As a child I remember asking my grandpa if he ever smoked. That. Was. Wrong. If tension were a color, the room turned blistering red. And I ran out of that room to the safety of grandma (who had a secret stash of candy in the linen closet close by).
My grandfather loved me, though I learned never to ask if he had ever smoked (he did, and he apparently really wanted to forget about that habit!). My father loves me, too, though there were times I elicited degrees of wrath with my behavior. As a father who loves his children dearly, I have felt some wrath at my children’s behavior, as well. Most of these instances are directed at a behavior which must stop for the good of the child’s moral development.
Sadly, there are countless cases of “wrath” that are abusive, not corrective. There are some who view all men through a lens of heartbreaking pain and bitter sorrow. Such deep, festering wounds can often be traced back to a father, or other male authority figure who abused his position.
The truth is, we all abuse our positions because we are sinful. There have been multiple times I’ve gone to my children and asked forgiveness for having lost my temper, or snapped off a harsh word or two. I’ve had to ask my wife for forgiveness many times. Bottom line, I’m a man with a sinful nature. My wrath is seldom pure.
As a result, it’s tempting to view God only through the lens of His abundant love, mercy, forgiveness and grace. All of which are true. His mercies are many, His grace is abundant, His love exceeds our imagination. He certainly deals with us all according to His mercy.
In the same way that God’s love is pure, so is His wrath.
Interestingly, by comparison to God, we find that our love is as impure as our wrath.We link our ‘love’ to feelings. We ‘love’ people so long as they please us. We actually have a saying ‘falling out of love.’ God knows nothing of this transient, loosey-goosey love.
In the same way that God’s love is pure, so is His wrath. While we might feel a milligram of righteous wrath at some evil act, we soon hijack that wrath with our own self-righteousness and overreact in a sinful way. See, our wrath–like our love–is tied to our emotions (which tend to be self-serving and prideful). Once the spark is lit, it rages, soon bursting from the furnace and consuming everything (or at least more than we intended).
God’s wrath is not tied to emotion. He’s not like us. His thoughts are not our thoughts, His ways are not our ways. When He turns His wrath towards us, it is measured and just. He deals out exactly what is needed according to His purpose. We can trust this.
I’m reading through Isaiah and came across this verse:
“In overflowing anger for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,” says the LORD, your Redeemer.” Is. 54:8
Isaiah spoke to a people who had forsaken God and were about to be taken over by their enemies. He prophesied about their suffering and spoke toward their deliverance. Remember that this book has immediate application to the people at the time. But it also has application on a larger scale to God’s true Israel, the Bride of Christ, the congregation of the redeemed, the Church.
On a personal level, this applies to each of the redeemed children of God. We do, indeed, endure the wrath of God. Except it is in small measure to what the unbelievers will face. It is also confined and brief. God is slow to anger, but quick to treat us according to His mercy. While suffering lasts for the night, joy will come with the morning.
At times, we go through things that have us in despair, like the young wife in Isaiah 54. We feel abandoned by God, forsaken when we are full of youth. We feel cast aside. Our enemies deride us as fools, forsaken by our God. Yet, out of the apparent oppression, through the thick gloom of our sorrow, the Lord rescues us. He lifts us up according to His mercy, His covenant, His grace.
Our part is to confess our sin. We can trust He is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us. But His mercy and grace are not dependent upon our performance. At times, we may be suffering quite apart from any obvious sin (like Job!). Other times, we may be deep in sorrow because we’ve gone astray in our obedience.
In both instances, we must humble ourselves before God, attest to His glorious character and perfect nature. If we’ve sinned, we must confess.
I like this quote from Matthew Henry:
“It is often the condition of Christian churches and of particular believers; without are fightings, within are fears; they are like the disciples in a storm, ready to perish; and where is their faith?”
We fret at so much. We begin to wonder, where’s my faith? How could God love me if I’m so faithless? We begin thinking God has led us out to the wilderness to die.
Don’t fear, He hasn’t. His overflowing wrath is for a short time, but His love is everlasting!