Here’s something that occurred to me not too long ago… I’d like to bounce this off of you to see what you think… see if you can knock any holes in it…
The attributes of God can be divided into roughly two areas: His nature and His character. God’s nature describes what makes Him God (all-powerful, present everywhere, all-knowing, etc.). God’s character describes how He relates to what He has created (good, righteous, just, keeps His promises, loving, etc.). God’s holiness describes the degree of these character attributes: He will not compromise them in any way.
Where does the wrath of God fit into this? We worship a God who gets angry, who violently punishes sin. This was true in the past and will be true in the future (i.e. Revelation 16:1). Is God’s wrath a character attribute of God in the same way that His other attributes are? If I had asked myself this question in the past, I would have probably said “yes”, but now I think the answer is “no”, for the following reasons:
- God’s wrath is the outpouring of His anger. God is only angry as a result of sin. If there were no sin, He would not be angry. Before there was sin, He was not angry. After sin is put away, His anger goes away. When I was young, I definitely “felt” my dad’s anger at times, yet I would not consider him an angry father. He didn’t have a short temper.
- God is eternally the same – unchanging (Malachi 3:6, Hebrews 13:8). He has been holy, is holy, and will always be holy. The same can be said of all of His character attributes. But this is not true of His wrath. His anger is temporary (Psalm 30:5, Isaiah 57:16).
- All of God’s character attributes exist independantly of His creation. Man can do nothing to make God more or less holy, righteous, good, loving, etc. However man can do things to make God angry. If God’s anger is a character attribute, then when man sins, he is changing God to make Him more angry.
- Unlike God’s character attributes, God does not desire to be wrathful (Ezekiel 18:23, 32, 33:11, Lamentations 3:33, 1 Timothy 2:4, John 3:17, Acts 17:30). It does not make Him happy to condemn man to hell. The legalist/moralist rejoices when a bar, crackhouse, brothel, etc. closes. God and all of heaven rejoices when the owner repents and is saved (Luke 15).
So, while God gets angry, I don’t think His wrath can be considered a character attribute. It is just the result of what happens when man’s sin clashes with His holy righteousness and justice.
If this understanding of God’s anger is correct, it is totally freeing. I don’t worship a capricious God who gets angry with me for no apparent reason (i.e. just because He just so happens to be having a bad day). Sure, there’s a healthy fear of the consequences of disobeying Him, but I had a similar healthy fear of my dad. Perhaps this is one of the main reasons why Jesus wants us to think of God as our Father.