A few days ago, I strolled into my local grocery store to find a mother squatting down to talk to her tow-headed daughter. I’m guessing her little girl was around three years old, that cantankerous age when you begin to wonder why you had a kid in the first place. Tears were streaming down the girl’s face and her lower lip was quivering with pouty defiance.
I braced myself, thinking that the mother was about to unload on her kid. I’m sure you’ve seen, like I have, exasperated parents who give free rein to their tempers with fire-breathing threats or unreasonable corporal punishment. Last year, in Cleveland, TX, an angry father dragged his daughter around by the hair as she begged for mercy.
Some people view God this way – a cruel daddy figure who takes delight in punishing his errant children. Is this who God is? Is He more wrathful than loving? According to the Bible, here are three things that God’s wrath is not:
GOD’S WRATH IS NOT MOODY
Human anger can be petulant, like the kind I witnessed from the sulking little girl in the grocery store. When kids throw a temper tantrum, it’s annoying, but when grown-ups go ballistic, bad things can happen. Remember when actor Russell Crowe got mad when a hotel telephone didn’t work? He marched down to the lobby and hurled the phone at a desk clerk, cutting his cheek. The North Korean dictator, Kim Jong Un, has reportedly fired off missiles when he gets ticked.
God’s anger is not fickle. God doesn’t need to be appeased by our repentance, like a man in the dog house who brings roses to his offended wife. And He doesn’t hurl a planet across space when He is frustrated. Divine anger is something far higher than a testy outburst. Remember that His thoughts are not our thoughts, and our ways are not His ways (Isaiah 55:8).
GOD’S WRATH IS NOT JUST ‘OLD TESTAMENT’
Some people draw a false line between the God of the Old and New Testaments. In this view, the God of the B.C. era had a molten temper, swatting down sinners like flies. The New Testament God, on the other hand, was kind and merciful. He is the God of Jesus, who told His followers to love each other. Marcion, a theologian of the 2nd century AD, actually taught that the Old Testament God was an inferior deity, while the true and higher God had been revealed in Jesus Christ.
The Bible makes it clear that there are not two Gods. The King of creation; the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, is the same God now and forever. In Him “there is no variation or shifting shadow” (James 1:17). It is simplistic to picture God as a schizophrenic deity. The Old Testament calls Him “the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6). Jesus referred to the wrath of God, as did the apostles. God’s wrath does not preclude His love, and His anger never eclipses His grace.
GOD’S WRATH IS NOT UNRIGHTEOUS
We tend to not take sin seriously enough. We make jokes about gossip and lust. When humans compare greed to genocide, they weigh apples against oranges, while God sees all sin as rotten fruit. As Supreme Judge, God rightly denounces evil and rails against injustice. He is perfectly justified to do so, for He is morally immaculate. His decrees are born of holiness and executed with perfect equality. “For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality” (Colossians 3:25).
And the one thing that God’s wrath is…it is…
The Apostle Paul frequently used an interesting word for God’s wrath, orge. It literally means to stretch or swell, painting a picture of an anger that slowly inflates like a balloon. Orge is wrath that does not flare up at the slightest provocation, but one that is controlled, thoughtful, reasonable. It is carefully “stored up” for those who nurture a hard, unrepentant heart (Romans 2:5). God’s anger is also avoidable. Though the “wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18), God “desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (I Timothy 2:4).
As parents, we can understand this. When our children misbehave, we cannot ignore it. If we do, kids learn they can get away with it until, one day, we realize we have raised selfish brats — or worse. We must get angry when they are out of line. The question is, do we draw the boundaries in rage, or love?
The mother in the grocery store raised neither voice nor hand. She gently but firmly explained to her daughter why her bad behavior couldn’t continue and, if it did, she would have to go home, deprived of TV and toys. The little girl must have sensed her mother’s great love for her, because she calmed down, nodded her head and sniffled her tears away. Taking a deep breath, she took her mommy’s hand and walked into the store, chattering happily.
Jesus said that we must become as little children in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 18:2-4). Through the example of a penitent little girl in a grocery store, I have a clearer picture of that now.