wrath of Satan?”
FIRST, it IS called the wrath of Satan in several passages, such as in Revelation 12:12. Also, 2 Samuel 24:1 and 1 Chronicles 21:1, when read in tandem, utilize the terms “the wrath of God” and “the provocations of Satan” synonymously. In fact, there are several other terms in the New Testament which are also synonymous with this “wrath of God” dynamic. “Giving place to the devil” is synonymous with “the wrath of God,” as is “quenching the Spirit of God,” as is “grieving the Spirit of God.”
Another well known term that touches this same dynamic is found in 1 Corinthians 5:5 where Paul instructs the church, regarding a particular member who has “grieved” and “quenched” God’s Spirit and thereby “given space to the devil,” to “deliver such a one over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that their spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” The New Testament terms admonishing us against “hardening our hearts” and against “neglecting our so great a salvation” both describe the same wrath-catalyzing actions on our part which “give the devil place” to attack and afflict us with “wrath.”
So, when we are told “to flee from the wrath to come,” what does this mean? Some believe it means to flee from the bone crushing wrath of an angry God aimed at sinners. But, in reality, this phrase is not talking about God, for how could we flee from Him? If He did fire thunderbolts of wrath at us, I am quite sure we could not outrun them as they surely have unlimited range. As both Jonah and David made clear, such a thing is not possible. God is everywhere. He cannot be outrun.
I propose that “fleeing from the wrath to come” is instead a rhetorical phrase essentially warning us to “give NO place to the devil.” Ephesians 4:27. In other words, flee from the things that widen the devil’s access to seek to oppress you– things like anger, lust, violence, selfishness, unforgiveness. These toxic desires harden our hearts and allow satanic access to increase. Don’t create a satanic vacuum, in other words, but remain filled with God’s un-grieved and unquenched Spirit.
SECOND, the “wrath of God” is used on occasion (rather then “the wrath of Satan”) because a multi-faceted dynamic is being described, not just a unilateral decision on the part of God. There is an ecosystem of response and counter-response here on the part of several parties of which we need to be aware.
I propose that we reexamine the genitive “of” in the term “the wrath of God.” The Greek language allows for the word “of” to describe both the action “toward” a noun as well as the action “from” a noun. If we read it as a subjective genitive, then it is wrath directed TO man FROM God (as in “the faith OF Abraham” where faith flows FROM Abraham ). Conversely, if we read it as a objective genitive, then it is wrath directed FROM man TO God (as in “the blasphemy of the Spirit” where blasphemy flows TOWARD God).
The first option, the subjective genitive, is unsatisfactory because of the previous discussion above indicating that Satan seems to be the active agent of wrathful destruction against man, not God. The second option, the objective genitive, fits a little better, but still is unsatisfactory for the same reason, because while man might well have anger (both latent and patent) against God, Satan’s pervasively destructive role is not accounted for under this reading.
This leads us to the third genitive option for the word “of,” that of a plenary genitive. A plenary genitive is a two way street where the genitive action flows both ways. For example, “the awe of the Lord” becomes a relational concept describing a dynamic “between” BOTH object and subject. Here the Lord interacts with our devotional heart to produce a RESPONSIVE state of pulsating awe between us, the awe WITH the Lord best conveying the relational idea here. Another example is “the faith of God” from Galatians 2:20. The verse suggests that we are no longer to live by our own faith alone, but rather we are to live by “the faith of the Son of God.” The idea fits well as a plenary genitive. Sure we apply our own faith toward God, but we also receive back Jesus’ indwelling faith to then blend and bolster our own. It is a two way street of mutuality and interaction.
Now, applying the plenary genitive to “the wrath of God,” we see that this term, rather than describing a unilateral anger within God, instead represents a relational dynamic of estrangement and alienation BETWEEN man and God. This estrangement was facilitated and exacerbated by satanic wrath which fills the relational vacuum with temptation, hostility, and destruction. The wrath of God then, seen from this angle, is the tripartite tension between human hearts hardened toward God, a God whose protective presence has been quenched and suppressed, and a dark angelic interloper cosmic seeking to steal, kill, and destroy.
Here is the good news. Our husband-God is relentlessly tenderhearted toward us. He follows us into every corner of our prodigal journey. He is always at the doorstep of our every treacherous thought and wrathful circumstance, eagerly seeking to enter, embrace, and help us escape. He always seeks to cure us, never to destroy us.