GOD’S ANGER, HATE, & WRATH: 7 OBJECTIONS
by Ryan Thomas
This article is based on the recent Sermon “Anger, Hate, and Wrath” in the Living in Gospel Wisdom sermon series. This material was skipped over in the sermon due to time constraints, but has been expanded below.
Despite a prevailing sentiment within evangelical circles today, the gospel is not that “we’re all bastards but God loves us anyway.” Such a definition tends to view the cross as an eye-popping bear hug from God accompanied with a pat on the butt to urge us forward to score touchdowns for Jesus. In stark contrast, the biblical gospel message is that God in his love poured out his wrath on his Son, Jesus in his love bore God’s wrath that our sin deserved, and that “on that cross as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied.”[i] God rescued us from his wrath through the death of Jesus Christ on the cross.
That Christianity is essentially a rescue religion resounds with most evangelicals in the U.S. today, who raise their hands in adoration at the glory of it all. However, that this rescue mission is primarily a rescue of God’s people from God’s furious wrath by God himself causes the sea of swaying hands to suddenly pause. Can (should?) such a God be worshipped? Faces cringe at the horror of it all.
The fact is, God hates evildoers as well as their evildoing (Psalm 5:5; Proverbs 6:16-19). We all either fall into or have fallen into this category (cf. Romans 3 if you think you don’t or haven’t). This means we all deserved or deserve nothing less than the holy anger, righteous hate, and furious wrath of God the Almighty. But while God’s attitude toward our sin and evil is always and only perpetual hate, thankfully this cannot be said about the sinner. God in his goodness and love sent his Son Jesus to die for the sinner and their sins alike. Nevertheless, if we are to understand the great, personal love of God correctly, we must also understand the his great and personal hatred for evildoers and their evildoing.
What follows are 7 common objections to the anger, hate, and wrath of God.
OBJECTION 1: GOD IS LOVE
Amen! Who said he wasn’t? Usually what is meant by this objection is not that God is love, but rather love is God, and so God can only be love. Instead of being just one of the many attributes of God, love is elevated above God as supreme. As such, we think God is obligated to serve our new idol called love, and the god of our faith becomes that which fulfills our own twisted definition of love. Invariably, this type of “love” means overlooking, excusing, and ignoring our sin rather than dealing with it (the one true God does just the opposite, cf. Exodus 34:6-7). We think there is no way that God in his love could ever hate me for my sin, store up wrath against me because of my sin, or think of me as anything less than lovely in spite of my sin. According to God, wrath is essential to a correct definition of love. “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). Propitiation is a theological term relating to the satisfaction of God’s wrath. That God hates us as sinners, and not only our sin, is a biblical truth (Psalm 5:5). Thankfully, it is not the only truth in the bible. The good news of the gospel is that through Jesus and his death on the cross for our sin, God satisfied his wrath against man, removed his hatred from us, and lovingly died for the sinner that was still his enemy. For merely trusting in this sacrifice (faith), God offers you everlasting peace, eternal life, adoption into his family, and purpose on this planet.
OBJECTION 2: HATE IS SIN
This objection argues that because God cannot sin, God cannot hate. This objection shows some sensitivity to several scriptures in the Bible. “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (1 John 3:15; cf. Leviticus 19:17-18; 1 John 4:20). The problem with the argument is that it assumes that we can reason linearly from ourselves to God (or in the reverse). This is dangerous for two reasons. In the direction of ourselves to God, we risk projecting our own imperfections onto God when he shares none of them. In the direction of God to man, we risk projecting God’s perfections onto man when we share none of them. While it would be a sin for any man to call himself God, it does not follow that God is sinning when he calls himself God. We must understand each in their own right. Our hate and wrath are sin, but it does not follow that God’s anger, hate, and wrath must therefore be sin as well. God’s hate is similar enough to our own that he chose to use that word in scripture to describe his attitude toward sin, and our negative emotional response to such language shouldn’t be avoided. It is what God intended by using that particular word. God’s hate is distinct from our own hate inasmuch as God is holy, righteous, perfect, and without sin. God’s hate is driven by his holiness, justice, and even his love. “The love of God hates all that is opposed to God; and sinners–not merely sin–are opposed to God.”[ii]
OBJECTION 3: ANGER, HATE, AND WRATH ARE UNWORTHY OF GOD
This is essentially the same objection as 2 but from a different platform. Rather than arguing from the depths of human sin, this argument points high to God’s majesty and says that anger, hate, and wrath are unworthy of his great glory. God would never stoop so low. The gospel proclaims that God stooped even lower. Jesus became sin itself, a curse in God’s eyes, so that we might become the righteousness of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21). God does not see anger, hate and wrath as unworthy of his nature. He embraces them unapologetically, and he declares that he is worthy to be worshipped because his majesty and love oppose us in all our sin and evil. Moreover, in his great love, God has satisfied his wrath against us by pouring it out on Jesus. Thankfully, Jesus didn’t think that this unworthy of himself, either. If we were to accept this argument that anger, hate, and wrath are unworthy of God, we end up with a “gospel” message that H. Richard Niebuhr summarized well: “A God without wrath brought man without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”[iii]
OBJECTION 4: I’M A GOOD PERSON
Love is most comfortable when we think we deserve it. Why does God love us? “Because we are lovely,” we would like to reply. “Perhaps not perfect, but certainly lovely,” we persist. “There must be something in us worth loving,” we say today, “because Jesus saw something worth dying for.” Did he? “But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to [man], because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man” (John 2:24-25). “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness” (Mark 7:21-22). “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming” (Colossians 3:5-6). God did not die for us because he thought we were lovely. He died for us because we are horrifically ugly. In our rebellion and sin, we are detestable, repugnant, and infuriating to God. God died for us because we needed him to die for us. Christ did not bear our loveliness on his cross; he bore our sin, evil, and wickedness. Jesus died for us on the cross not because of the loveliness of the loved, but because of the amazing lovingkindness of the great triune God.
OBJECTION 5: GOD IS ANGRY IN THE BIBLE, THAT’S WHY I REJECT GOD
Generally, this is the objection of the atheist. Arrogantly, they declare God absent as they demand justice in the face of moral or natural evil, and hypocritically they condemn God for his just judgments recorded in scripture. I used to stand with them, my fist defiantly raised at God, demanding to know, “Where is God in the midst of this pain and suffering? Where is God in opposition to evil tyrants?” I now know that he was on the cross and He is risen, ruling and reigning from heaven, sovereignly adding to His church and executing judgment on earth as he seems fit. “How dare he act the angry judge, killing innocent people and encouraging genocide and violence in the name of his religion! This idea of God is the source of all our violence and problems today!” Your belief in humanity’s so called innocence is mistaken and even you don’t ultimately believe it. Even atheists lock their doors. God is not the problem, we are the problem. “Dreadful as it is, it is not surprising that God sends sinners to hell. The problem is why He does not do it sooner. Why does God let a hell-deserving sinner live a minute and then let him prosper like the green bay tree (Ps.37:35), as well? It is obvious that God can destroy the ungrateful. Why doesn’t He? That is the problem.”[iv]
OBJECTION 6: WHAT ABOUT LOVE THE SINNER, HATE THE SIN?
This pithy saying was coined by Gandhi, not God, nor Jesus, nor the bible. We saw above that the Bible speaks unapologetically that God hates evil-doing as well as evildoers. Whereas Gandhi would pit God’s love for the sinner against God’s hate for his sin, God has no such dilemma. He hates the sinner and his sin with a perfect hatred. In Christ, he has also freely chosen to love the sinner and act on the behalf of his enemy. That God is love does not mean that God must love the sinner. God was love before he created humanity, and God is love even after we fell in our sin. He has acted freely in his love for the sinner, not under compulsion or obligation. Biblically, one must say that God hates the sinner and his sin, but has also freely chosen to love the sinner in Christ. Speaking about this paradox, D.A. Carson says,
“There is a small element of truth in these words: God has nothing but hate for the sin, but it would be wrong to conclude that God has nothing but hate for the sinner. A difference must be maintained between God’s view of sin and his view of the sinner. Nevertheless the cliché (God hates the sin but loves the sinner) is false on the face of it and should be abandoned. Fourteen times in the first fifty psalms alone, we are told that God hates the sinner, his wrath is on the liar, and so forth. In the Bible, the wrath of God rests both on the sin (Rom. 1:18ff.) and on the sinner (John 3:36).”[v]
OBJECTION 7: THIS SOUNDS JUST LIKE WESTBORO BAPTIST CHURCH
This infamous church is known for picketing gay pride parades and disrupting fallen soldier’s funerals, loudly shouting with their large poster board signs declaring that “God hates fags” and “God hates soldiers.” I just said above that God hates sinners, and that God personally hates some of you who are not identified with the cross of Christ. How is this any different than the bigotry of this “church”? First, to summarize the Westborite position, these people only preach a message of hate and wrath. There is no cross, there is no gospel, there is no grace, there is no forgiveness, there is no peace, there is no hope. While some people today believe that love is god so God can only be love, Westborites believe god is mostly hate, loving just a few special people (you aren’t one of them), and their mission on earth is to make sure you know how much God hates you. Furthermore, their understanding of God’s hate mimics the pettiness and bigotry of human hatred. The difficult, highly technical task that scholars call “reading” should be sufficient evidence that the bible does not put forward such a one-sided, shallow message.
In opposition to the Westboro message, Christians preach God’s wrath to be faithful to the scriptural truth that is the wrath of God is the very real and very just sentence for our sin, and we follow it closely with the gospel message of peace and forgiveness through the death of Christ on the cross. Our message is that the wrath of God burns against every evildoer and all their evildoing, including the sin and evil committed by Christians themselves. The gospel message of salvation, peace, life, hope, and love is for any and all that hear this message. It is yours to lay hold of in faith in the crucified and risen Christ. And our hope, our desire, our labor in preaching God’s wrath and his salvation in Jesus is that you would lay hold of this promise. For those who have laid hold of it already, we mature as we grow in our understanding of what God did for us on the Cross of Christ. Additionally, our mission is to proclaim this great gospel message of peace and hope to the nations, as we grow in our understanding of what God did for us on the Cross of Christ.
[i] From the hymn In Christ Alone, Words and Music by Keith Getty & Stuart Townend. Copyright © 2001 Kingsway Thankyou Music
[ii] John L. McKenzie, “The Imprecations of the Psalter.” American Ecclesiastical Review 111 (1944): 91).
[iii] Niebuhr, H. Richard, The Kingdom of God in America (1937), New York: Harper and Row, 1959, p. 193
[iv] Gerstner, Dr. John H. Does God Love the Sinner and Hate Only His Sin? http://www.the-highway.com/lovesinner_Gerstner.html, accessed 10/1/13.
[v] Carson, D.A. The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2000, p. 68-69