“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles” (Romans 1:18-23).
The Dilemma of Love
At first glance this passage may come as a bombshell out of the blue for many people and be rejected out of hand. That would be a mistake. It may not be popular but it is the foundation of the gospel and to ignore it in any way is to court religiosity and self-deception which leads to eternal death. This is the great problem of the modern church. An inadequate view of sin and the wrath of God against it.
“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men….” (vs. 18a).
Who uses words like “wrath” anymore? Isn’t it a bit over done? Why would God be so angry with us? Well, let me tell you a story…..
This past Christmas, my wife and I were having a cup of tea (coffee for her) and talking about things with the TV on quietly in the background. Then we saw a news item that looked interesting so we turned up the volume.
Apparently a man in one of the poor neighborhoods of Buenos Aires had gotten a gun for Christmas together with the bullets needed to fire it. So, in celebration, he loaded the gun and fired it off into the air in a couple of different directions. He was a good man. A hard worker. He had a family and kids.
But so did his neighbors. One young girl, about five years old was playing in her patio, splashing in the plastic pool that her parents had gotten her and the other kids for Christmas. Other siblings were there as well, contentedly playing when they heard the shots. They were startled for a moment, parents and children alike, but then it stopped and they got on with things.
Until they noticed little Sara who was slumped over with a trickle of blood coming out of a wound in the back of her head. She had been killed by a stray bullet and was dead in a second, her young life over before it was hardly started.
My wife and I were upset of course and we agreed that the man ought to be thrown in jail for his recklessness. What was the world coming to?
Then we got busy with our own preparations and celebrations and, before long, we were thinking about something else. Busy with our own lives.
But later that afternoon, I caught a sequel to this drama. The parents were being interviewed and they were livid. Of course. It looked like they would explode. Of course, there were tears as well but mostly it was anger. Righteous anger. It was a senseless act of violence that was unnecessary. They wanted blood. And I couldn’t blame them a bit.
Then I realized that this was the opposite face of love. My wife and I were upset but we didn’t know the little girl. Really, we didn’t love her. We didn’t even know her name at first. But the parents did. They loved that little girl to pieces and their reaction was absolutely correct. They were livid. They were more than angry. There was true “wrath.” May heaven help that unthinking brute who killed their little girl. If they ever laid hands on him…..
And don’t come to me with all that crap about “vengenace is mine says the Lord…” It may be true since we are full of sin and taking justice into our own hands would not be wise or healthy for society. I get it. But I wasn’t talking about becoming vigilantes, I was talking about the appropriate response of love in the face of evil. Maybe our wrath is not all that righteous at times but God’s wrath certainly is.
The wrath of God is the opposite face of his love. It is the love of God that makes His wrath so real, so right, so holy and just. And we are fine with that until it is directed at us.
Let’s just think about the goodness of God for a moment. In my church they like to say “God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good.” (It’s true but saying it EVERY Sunday morning gets to be a bit much). The idea of God as “good” is a basic description of the divine that we would do well to pay attention to. The goodness of God is made up of both his justice and his love. In fact they are two sides of the same coin. How can that be? How can the justice of God be an essential part of his goodness?
We need to remember that the justice of God was never supposed to be demonstrated in this world. It was because sin and rebellion came into the world that the justice of God showed up. How else could it be? It is the love of God that is most basic to his character but in the face of sin and rebellion, what was God supposed to do? Put up with sin? Dismiss it as unimportant? Let us get away with it? Is that what love would do? Is that what you, as a parent, would do? Is that the best thing for your child? Is it in your nature to just excuse sin as if it was not destructive of relationships? As if it was not “unlove” by definitition?
Love would never put up with anything less than itself. That’s what makes it love. Isn’t it wonderful that this Alien of aliens who created this universe and our world is a being not only of immense power but also has a character defined by his goodness and love? We can all point to humans who have had power and abused it, who have had authority and yet were not good people much less loving. Thank God for God. Thank God that the forces of love will win the day because it doesn’t always seem like they will on this earth. Lack of love is the problem. The love of God is the solution.
One of the most well-known verses in the Bible is John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son….” It is a beautiful verse but it assumes another reality prior to that one. Before God gave Jesus to us as the solution, his love took on the form of justice. It would be just as correct to say, “for God so loved the world that he poured out his wrath upon all mankind…..” That is also love.
And that, right there, was God’s dilemma. He could no more deny his justice than to deny himself. God knows, even if we don’t get it, that His justice was also a true expression of His love. The problem was his children. There were people involved. Justice might be appropriate but it would destroy the very objects of his love. God’s dilemma was resolved in Jesus Christ, in his self-sacrifice on the cross as our substitute, thereby satisfying God’s justice and saving us from our sin. Ingenious. Love was able to do what the almighty power of God could not do. Save us from our own wickedness and sin.
If we changed one little part of that story of the little girl who was killed by a stray bullet from the gun of a negligent neighbor, it would get closer to the problem that God faced. Let’s say that the shooter was not a neighbor, another person outside of the family, unloved, unknown, uncared for. Let’s say that the shooter was an older boy, a son in the same family who killed the little girl. Justice may still be an expression of love and the wrath of the parents may still be present but now there is a dilemma. The parents also love their son. The one who had done something so reckless was beloved. Whether he was sorry or not isn’t the question yet. Just who he was. Loved.
Without both parts of the dilemma that God faces every day, you cannot understand the mercy and the salvation that he brings in Jesus Christ. Salvation means little without the prospect of eternal judgment.
Now, hold on a minute. Eternal damnation seems a bit too much. We make a mistake and we have to pay for it for eternity? How is that fair? It isn’t. That’s a misunderstanding of what is going on. But we will get to that tomorrow. For now, it is important to realize that a good God who loves his people should be angry at sin and wickedness. He should be angry at our lack of love, respect and care for one another.
So don’t be surprised that God is angry. Be surprised that he found a way to be angry at himself, in Christ, on the cross and thereby save us from a judgment that we could not bear. That is the power of the divine love. The wrath of God the Father poured out on God the Son in Gethsemane, on the cross, and in hell. He becomes the sinner and we become saints.
How is that fair? It isn’t. It’s called love.
The Desert Warrior
P.S. Let’s talk to God….
Lord, thank you for finding a way out of the dilemma. I totally get why you are angry. Sometimes I am angry at what I see on the news but I know your anger is righteous and perfect and complete. We, humans, don’t realize how unloving we are at times. Your love makes you sensitive to every slight, every abuse, every injustice, every hurt that we do to one another. It makes you weep. It grieves you deeply. How much you have put up with over the years in my life and in this world. How do you do it? It is your love for us and your plan to save us through Christ that gives you the patience to bear with the sin and evil in this world. Thank you, Lord. In your name I pray. Amen.