We tend to project our experience of justice, revenge, and anger onto the face of God. His wrath, we decide, must look and feel like our wrath. His justice must be carried out of the constructs of right and wrong that we have personally adopted. In so doing we have blinded ourselves to the goodness of God, and painted Him as a schizophrenic deity that sometimes loves and sometimes hates. God's wrath is other centered, while ours is self-centered. His justice is carried out with love for every individual, while our justice is retributive towards those we hate. Our anger generally revolves around personal or ideological offense; 'how dare they!' It therefore revolves around hate towards individuals or groups, and our sense of justice is rooted in our objectification of others. God is very unlike us in this way. He is love, therefore His wrath and justice need to be understood as an expression of His passionate desire for our freedom and benefit. He is for us, not against us.
Imagine a parent whose 20 year old daughter is kidnapped and abused. She is rescued, but is broken on the inside. Fear, shame, and depression have taken over a once free and joyful spirit. They love their daughter, and desperately want the best for her. They would naturally be very angry at the abuser for what was stolen from her. Their wrath is relational, and it is easy to see that it is birthed from the love they have for their daughter. God’s wrath is relational too, and we need to see that. Real wrath is a passionate expression of love. Yet even the parent’s wrath for their daughters pain fails to fully encapsulate what God’ wrath is all about.
Wrath is the expression of love in the face of injustice. Love requires relationship. In our example, the parent’s anger is sourced in the close relationship they have with their daughter. Have you ever noticed how we tend to care less about atrocity, injustice, and suffering the further away it is from those we love? If tragedy strikes home however, if abuse, murder, or rape happens to one of our ‘special people’, wrath is the natural expression.
God is love, and unlike us He loves everyone and is intimately involved and invested in each person He has created. God not only grieves for the daughter of the parents, but for the abuser; both are his children. He knows all our pain, brokenness, and negative influences. He knows our choices, our lies, our shame, and our hurt. He knows mine, yours, Mother Teresa’s, and Hitler’s, while loving us all! God’s wrath doesn’t exist when He is close to one person and removed from another. His wrath exists while loving everyone equally!
We call for justice based on our understanding of what is good and bad. We generally have a scale in our conscience by which we judge certain individuals as ‘deserving’ of punishment. This understanding we project onto God too. God is not into score keeping. He isn’t interested in a person’s punishment but a person’s freedom. His justice, like His wrath, needs to be understood with the starting fact that He loves us all.
Let’s go back to our story. The young woman is broken, shackled by the shame of what happened to her, she has fallen into depression. Her parents love her, and constantly give of themselves to help her in every way we can think of. The love they have for her slams against the shame she feels inside, torturing her to the point that she runs away from it. She leaves the safety of her loving parents and tries to fill her deep pain with drugs and meaningless sex.
Do her parents stop loving her? Do they begin to hate her for the choices she makes? How many bad choices, how many people does she need to hurt before her parents being to hate her? Is she now deserving of retributive wrath? Of course not, she is their daughter! This makes perfect sense to us. We would never hate our children, even if they were destroying their lives and hurting others in the process. But, for some ridiculous reason we think that we love better than God does. We think God has a score card, and that eventually He will disown us for crossing the line too many times. We think that God’s ‘justice’ overrides His ‘love’. But they do not need to be mutually exclusive, we just need to stop projecting our sense of justice onto God.
It seems obvious to us that a loving parent wouldn’t stop loving their child because of mistakes they were making, even if they were catastrophic. They might create boundaries to protect themselves and other people, but they would still love them and yearn for their child to see themselves as they see them. Everyone is someone’s son or daughter, even those that are hurting others. God, well, He created everyone! We are blind to what God's justice looks like because we have the unfortunate capacity to love some people more than others. God loves everyone equally, and so for Him ‘justice’ looks and is carried out differently than we think.
In this scenario we actually experience what God experiences when it comes to wrath. Loving parents would hate the destructive choices their daughter was making, they would have great wrath towards both the internal and external influences in her life that are destroying her. The wrath is an expression of their love, but for her and the ones she was hurting. They would do anything to destroy the internal and external forces that were destroying her. This is how God feels towards all of us. His wrath is other centered, it is love expressed in the face of our hurt and pain. God’s wrathful love is not against us but for us!
God’s wrath is expressed while attributing equal value to every individual. He knows each person, He knows the hurts, the biases, the wounds, and the mistakes. Knowing all these things, his love is a passionate fire against anything that destroys and abuses his children. He isn’t for some people and against others, but truly the lover of the human race. Just as we would separate an abuser from being able to continually cause suffering to others, so God will ultimately separate destructive people who don’t change their ways. God will not tolerate any hurt in His Kingdom, but He isn’t doing so out of vengeance but out of love. Even those he sends away, He loves and values. His wrath is not like ours.
We have imagined God to be someone He isn’t, and we need our minds renewed in this area. The more we think like God the more we will be able to see through a lens of love. God’s wrath is not moralistic, it is not about keeping tabs, and it is not against anyone. God is love, and He loves you, me, and every human being we will ever encounter.
Just like the good Father He is, God saw the pain we were in and did the unthinkable to reach us. He saw the destructive tendencies we had adopted, the wounds, shame, and depression that ruled over all His children. In our darkness and blindness we ran from His love, because it hurt too much to be in it. We fled, hid in the bushes, and embraced a life that results in death. We would not let Him come near, we convinced ourselves we were hated by God, projecting our brokenness onto Him; yet God was not deterred. He entered our darkness, stepped into our blindness, becoming Human He came to reach us because we could do nothing to reach Him.
Jesus came to us even though we did not want Him, even though we could not see Him. He entered our lives and brought us face to face with His loving Father; we could not bear it. In our shame and hurt, we could not recognize Him as God, so we killed Him. Jesus willfully took our shame, our hurt, and our anger into Himself. He submitted to our darkness and let us crucify Him. It was there that He swallowed death, united Himself to us in our blindness, and birthed new life. There is nowhere we can flee from His presence, no piece of us that He does not already know, sin and death were defeated in His resurrection!
There is nothing we can do to stop Him loving us. We can either surrender to His love, embrace Him, and therefore letting go of all our shame and hurt, or we can sit in the agony that comes in resisting it. We can embrace a life of destructing we were never created for, and in the end, in love, God will not allow us to hurt our brothers and sisters. He will send us away, where there surely will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Jesus invites us to turn to Him today. To accept His forgiveness, to release our shame, our pain, and our hate. He is at work even now revealing Himself to us, inviting us, encouraging us, and loving us into His kingdom. We can let go and become who He purposed us to be, or we can struggle against Him, the one who is the very source all life and goodness.