What is the wrath of God?

Nobody wants to be an object of wrath, much less of God's wrath. I understand why people feel uneasy about the subject. Because of the moral and spiritual condition of the human race we all deserve and are by nature objects of God's wrath (Eph. 2:3).

August 12, 2004

This page is also available in: Español

Written by Ángel Manuel Rodríguez

In some of the answers to biblical questions you’ve mentioned the wrath of God. What is that?

Nobody wants to be an object of wrath, much less of God’s wrath. I understand why people feel uneasy about the subject. Because of the moral and spiritual condition of the human race we all deserve and are by nature objects of God’s wrath (Eph. 2:3). We live in an age of sentimentalism and permissiveness that makes it difficult to accept the reality of the wrath of God. Consequently some tend to redefine it by emphasizing that God is by nature love and by implying that God’s love and His wrath are incompatible. But the reality of God’s wrath cannot be deleted from the Scripture. We should keep that in mind when discussing this important topic.

1. Divine Wrath and Human Anger: Human anger cannot be used as a model for the interpretation and understanding of God’s wrath. Our anger is irrational and damaging to us and to others. It expresses our lack of self-control, or our lack of dominion over our emotions, and reveals our desire to control others at almost any cost. It is an expression of the damage and unbalance to our inner being caused by sin that make it impossible for us to co-exist with others in a harmonious relationship. God’s wrath is untouched by sin and, therefore, under the controlling power of love. It is primarily intended for healing, procuring the restoration of order within His creation (Heb. 12:6; Rev. 20:15-21:1).

2. God’s Wrath and Sin: God’s wrath does not appear to be a permanent attribute of God, that is to say something that by nature constantly characterizes Him and His actions. Since His wrath is not irrational, there’s always a reason for it or something that provokes it (Deut. 4:24). It is provoked by sin, and it is fundamentally His reaction to the irrational presence of sin and evil in the life of His creatures and in the world (Rom. 1:18). Therefore His wrath is momentary, coming to an end once its good purpose is achieved. Contrast that with His love that endures forever (Isa. 54:8).

3. God’s Wrath Is Eschatological: Since God’s wrath is a manifestation of His willingness to restore the world to order, harmony, and justice, it is fundamentally an eschatological event (Rom. 2:5; Rev. 16). It can be properly referred to as God’s “strange work” (Isa. 28:21). At that eschatological moment the fullness of God’s wrath is revealed (Rev. 15:1), and everyone will receive it according to their deeds. This is not self-destruction or impersonal forces acting over sinners and Satan. God is personally involved in bringing the phenomenon of sin to an end in order to restore the cosmic harmony He established in the beginning.

4. God’s Wrath Within History: Although fundamentally an eschatological event, His wrath is to some extent already present in this world (Rom. 1:18). At times it consists in handing over sinners to the power of evil (verse 28). At other times God directly intervenes and punishes unrepentant sinners (Gen. 6:17) or removes His controlling power over nature and the result is destruction and death (Gen. 19:24, 25). Those historical expressions of God’s wrath set limits to the incursion of sin in society or among His people (Ex. 32:11) and are intended to be redemptive.

5. God’s Wrath and Us: God’s wrath against human sin reveals His affective side. It indicates that He takes sinners seriously, that He does not ignore us even in our rebellion against Him. In other words, He takes our actions so seriously that by reacting to them with His wrath He is still showing His willingness to interact with us. Ignoring people shows disrespect and the absence of love. When God reacts to our sin, He is clearly telling us that we are important to Him, that He does not easily give us up, that the relationship is not yet over. God’s love and His wrath are not incompatible.

6. God’s Wrath and Salvation: God’s wrath is not the inexorable destiny of sinners unless they so choose. Jesus rescued “us from the coming wrath” (1 Thess. 1:10, NIV) by taking on Himself, as our substitute, the law’s curse (Gal. 3:13). We, who have been justified by faith, have been “saved from God’s wrath through him!” (Rom. 5:9, NIV). Because of Christ we are no longer children of wrath. Praise the Lord!