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.