For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. (Romans 1:18)
The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers. You destroy those who speak lies; the LORD abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man. (Psalm 5:5–6)
The LORD tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence. (Psalm 11:5)
Last July, “In Christ Alone” was voted the third most popular hymn in the UK by the audience of Songs of Praise. Seven years earlier, Justin Welby chose the hymn to be sung at his enthronement as Archbishop of Canterbury and it has become the most sung hymn written in modern times. And also the subject of controversy.
Tucked away in the second verse, which speak of the work of Christ, we find the lines:
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied;
For ev’ry sin on Him was laid—
Here in the death of Christ I live.
It’s that word ‘wrath’ which some disliked. A few American denominations even removed the hymn from their hymn books, and let’s be honest talk about the wrath of God is not particularly comfortable. We are well used to the idea of a God of love, but wrath? That doesn’t sound right at all! Objections rise into the mind, “surely a God of love…”. “I can’t believe in a God who…”. Yet for all that, the passages above show that we cannot simply put our fingers in our ears and pretend it doesn’t exist.
So what to do? First of all, we need to realise that the wrath of God cannot (and should not) be separated from his love. It’s not as if God is moody, or subject to swings in emotion. It is true, though, that unrighteousness (or sin) is abhorrent to him. Think about Jesus making a whip of cords and running the money changers out of the Temple (John 2:14)!
Secondly, we should acknowledge that God hates sin and the all the consequences which flow from it, but he also sent his Son to deal with it. This is not an old man shaking his fist at the sky, but someone sorting out an issue which causes great pain. Christ’s righteousness covers over the unrighteousness of all who turn to him. In Christ, God provides us with a solution.
The wrath of God, then, is something which helps us to gain a deeper understanding of his love. Think of what love God has that he himself would sort out this problem. Think of what Christ went through as he bore this outpouring on his shoulders on the cross, and cried out “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Think of what love would cause someone to endure all that.
And then remember that this was done for you.