The Beauty of the Wrath of God

The previous post about the Sandusky trial is a perfect backdrop for a discussion about the wrath of God. All that we have been discussing in the previous posts is on display in the drama of this courtroom.

We see the depth of pain caused by evil.
We grieve the shattered lives of the victims.
We experience deep anger at this devastation.
We are frustrated with the years of ongoing abuse when justice was afar off.
We are relieved at the exposure of the despicable violence.
We watch the enemy’s power crumble.
We witness the depth of his depravity.
We feel the palpable demand for justice.
We sense the satisfaction that justice has prevailed.

We know that God loves righteousness and justice. Our innate sense of His divine attributes is demonstrated in the public response to the verdict of this trial. We want evil to be exposed; we need for God to protect and to side with the oppressed, the poor, the powerless, the victim.

In a healthy society, retributive justice is necessary. We expect criminal acts will be punished. The threat of punishment maintains order. We want criminals removed from our midst in order to prevent them from doing further harm.

Yet legal justice cannot undo the pain of the victims.
It cannot heal the brokenness of the perpetrator.

As discussed in previous posts, we do not have a legal, judicial, contractual gospel. At the heart of Christianity, justice is not retributive, it is restorative and redemptive.

If this is true, do we expect grace for these monsters – for Sandusky, for Hitler, for our personal enemies? How could this be? That would mean that the guilty one is forgiven, the undeserving one is set free.

In situations as vile as the Sandusky abuse, it is not uncommon for Christians to desire the worst punishment imaginable. Hell is for people like this, right?

I understand that sentiment, really I do. But it isn’t Christianity. If grace is not true for the worst of men, then it is not true for the best of men. Reckless grace is central to the Christian faith. The forgiveness and mercy that I desire for myself must also be available for my enemy.

Ultimately, we want and need a deity who will passionately oppose evil. We have an expectation and trust that evil will be conquered and that goodness will prevail. Whatever we understand about the love of God, we know that He can and will defeat evil. We understand that in His justice, all will be made right, as it should be.

Typically we are afraid of the idea of God’s judgment. We must remember that His judgment is not punishing; we will not be sentenced according to our merit. We will experience judgment at the loving hands of Our Father. For those of us who already trust Him, perhaps this is not hard to imagine. Whatever evil, toxic, or unhealthy things that remain in our being will be exposed to the purifying fire of His love. Perhaps this will be painful, but it is what we want and need the most. It is the completion of our healing.

The beauty of the wrath of God is that evil throughout the cosmos will ultimately be destroyed, from among us and within us. As those who follow Christ and adhere to the Christian faith, we cannot equate this with everyone getting what they deserve. Yet we trust that in the end all will be set right.

The beauty of the wrath of God is an emphatic righteous verdict against evil. It is the rescue of the oppressed from the power of the enemy. It is the restoration of creation and humanity to the goodness that was intended.

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23 thoughts on “The Beauty of the Wrath of God

  1. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. (John 3:17-19 ESV)

    In my view judgment happens because people do not respond positively to the Holy Spirit. Consequentially they are not born anew and do not have a spirit that survives death.

  2. Bob,
    I agree that when we reject and are disobedient to the Spirit of God, we do experience judgment and condemnation. Paul Young said that sin is its own punishment. We see the truth of this in so many ways through the destructive consequences of sin for ourselves and others.

    I think that when we appear before God, Jesus will bring light to whatever darkness and blindness we still carry. Yet I believe we can have confidence that it is His perfect love that will reveal and heal our brokenness.

  3. Your current theology leaves me a bit confused. Do you believe that ultimately all men will eventually be redeemed and that only the ‘evil within them’ will perish? I believe we are born with a nature that is opposed to God (the nature of the first Adam in his fall). If we live and die the first death with that nature, our spirit will go to where it naturally belongs – apart from God. Jesus taught that we needed a new nature – born again of the Holy Spirit. Without it, we will never see nor enter the Kingdom. Through that spiritual experience we are given a nature that gravitates toward God, and when we die our first death we will go to where we naturally belong. Being born is not a gradual process. I believe Jesus would have used a different analogy if ‘becoming saved’ was a gradual process. Transformation (sanctification) may be a gradual process, but not justification. I believe the motivation for any person to make that decision comes by the work of the Holy Spirit who was sent to convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgement. Being God, He has an infinite number of ways of doing this, but the person under such conviction must respond through surrender. It is only this act of surrender and obedience that will keep one from experiencing the second death.

    I’m sorry, but I cannot come to the point of agreeing that all justice is restorative and redemptive – although it certainly is for the redeemed. Only the redeemed will ultimately benefit from God’s justice as they will inherit a pure eternal inheritance. For the unredeemed, it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

    I do agree that as followers of Christ, we should not rail against and slander such people – for we were once in such a state and but for the grace of God we could easily be in their place. We should pray for them, and whenever possible, share with them that there is hope through the blood of Jesus. Perhaps just one more time, and they will not turn their chair away.

  4. Hi Ken, great to see you again. Sorry to be confusing. I will try to explain and answer your questions.

    I don’t know if all men will come to repentance. I certainly hope so. I do believe that everyone will be confronted with the light of Truth and purifying fire.

    I do not believe that we are born with a nature that is opposed to God because God made mankind alive in Christ when mankind was dead in transgression. I also don’t believe that there is a place that exists “apart from God.”

    I agree with your thoughts about Jesus’ teaching that we must be born again and that this is not a gradual process. We are/were born again in the death and resurrection of Christ. Through this we have been reconciled to God and given a nature that can participate in His divine life. Much of the teaching of the gospels and the epistles is encouragement and instruction about participating in this new life. I also agree that the Spirit is always at work strengthening our faith.

    Thanks for the engaging comments and discussion regardless of whether we agree about everything.

  5. Forgive me, once again I am confused at your reply. You do say “I don’t know if all men will come to repentance,” and then “I don’t believe that there is a place that exists apart from God.” Where would those who might have never repented (submitted to the offer of life through Christ’s gospel) end up? Jesus indicates it is a place where there will be “weeping (sorrow) and gnashing of teeth (anger)”. Even to some who knew Him intellectually and used the authority of His Name He will say, “Depart from me, I never knew you.” Why? I believe because they never received a new nature. They were never found to be “in Christ.”

    Also in your response you say “We are/were born again in the death and resurrection of Christ… etc.” This is a true statement of those who have heard and responded to the gospel, and in the mystery of the relationship between time/space and eternity is a truth that those who do/did respond though surrender and submission are found eternally in Christ (both from and to everlasting). To be found in Christ is the only way to life. Yet, you admit that you don’t know if all men (will be/are) found in Christ. So, when you say “We” in this thought, do you mean “we” who have been born again of the Spirit and given a new nature, or do you mean “we” as in the entire human race? There is a critical difference in doctrine.

  6. Ken,
    No problem, this is a good discussion.

    Anyone who resists and turns away from God’s love will continue to experience the agony and misery of alienation. Sin cannot endure the consuming fire of God.

    I did not say that I don’t know if all men are found in Christ; I said that I don’t know if all men will come to repentance. While we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of His Son and made alive in Him.

    Yes, there is a critical difference in doctrine. When I said “we,” I meant that mankind has been born again through the death and resurrection of Christ and given a new, reconciled nature that has the capacity to share in life with God.

    This gift is not contingent on our response, however our experience of kingdom life is completely shaped by our surrender and submission to the Spirit. To be rescued from the world and its powers, we must turn, and keep turning, to Christ and trust in His life, death, and ascension for the grace to live the new, divine, eternal life.

    I know that these ideas sound foreign when they are phrased differently than what we have always heard, but I do not believe that they are contrary to Scripture.

    Peace and blessings.

  7. Thank you Linda. Confusion cleared up, I understand your particular doctrine on reconciliation now. I do not fully agree, but I think we both agree; “Shall not the Judge of the universe do what is right?”

  8. If what Jesus is telling Nicodemus is that he(Nicodemus) is going to have to do something then Nicodemus has misheard him, which is reflected in what Nicodemus response was: How can I re-enter my mother’s womb? But what if Jesus is saying born again is something that he (Jesus) is going to do. That is recreating Spirit life in his creation, borning again his creation with his Spirit, then all of his creation is affected just as in Adam all are sinners (Rom 3:23)that same ALL are justified freely by the redemption that came by Jesus Christ. (Rom3:24)(new NIV). So that as in Adam the many(all) were made sinners in like manner by the obedience of of the one man(Jesus) the many(all) will be made righteous. Rom 5: 19.

  9. drg,
    I agree that Jesus was explaining to Nicodemus that new birth would be required in order for mankind to participate in kingdom life.

    John 3:3 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.

    My understanding of Scripture also is that this is something that Jesus, as the second Adam, accomplished for all mankind through his life, death, and resurrection. In addition to the Romans passages you cited, the following verses from 1 Peter 1 also link the new birth to the resurrection of Jesus.

    1 Peter 1:3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. . . 23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.

      1. Thanks KansasBob

        I tried to address 3:18 in context of 3:3 in a reply to Linda. The new birth is available and has occurred but our darkness can not understand it. Our darkness says that there is something we must do. Being born again is what God did for us. All we can do is discover the reality of this which is revealed to us in this process. God’s Spirit bears witness to our spirit drawing us to trust.

      2. “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” (John 3:17-19 ESV)

        Bob,
        To me these statements do not suggest exclusion from redemption but rather the description of life apart from trust in God. We have been and are being delivered from the condemnation of darkness.

    1. Thanks Linda, John said it best when he said Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Everyones sins in the whole world have been taken away so that we are all forgiven. Therefore there is no gulf that is often described that separates man from God. God does not hate sinners. God’s grace wants us to know that he loves us just the way we are and yet loves us to much to allow us to continue to be broken by our darkness and can lead us out of our pain through this grace not condemnation.

      What God desires is our trust. In Adam we got lost in our darkness through the knowledge of good and evil. We were tricked into not being able to see our father for who he really was and is. Because of our shame and guilt that comes with the awareness that we don’t always do the right thing we felt fear and anxiety in the presence of the one who loves us more than anyone else can love us. We thought we needed to do something and tried to invent ways to get back to him and it is expressed in many religions today. Some how or another we had to appease him for our mistakes and then maybe he will have relationship with him. But God said no I don’t have to be appeased not even with my Son. But my Son is going to bring you back into an awareness that I love you more than you know. He is going to come and live in flesh, understand all the shame and hurt and guilt that you and I feel and his creation will kill him. He has removed all that including the condemnation. He died to sin and overcome death so that we can know and trust him without fear, anxiety and condemnation because we know our sins are forgiven.

      So when scripture tells us in John 3:18 that our lack of trust and living in darkness is reality, it is calling us and wakening us to this reality, in darkness we can not enjoy the benefits of freedom in the forgiveness of sin. If we are left on our own vs 19 says our darkness will not want to come to the light because we are not sure we can trust what might be revealed. That is why Spirit to spirit God works in the darkness to build us to trust. He has to reveal to us that he loves us in spite of those hidden things. The truth is our darkness condemns us not the Father. John states later on that no man can come to Father unless he is drawn unto him. If God’s Spirit is in us all he is drawing us all working through our own individual darkness. Salvation is not something we do it is more of a discovery of the drawing of God within us. For by grace we are saved through faith and that is not of ourselves it is the gift of God, not of works least anyone should boast. The gift is there, we are made aware of it and can trust it.

      Everyones darkness is different and the fact that others sins and mistakes can rob others even of life and joy in this world before they can come to trust. But God has a plan which includes gehenna a place where a loving God can still break through to trust because the character of God never will change. Ask the souls during the time of Noah what he did for them in 1 Peter 3:13-22.

      1. I think that I understand where you come from drg. It makes sense if one believes that God is love and all humans are immortal. I am not convinced that all humans are born immortal.

      2. drg,
        Very well said.
        “The truth is our darkness condemns us not the Father.” Exactly!

        If you care to share, I would be interested in hearing about who has influenced your theology.

        1. Linda,
          Mine has been a long journey. I was raised in an Armenian philosophy the son of a minister. College took me to Calvinism and Baptist roots. After college performance took me the mission field. And now later in life with grown daughters tradition was finally castigated. Steve McVey and Wayne Jacobsen helped me in my transition along with Loren Cunningham and David Hamilton who wrote the book Why Not Women an excellent rational look at traditional bias against women. These connections led to Brad Jersak, Sharon Baker, Danny Silk, Gerry Beauchemin a dentist like myself, and most recently have become good friends with Baxter Kruger from Mississippi who has helped me probably as much as anyone. Love to hear you story as well

        2. drg,
          I was raised Dutch Reformed (RCA) with little awareness of the underlying theology of the denomination. As a young adult, I became involved with charismatic churches. That was quite a detour, almost 25 years, into often flaky folk theology.

          After leaving the charismatic church, Greg Boyd and Wayne Jacobsen were the predominant voices in my transition. Jacobsen was helpful in disentangling from religious performance. Over a period of several years, Boyd shaped my theology, particularly concerning the nature of God. Robert Farrar Capon first opened my eyes to the scandalous universality of grace and redemption.

          Then one day on my blog, Dr. Paul Fitzgerald introduced me to Baxter Kruger’s teaching. Although it was overwhelming at first, it was as if the pieces fell into place and God, faith, and religion finally made sense. I repented and believed. :) Over the past several years, I have absorbed as much teaching along this vein as possible, wrestling with ideas, and allowing the truth of adoption to settle deep into my being.

          Dallas Willard has added to my understanding of life with God that is real, ordinary, practical, and also divine, eternal, and sacred. I am intrigued with aspects of eastern orthodox thought I have encountered online (Scott Morizot, Father Stephen, etc.) and their approach to faith. It is reassuring to me that many of the things I have recently come to believe are actually very ancient orthodox.

          Finally, coming full circle, I have found the Dutch Reformed (RCA and Christian Reformed) version of Calvinism to often be open to and supportive of the idea of universal reconciliation and unlimited election and atonement (I don’t attend this church though).

          Yes, it has been a long journey, but I can say that after many, many years, I finally feel at peace and secure in the Father’s love and acceptance and happy about the journey of growing in my understanding of Him.

      1. Bob,
        I will post our discussion on immortality soon for a more indepth conversation about this.

        I agree that only God is by nature immortal. As created beings, our existence is sustained as a gift in and through Christ. In my opinion immortality was gifted to man in creation, lost in the fall of Adam, and restored to humanity by Christ’s death and resurrection (which I understand as the new birth of mankind universally).

        As for annihilation, I don’t know what God’s plan for those who endlessly reject the love of the Father. That is a scenario I find almost impossible to comprehend.

        1. ” the new birth of mankind universally”

          I guess that is the issue Linda. Is the new birth an individual personal issue or a universal impersonal one.

        2. Yes Bob, this is probably the basis of our differing perspectives on spiritual birth and immortality. Although I would describe it as universal and personal.

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