CultureWatch

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On Divine Love (and Wrath)

May 27, 2010

God is the most important and profound topic there is (of course he is more than just a topic), and his love may be his most noted attribute, so I realise it is extremely risky to attempt to discuss these themes. But because the concept of God’s love has been so misunderstood and misrepresented (as much as by those within the church as without), I will attempt here a very brief and introductory discussion of the issue.

One problem with any biblical truth or doctrine is reading it in the light of the current prevailing culture. While we cannot escape the culture we find ourselves in, we must be aware of its biases and prejudices. In the West today the concepts of God and of love have both been radically disfigured.

God is seen at best as a celestial butler, ready to heed our every beck and call, while love has been reduced to mere emotion, sentimentality, and gooey acceptance of everything. The biblical view of God and his love is of course far removed from these defective concepts.

The love of God is an attribute of God, one which cannot be divorced from all his other attributes. All the various attributes of God make up who he is, and we cannot single out one at the expense of the others. God’s justice and holiness for example are just as much a part of who God is as his love.

And these attributes build on and reinforce each other. Thus God’s love is always a holy love, and God’s holiness is always a loving holiness. Thus a holy God will always hate sin and anything which keeps us from his love. The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference.

Any man who truly loves his wife and children, for example, will hate anything which seeks to harm them or separate him from his beloved. If biblical love is willing the highest good for the beloved, then that will always include a hatred of that which hinders or negates that highest good.

A loving father will always hate the drugs which are killing his son. In the same way a loving heavenly father is implacably opposed to anything which stands between him and his beloved. That in short, and in part, is the biblical basis for the doctrine of God’s wrath.

As Leon Morris says, the wrath of God is “a strong and settled opposition to all that is evil arising out of God’s very nature.” Or as he puts it elsewhere, “God is not passive in the face of sin. God is implacably and vigorously opposed to every evil.”

Thus God’s wrath is an essential component of his loving holiness. Love and wrath can and do co-exist in God. A loving God can and does hate evil. Plenty of biblical texts can be appealed to here. Consider just these few:

Deut 16:21-22 Do not set up any wooden Asherah pole beside the altar you build to the LORD your God, and do not erect a sacred stone, for these the LORD your God hates.
Psa 5:5 The arrogant cannot stand in your presence; you hate all who do wrong.
Psa 11:5 The LORD examines the righteous, but the wicked and those who love violence his soul hates.
Psa 45:7 You love righteousness and hate wickedness;
Prov 6:16-19 There are six things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.
Jer 12:8 My inheritance has become to me like a lion in the forest. She roars at me; therefore I hate her.
Amos 6:8 The Sovereign LORD has sworn by himself—the LORD God Almighty declares: “I abhor the pride of Jacob and detest his fortresses; I will deliver up the city and everything in it.”
Heb 1:9 You [Jesus] have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
Rev 2:6 But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.

That a loving God will always have nothing but abhorrence for sin and evil is the clear picture of the God of the Bible. Anyone who would seek to sever the wrath of God from his love will end up with a truncated and unbiblical God. And it does no good to attempt to argue that God in the Old Testament is a God of wrath, but he is a God of love in the New.

Both the love and wrath of God are fully affirmed in both Testaments. If anything, this becomes even more pronounced in the New Testament. D.A. Carson puts it this way: “Both God’s love and God’s wrath are ratcheted up in the move from the old covenant to the new…. These themes barrel along through redemptive history, unresolved, until they come to a resounding climax – at the cross.”

He continues, “Do you wish to see God’s love? Look at the cross. Do you wish to see God’s wrath? Look at the cross.” Indeed, it is at Calvary that we see the fullness of both God’s wrath as well as his love. Sin had to be dealt with, and wrath had to be dispensed.

But his supreme act of judgment happened in the context of the supreme act of love. We will never fully comprehend the enormity of God’s love and grace to us until we first comprehend the enormity of our sin and the enormity of God’s active wrath against it.

That is why P.T. Forsyth could so incisively say one hundred years ago, “If we spoke less about God’s love and spoke more about His holiness, more about His judgment, we should say much more when we speak of His love.” The love of God will always be seen as weak and anaemic unless we hold it up in the light of God’s hatred toward sin.

As one commentator remarked, “only he who knows the greatness of wrath will be mastered by the greatness of mercy.” All this has practical implications for the sort of gospel we preach today. The truth is, there can be no good news of the gospel until we first proclaim the bad news of the gospel.

The bad news is that we are all deliberate, defiant sinners who deserve the wrath of God. But God in his great mercy performed a divine transaction whereby his own Son received the wrath of the Father, so that those who turn from their sin and rebellion can find pardon and forgiveness.

Our effectiveness in making disciples will always depend on the soundness of the gospel we preach. And a sound gospel will take sin seriously and therefore the wrath of God seriously. But too often today we have managed to ignore and downplay these vital biblical truths.

Thus we have arrived at the condition which Leonard Ravenhill describes, “The world has lost the power to blush over its vice; the Church has lost her power to weep over it.” Or as A.W. Pink once said, “The nature of Christ’s salvation is woefully misrepresented by the present-day evangelist. He announces a Savior from Hell rather than a Savior from sin. And that is why so many are fatally deceived, for there are multitudes who wish to escape the Lake of fire who have no desire to be delivered from their carnality…and worldliness.”

We live in an age of easy believe-ism and cheap grace. We preach a shallow gospel that makes it easy on sinners. They come to the churches by the busloads, but they leave in the same way. As A.W. Tozer said, “I’m always suspicious of people who are too easily converted. . . . If someone’s too easily converted, chances are, they’ll be just as easily unconverted.”

Indeed, at our evangelistic meetings we sing ten choruses of “Just As I Am” and then people leave just as they were. Until we recover the full gospel, one that begins with God’s majesty and holiness, that emphasises our lost and sinful condition, and highlights the enormous cost God paid to secure our redemption, our efforts will amount to very little.

So let us again affirm and rejoice in the doctrine of God’s wrath, for without it, the doctrine of God’s love will be stripped of its biblical content and force. We will then have nothing worthwhile to offer sinners in desperate need of redemption.

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11 Responses to On Divine Love (and Wrath)

  • Hi Bill,

    Great reminder that there can be no love without equivalent hate. However, I think one can make the distinction between whether love or hate is the driver of the other.
    For example, God is motivated by love for his people and the consequence of this love is hatred of all that oppress them. By contrast, Satan is motivated by hatred of God and his people, and the consequence of this hate is the love of all ungodliness.

    Mansel Rogerson

  • G’day Bill,

    Just noticed your scripture quotes from Amos and Jeremiah are cut short. Thanks for this: I will use it at our small group tonight (we are in the middle of Revelation).

    God bless,

    Peter Grice

  • Thanks Peter

    Oops. I have now fixed the two passages.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • One of my fellow attendees at a Bible study group made the comment last week that he has never heard a sermon on hell or the wrath of God from our pastors, even though they are quite evangelical. We are exhorted to be passionate for Jesus by our ministry team to be welcoming and to let people know about the Jesus as the man who died and rose again. But nothing about the fact that God is the Judge of the whole earth who judges sin now and will one day judge those who have rejected Him.
    Wayne Pelling

  • Be careful not to portray God’s love and holiness as opposites….Remember though one OT passage said that God will not look upon sin, in the NT He became sin for us in Jesus. God is Love. Nowhere does it say that ‘God is holiness, or God is wrath’. Holiness and justice always service Gods’ love. He hates because He loves…this is where His wrath and justice comes in.
    If not careful, it can be easy to slip into an idea of a god who is divided against himself. Holiness is NOT the opposite of Love. Mercy is NOT the opposite of justice.

    Here is an interesting thought though: If God’s justice is a good thing then why is it wrong if He does send the majority of people in the world to hell? God’s justice is a great thing to rejoice in! Otherwise the only conclusion is that God will be miserable forever, cos most of His creation could be lost forever, and His justice was too powerful for His love….So is it possible that God will be happy whether people are saved or not?

    Regarding Wayne’s comment – i have come from a long background of fearful hellfire preaching – it made me have constant fear however, and lead to unimaginable torment at times and dreams that i have remembered for over 25 yrs. I would say that even in many churches where ‘hell’ is not preached there is always this idea hanging around in the background like a tormenting backache. What good does it do to give someone the ‘option’ of having a gun to their head metaphorically speaking? – ie Love God or He’ll throw u in the furnace over there! There is not free choice in that….Free choice is only free when there is no threat attached…..Many people do whatever an abusive partner says because they’re afraid of what he might do if they don’t obey. God cannot be like the worst abusers.

    His justice and love are both beautiful!!

    Jeremy Woods

  • Wayne, these things are out of fashion in our pulpits today along with such doctrines as the second coming, the fear of God, and most anything to do with justice and judgment.

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria.

  • Thanks Jeremy

    One response if I may. In 1 John 1:5 we are told that “God is light”. That is a term which is strongly associated with his holiness throughout Scripture, so you are not quite right in your assertion.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Take away the wrath of God, and the cross becomes meaningless. Why would the Son of God have to die if not to suffer judgment in our place?
    Jereth Kok

  • Dear Bill,
    The Bible says that God is love, not that love is simply an attribute. Therefore, the wrath of God, if it is against sin as you describe, must be God in His very self in action against the things that harm us. Pity They (Father,Son and Holy Spirit) won’t or can’t destroy the evil one who does so much damage to Their beloved creation. It will happen one day when Jesus returns. What I can’t figure is why the delay? Come Lord Jesus and make all things new!
    Lou d’Alpuget

  • Bill
    Yes, God is light but once again we can’t abstract His light from His Holiness or His Love. His holiness is not only moral righteousness – but also the beauty of his Love and justice in action, and who He is in His own being. Hence my earlier point about God’s attributes cannot be in opposition to each other – otherwise God would be divided against Himself.

    Also God’s Love and wrath are both in action at the cross.

    I would like to know however an answer to the dilemma i posted above – i will post it here again : I’m looking for an answer – this really puzzles me…..

    “Here is an interesting thought though: If God’s justice is a good thing then why is it wrong if He does send the majority of people in the world to hell? God’s justice is a great thing to rejoice in! Otherwise the only conclusion is that God will be miserable forever, cos most of His creation could be lost forever, and His justice was too powerful for His love….So is it possible that God will be happy whether people are saved or not ” …….

    anyone?

    Jeremy Woods

  • Jeremy:

    I don’t totally get your question. But – if God send people to hell it is not a bad thing. He is happy with that. He will save those whom He wants to save. God is happy in Himself as Trinity. Hard things for us to understand – I don’t like the thought of loved ones going to hell, yet if that is God will and His justice it is good……

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