Right before Easter every year, my facebook feed turns into wrath-of-God central. I've been reading both sides of the conversation this week.
I have progressives, like Ben Corey, deconstucting the wrath of God, and conservatives shoring it up, saying things like "God burns with such anger against sinners that he wants to destroy them."
My friends, let me just out myself right here and now.
I don't believe that God burns with anger against sinners to the extent that he wants to destroy them.
Instead, I believe that God is so consumed with Love for us that he would give anything to save us.
(We can't say "sinners" without saying "us." We are sinners. We are them. They are us.)
I hate to go all Sunday-School-answer on us here, but I have a one-word reason for why I believe that God is consumed with Love for us, rather than burning with anger against us:
I myself happen to think that whatever was going down on the cross--wrath, atonement, Christus Victor--whatever our theory is, whatever was happening there:
IT IS FINISHED.
PAID, REDEEMED, RANSOMED, JUSTIFIED.
(Okay, I didn't know that would turn out to look like a cross. But it did. Which is cool.)
But if we're still wondering about wrath or thinking that this is how God goes around in the world--burning with anger and wanting to destory sinners--I think we've got to put
our theories about wrath
the reality of Jesus
and see how it all works out.
Because we believe that Jesus is God, right?
So if God came to earth and walked around, that would be Jesus, and if we really want to know God how He feels about us, how God feels about sinners, then our best shot at getting that right is looking at Jesus.
We need to take a look through the Gospels, and see what happens when God comes in contact with sinners. You could do a long study on this, and I hope you will if that appeals to you.
Here are three examples to get us started.
1. When Jesus performed his very first miracle at the marriage feast in Cana--God in the flesh with a whole crowd of sinners--what did He do?
First preach a sermon about wrath and repentance?
He made more wine and kept the party going. (John 2:1-11)
2. When he opened his mouth for the very first sermon, what did he talk about?
The very first sermon is the perfect time to get the wrath of God out there, if it's the main event.
But that's not what he chose as his topic.
What he said was, "Blessed, blessed, blessed, blessed, blessed." (Matthew 5)
3. When he came into contact with sinners, how did Jesus feel?
Matthew 9:36 says that "when he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd."
That does not look like any kind of wrath I've ever seen. That looks like Love to me.
And what about all the lepers, the lame, the blind, the bleeding? All those unclean, unlovely sinners?
Was Jesus unable to look upon them because of his holiness? Did he burn with anger against them? Did he want to destroy them utterly?
I don't see that anywhere, in any text.
Every time I see Jesus with an identified sinner,
I see him loving and healing.
Every. Single. Time.
The only time I see Jesus burning with anger against sinners is when he talks to religious people who think they've got it all together (Matthew 23:23, for example).
(I know this doesn't answer questions about how to interpret all those passages in the Old Testament, and even stuff in the New Testament that seems wrathful. There are books about that, and some of them are even interesting and helpful. Research and enjoy.)
What I know for sure about the rest of the Bible is this: I've got to look at Jesus first and interpret everything through him.
Because Jesus is Emmanuel, God in the Flesh.
And the most important thing is not some systematic theology that originates with Augustine or Calvin or Wesley or Piper or Keller or me.
The most important thing is this: Who is Jesus? How does he treat people?
That tells me who God is, how he feels about us, and how he wants to treat us.
You. Me. All us sinners everywhere.
"It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end." John 13:1