Friday, February 16, 2024

The Wrath of Divine Love

The Bible does speak about the “wrath” of God. But it is a wrath against sin, not against persons. God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world (John 3:17). What God does condemn is sin, which is destructive to the world God created. It was sin, not persons, that Christ condemned through the Incarnation and the Cross.

Paul speaks about the wrath of God in Romans 1, and he tells us how it is revealed. Three times he says it: “God gave them over ...” to impurity, to dishonor their bodies among themselves (v. 24); to shameful lusts (v. 26); to a depraved mind (v. 28). It is not retribution — God is love, and love is not the least bit retributive.

Why did God give them over to their impurity and depravity? Was it for their utter destruction, never to be redeemed? No! But for the same reason Paul instructed the Corinthians to deal with the man who was sleeping with his father’s wife: “hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 5:5). It was that the man might be saved.

And again, Paul speaks of those who did not hold firmly to the faith but rejected it and made a shipwreck of it; “Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme” (1 Timothy 1:20). In both cases, it was for the sake of the ones being handed over, that they might ultimately be redeemed.

So it is also in Romans. At the end of the long argument Paul makes in Romans 9-11, he concludes this: “For God has consigned all people to disobedience so that he may show mercy to them all” (Romans 11:32). So, why did God “hand them over” in Romans 1? It was not to finally abandon them to eternal conscious torment but that he might finally have mercy on them.

The wrath of God is not the manifestation of some dark, vengeful, retributive impulse in God — such a thing would not be worthy of the God who is love, the God who is fully revealed in Jesus Christ. A deity who possessed such a dark nature would be no better than Zeus, and not worthy of worship. Rather, the wrath of God is the manifestation of his love, in order to show mercy to all.

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