The Wrath of God?


Unfortunately I saw the piece on 20/20 this week interviewing Shirley Phelps about the Westboro lawsuit. It was disgustingly awful to watch children singing “God Hates the World and All Her People.”

Admittedly this particular group is extreme fringe. However I feel that same disappointment when I read websites, blogs, and comments that portray God as hateful and angry. I believe a message that heavily emphasizes judgment and wrath misrepresents God.

On a certain website, concerning the gospel as presented by John MacArthur, Doug Pagitt was quoted to say: “I do not say “perverted” lightly, either. I really think what he communicates is so distant from the message of the Bible that it is dangerously harmful to people.”

It is harmful if the message portrayed is so far from the truth of who God is that it repels people. When people preach a narrow gospel of an angry and vindictive God, they don’t seem to realize that they project their own anger and hatred onto God.

I believe it was Anne Lamott who said, “You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”

Sometimes I wonder about why people hang onto this angry version of God. They seem afraid to believe in God’s kindness, love, and mercy. Kind of like it’s too good to be true.

It’s not just the extremists. I think most of us have a small piece of the angry God that we’ve struggled to let go of, the picture of God we imagine when we are feeling ashamed or unworthy – the disapproving father, the harsh taskmaster, the unsatisfied perfectionist.

What if we are transformed by love instead of by law?

Legalism requires the harsh language of sin, judgment, and wrath. But what if God is completely confident in the power of love to transform a heart without threats and intimidation? Of course, living that way would require faith in the transforming power of God’s love instead of trusting in control.

Personally, I think the greatest revelation that we, individually and as the church, will have is a growing revelation of God’s love. His love has the power to redeem and restore in a way that judgment and condemnation never can. I don’t think we, the church, have yet come close to imagining or expressing the depths of God’s love.

Can His love be taken to an extreme?
I don’t think so. What do you think?

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27 thoughts on “The Wrath of God?

  1. Could you give me some info / insight on the MacArthur / Pagitt conversation.

    i am not sure what was said and where “perverted” is the reference point and who is communicating the distant message.

    Sorry for the confusion.

  2. Jeff,
    The quote actually came from a private email of Doug’s that was posted elsewhere after The Great Yoga Debate.

    The gist of what I wanted to reference is that a distorted gospel is a harmful perversion of the message of God’s love.

  3. I asked a question on my blog last week that was inspired by thoughts such as these. I was seeking to find out what the first thing people thought of when they heard the word ‘gospel.’ I asked what IS the ‘good news?’

    I wondered if anyone would say ‘salvation from Hell’ or ‘you’re going to Heaven,’ or something like that.

    I didn’t get any answers such as those, mostly because I don’t have many readers. The answers I got were on par with what I think the gospel IS about – God’s love.

    Sorry this has been kind of rambling. Great post as always and great questions. Keep ’em coming.

  4. What I struggle with is that many people who hold to an narrowly wrathful God (and I say narrow in respect to the exclusion of His other attribute and expressions, as wrath is clearly one) is that many will tell you they DO believe God is entirely loving within His wrath. Arguing love with them is fruitless, because they approach it with an entirely different set of presuppositions.

    Perhaps we need to model the kind of extreme love we talk about in God’s nature as best we can and hope that it speaks the loudest in favour of that reality.

    Great post, as usual.

    Peace,
    Jamie

  5. P.S. Feel free to delete this after you get it, but would you be willing to update my blog address on your sidebar? Thanks.

  6. This has been on my heart a lot lately, too. Evangelical Christianity, by and large, has taken the good news and turned it into every possible form of bad news that there is.

    Healing? Forget it. God gave you this sickness to draw you closer to Him.

    Peace? Forget it. This life is tough. Suck it up and quit your whining.

    Victory? Forget it. Anyone who says that they are experiencing victory in their life just isn’t being “real” and “honest”.

    Freedom? Forget it. You’re under law, baby. Unless you’re one of those heretical “antinomians”.

    Priesthood of believers? Forget it. You better get yourself under the preaching of a “man of God” and show up every week to hear what God wants to say to you.

  7. I think this is why the church has been, by and large, ineffective. Most churches say “God loves you differently than anyone you have ever known. He is different than man because he loves you unconditionally”.

    Then they follow it up with, “but if you don’t love him back in the proper way, he will torture you beyond belief till the end of time”.

    And they say this with absolute serenity.

  8. Grace:

    Thanks.

    in the original post, I was not sure if you were having Doug Pagit continue the conversation in the “he”

    or if you were refering to Doug …

    So I read it at first:

    Doug Pagitt was quoted to say: “I do not say “perverted” lightly, either.

    I (Emerging Grace)really think what he (Doug) communicates is so distant from the message of the Bible that it is dangerously harmful to people.”

    so, I wanted clarifications and you gave it. It was Doug continually talking.

    I have family/friends that have left God/Church because of the voice of John & others ringing so loudly.

  9. Grace
    Great post. I have been thinking about this a lot. I have such a distorted view of God and his love for me. I am learning about his love. The thing I hate to is the messages which continue to emphasize that God is an angry God and he is going to strike your bod with a lightning rod. A local church here has a sign up which reads “Keep using my name in vain and I will make rush hour longer” God. I want to run over the sign. I keep thinking of all the poor people who are stuck in traffic because I sin and not because their are too many freaking people on the road all heading to one place at the same time. To answer your question. I don’t think we could ever go to such an extreme on the love of God. I don’t think we would know how to go that far.

  10. This is interesting because this discussion reiterates to some degree a conversation that A. (wife) and I have been having as a result of our present reading in Matthew; What did the listeners of Jesus understand to be the “good news of the Kingdom of Heaven”?

    Tom

  11. Just by way of information…

    Everything that Brennan Manning writes is permeated with and dealing with the theme of God’s love and how we should “see” ourselves through His eyes.

    T

  12. I believe that the depths of God’s love are so beyond our imagination. It’s not that God’s love can be taken to an extreme, God’s love is the extreme, if we could only begin to realize that love. Imagine the love revolution.

  13. Hi Grace,

    Interesting post and very thought provoking.

    The bible tells us that God is love – it is a given (for most of us at least!) But I think the question we perhaps need to ask is “What does the love of God look like?” There are parts of the love of God that are angry, disciplining, sad and dissapointed by our brokenness.

    There are some branches of the church where they teach that God is like a giant cosmic teddy bear. Where the love of God is a soppy sentimental kind of love – which I believe is a lie at least as cruel as the one of the eternally angry God.

    my 2 cents.
    Brent

  14. kay,
    I have your blog added to my reader. Seeing the friends that you have at your blog, it doesn’t surprise me that they have a fuller understanding of the gospel. I look forward to reading more of your thoughts.

    jamie,
    The misunderstanding about God’s wrath is usually about where that wrath is focused (ie God hates the world and all it’s people?).

    The church has come to a point where I believe modeling love will be necessary to validate the message we claim.

    I’ve let the blog housekeeping slide around here because I’ve been working on a wordpress blog. I’m still undecided about making the switch.

    Steve,
    Well said. The misrepresentation of the gospel and the misunderstanding of the basic terms of Scripture is something that has been on my mind a lot recently also. It seems like as a whole, the church has been a poor representation of the message we were entrusted to carry to the world.

    Andrew,
    Good point. I think that twist comes from substituting a gospel of salvation for the gospel of the kingdom. The gospel of the kingdom has such an entirely different focus. Although salvation is still an important aspect, it encompasses an ongoing journey rather than fire insurance.

    Jeff,
    It seems that one of the strengths of the emerging/missional conversation is the willingness to look at how we are presenting the gospel and what affect our message has on others.

    jen,
    You make such a good point. I think that growing in our personal understanding of God’s love is what enables us to share and be a witness of God’s goodness and kindness to those we meet. If we haven’t begun to experience that yet, it is difficult to share with others.

    volkmar,
    Interesting question. I believe at the time, the listeners viewed the kingdom through a more political lens. They also had to adjust their misperceptions in order to understand the nature of the kingdom Jesus described.

    I have enjoyed the things that I’ve read by Manning. A couple of authors that come to mind who also seem to emphasize God’s love are Graham Cooke and Rob Bell. I’m sure there are many others.

    Eric,
    Perfect answer. God’s love is extreme, and it is our realization of it that is incomplete.

    Brent,
    Knowing about God’s love and experiencing it as a reality are entirely different. I don’t believe that one can experience His love and then present Him as harsh and cruel.

    Cosmic teddy bear? No.

    However, it is sad that so very few people trust in the extent of His kindness and goodness. Therein is the power to change lives.

  15. Good post, Grace.
    I am in the beginning stages of learning this about God…that His love is bigger than everything.
    In my life, I’ve found that throwing out the rules, being afraid of God and His wrath..just don’t promote me having relationship with Him. So, since I want relationship, and so does He…I learn to lean into His love. And that is changing me.
    :)
    I enjoy your blog alot.
    Blessings.

  16. Che,
    I love how you phrased that “leaning into his love.” It seems our relationship with Him can never become what it should be when we don’t trust His love. That’s what I’ m learning too.

  17. Inheritor,
    Sorry about that! There were a couple of days of discrepancy between the import and when I opened the new blog. The comments made during that time didn’t get moved. BTW, if you have other questions about switching to wordpress, I can email with anything that I know.

    Your comment:

    In looking at your second to last question “Can His love be taken to an extreme?” I would answer, NO! It is because his love for us is so extreme that Jesus died to take his wrath against sin. (He does have wrath against sin and it is why the message of repentance and turning to Christ and the atonement he offers is preached in the first place.)

    Dietrich Bonhoeffer notes: “God’s vengeance did not strike sinners, but the one sinless man who stood in the sinners’ place, Jesus Christ the Son of God. He stilled God’s wrath toward sin and prayed ‘Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do!’ That was the end of all phony thoughts about the love of God that do not take sin seriously. God hates sin and redirects his enemies to the only righteous one, and this one asks forgiveness for them.”

    What I see here is that God’s wrath toward sin is because of his love for us. By the atonement, He has made a way for us to be free of the curse of sin by taking the penalty upon Himself. Viewed through a lens of shame, the love behind His wrath cannot be understood.

    As always, I appreciate your thoughts.

  18. Hey Grace…great site!

    Is God portrayed as angry and vindictive when we say (with tears) that he condemns people to hell for unbelief?

    If you remove my parenthesis, I think it does. What do you think?

    You see, I believe in the eternal damnation of unbelievers – and I wish I didn’t believe that, but I do. It’s painful to believe.

    However, I think the wrath of God for sin – a wrath that will be poured out on unbelievers – is the only context in which the Love of God truly shines. I don’t know that I have a context to understand his love in its fullness unless i know of his great wrath for sin.

  19. Hi Fr’nklin,
    I’m glad that you found me! :)

    I would say that the wrath of God is toward sin and the reason for this wrath is because sin results in separation from Him. Those who choose this condemn themselves to the punishment of eternal separation.

  20. Fr’nklin,
    Thanks! Let me post some quotes by him. I think the main difference would be the opinion of God’s view of unbelievers. It seems there is a tendency to take God’s hatred of sin and apply that hatred to the lost. I would tend to focus on God’s relentless love for those who don’t yet know Him.

    The gospel message begins with a statement about the wrath of God.

    And I wonder in all of the times that you have presented the gospel to somebody, how many times did you introduce it by saying ‑ By the way, did you know that the wrath of God is revealed against your ungodliness?

    From Paul’s perspective, fear becomes the first pressure applied to evil men. Let them know about the wrath of God.

    They cannot seek grace and salvation unless they are affected with the dread of the wrath of God that is upon them.

    One of the tragedies of Christianity in our time is a failure to preach the hatred of God, the judgment of God.

    Do you feel like that is an accurate reflection of the gospel?

  21. Many of Jesus’ harshest words—most specifically about hell—were reserved for Pharisees, religious leaders, & the unmerciful…

    I don’t recall Jesus making any mention, giving any warning or ultimatum, or hurling threats of hell at the adulteress, tax collector, thieves on their crosses or sinners in general. It was when addressing the self-righteous (unrepentant?) that hell was mentioned…

    I wonder why? I can’t help but wonder if Jesus used the legalist’s concept of hell to speak to them in their own language; i.e. to give them a taste of their own medicine…

    Will God punish? Yes, but maybe perfectly, not eternally? Our human experience with punishment is it sometimes works. Sometimes it is just retribution vs. being redemptive (reconciliatory). What would perfect punishment look like? Extreme suffering? How about something we can’t do, make it remedial. Heal us. Deliver us from falsehood: “Every knee shall bow, every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”

    Maybe a topic for another day?

  22. Joseph,
    Very interesting thoughts, especially about Jesus using the language of legalism with the self-righteous. The idea of redemptive punishment is provocative. Definitely worth pondering.

  23. Grace…

    What an amazing concept…

    After 3 glasses of fine Pinot Noir I am not all that coherent…

    [pardon all spelling glitches]

    Hey…how does one insert a smilie?

    So, how does one properly reference the concept of Hell?

    God by definition so much bigger than any of His creation. He can wield the ‘Big Stick’ against any & all ‘evildoers’…

    But is it the threat of retribution that motivates His desire for reconcilation/restoration?

    Nothing can be considered apart from Him. So if He is indeed “Judge, Jury & Executioner” how can we understand His desire to ‘make whole’, redeem, transform, etc.

    God by nature a creator, not destroyer. But if He were to destroy anything, it would be everything contrary to His nature…

    All humanity imbued with the divine thumbprint. However anyone wishes to term it (Imago Dei)…

    If He is the One that created the universal rules of playing nice together, how would He address His miscreant creatures?

    Seems Jesus was none too patient with the hard-hearted, self-righteous, “God’s favored” group. Had more acceptance for the blue-collar second-class types just trying to make sense of this experience we call day-to-day existence…

    Most of our neighbors (or neighbours: insert smilie here) needing to be affirmed, not condemned. Is that the real essence of the gospel? “You really suck & are a God damned sinner!”, but God really loves you & is willing to go the extra mile for you…”

    Is Hell the opening move for all personal encounters?

    I understand we are to be salt+light. Not to be ‘polluted’ by the world we inhabit. But was Jesus the best example of using the “Sinners in the hands of an angry God” preacher?

    I want to be genuine. Yes, I know, an ’emergent’ buzz word overused & trite. But how is it going to be played out in the marketplace?

    I rarely even mention hell in any polite conversation, let alone Christian forums such as yours. [confession time: your decision to use “Grace” as your nom de plume sets the bar very high] How do you extend grace when using the concept of escaping punishment?

    I find it strange that the extreme effort God makes for reconciliation is based on His desire that ‘we’ sinful, corrupt human scum need to avoid His chosen method of eternal punishment…

    Not even a human father would utilize ‘discipline’ as punitive…

    I dunno…it is a bigger consideration than my feable brain can wrap itself around…

    Later…

  24. Joseph,
    What an amazing coincidence! I am also incoherently articulate after a few glasses of wine. ;)

    I don’t have all the answers, but personally, I also would rather spend my life introducing others to the love of the Father than threatening them with eternal punishment.

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