Divine Paradox: Embracing the Love and Wrath of God
Answering an age old question; How do I reconcile the God of love in the New Testament with the God of Wrath in the Old?
It’s a question that has rattled around the minds of humanity pretty much since the beginning. If you’ve asked it, you're not alone. Not only have most people asked the question but most Christians have wrestled with it as well. What is it? "How can God be loving and GOOD when God himself seemingly (particularly in the Old Testament) does many things that seem wrong or even cruel?
If you’ve ever asked that question you’ve come to the right place. And I pray before you leave this page that you’ll see just how GOOD, God really is. Now, there are three absolutely critical things we need to understand in order to answer this question with any effectiveness;
First, we must understand the nature and character of God.
This is paramount. Above everything else God is HOLY. That means he is perfectly good in every way and set apart from evil. God is NOT capable of doing anything WRONG.
In Matthew 5:48 Jesus says, "Therefore you are to be perfect, as your father in heaven is PERFECT."
Scripture is clear, God is perfectly Holy in every way. Out of God's holiness flows all of the qualities that make Him who he is. The two qualities that most describe God's holiness? That he is just AND loving. This can be a difficult concept to understand but it's essential to our theology. It is precisely because GOD IS LOVING that he MUST also be JUST. You cannot have one without the other. You cannot be loving if you are not also just. Case in point; if someone murdered a member of your family and you simply shrugged your shoulders and said, "no big deal," would that be loving? Absolutely not. To turn a blind eye to evil and sin is incredibly unloving to the one whom the injustice is being done. The question then becomes, who decides what is right and wrong and what should "justice" look like? In our finite human thinking WE want to decide what is just and what is not AND determine what the punishment should be for that injustice.
But the truth is we're not very good at determining what is just are we? Our thinking is flawed and sinful and if it were left up to us to decide what was just (as we see often in our society) it leads to destruction. Only a perfectly good God is capable of perfect justice. This is fundamental to understanding our question. And that leads to the second thing we must understand.
Because God is both perfectly just and loving he cannot let sin go unpunished.
Why? Well, as we've already determined, because he is HOLY, God will not stand for evil. It is an abomination to Him. It is an injustice to tolerate evil. And second, because it destroys the thing he loves most, his beloved children. Yet at the same time, and this is critical, because God loves his children so very much he does everything he can to patiently correct and discipline them even when they blatantly rebel.
Exodus 34:6-7 says; "The Lord, the Lord is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished."
That verse puts on full display the pattern for God's love and justice throughout the old testament (where many people point to for evidence that God couldn’t be good because “look at some of the harsh things he does or allows). Over and over again we find God's people rebelling (sinning) and over and over again we find God forgiving and showing compassion. Look no further than the entire book of Exodus to see this repeatedly.
One thing I find fascinating is that if you actually take the time to read the Old Testament God shows mercy, forgiveness and favor far more than he shows his wrath in the OT, but we naturally want to dwell more on the wrath. It's no different than when we as parents show grace and mercy to our children over and over again until finally we must punish our kids in order to discipline them. Only to have our children get upset with US that we finally brought the hammer down (because we love them)! From this we can understand two things about God;
A) It is clear that the Lord disciplines His children through trials and testing.
Hebrews 12:6 says, "The Lord disciplines the ones he loves." God allows trials in our life to grow us. He does this out of love and to turn our hearts to him, even if it is painful in the moment, because he desires the best for us. He did this under both the old covenant and the new.
B) During the time of the Old Testament the only way for God's wrath to be poured out for sin was directly on the people.
That all changed under the new covenant when Jesus became the substitute for what should have been man’s consequences (see below). Today the evil in the world is simply the result of our fallen humanity. Every natural disaster, disease and heinous act in the world is not the result of God's wrath, rather it is the result of sin continually distorting and destroying the world. Although God could certainly choose to use those things to bring about his ultimate plan for redemption. And, in the “end times” (see the book of Revelation) God WILL intentionally use plagues, earthquakes etc. to bring redemption to anyone paying attention to those signs. And that leads me to the final and most important thing.
What did God ULTIMATELY do about sin and evil?
Because God is perfectly Holy our sin deserves the ultimate punishment, the death penalty, but God in his incredible love for humanity made a way for us to avoid that penalty through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Once we are covered in His blood it's as if we had never sinned and therefore are no longer condemned in any way.
Romans 8:1 says, "Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."
That means that one day when we stand before God and he looks at us, all he is going to see is the imputed (fancy word for placed on us) righteousness of Jesus that has been placed upon us by our savior. He takes our sin and gives us his perfect righteousness. It will be as if we never sinned. He's not going to make us stand before him and list off all the sins we've ever committed and beg for forgiveness. When Jesus took the punishment for our sin he took it ALL, for all time. The wrath(God’s justice) of God was fully satisfied on the cross. This is so important when it comes to our faith and understanding of God.
Regardless of whether or not we can ever fully understand some of the things God did in the Old Testament or why he would still allow so much evil in the world today we CAN absolutely know that God is loving and good. And that is because we have seen the fullness of God in human form in the person of Jesus Christ. If there was ever any doubt about God's goodness we don't have to look any further than the cross to see his love for us on full display.
God's nature and character are fully on display in Christ's life, death and resurrection. On the cross God's wrath for all of the sin and injustice in the world is perfectly satisfied in the most radical act of love the world has ever seen!
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