The God of love is also the God of Wrath
I remember it well. It was an evening in the week in our dorm rooms, we were 4 friends arguing about the doctrine of election, and inevitably so we ended up in the book of Romans chapter 9. From there I was making the point that God does whatever pleases him. He shows some his love for his own glory and he shows some his wrath for his own glory.
It got heated after those statements and, one of my friends said, “A God who does that is evil! Why should he create some people just to show them wrath?”, and he said “that is not the God of the Bible. The other friend said, “How could you be so heartlless and say
such a thing about God? It seems that you do not care about the lost, even if people are not Christians you will allow them to die and then say God didn’t chose them?”.
I was surprised at their responses because I showed them from Scripture the claims I was making. The way they responded is almost as if God’s love overshadows all his attributes. So if love is competing with his wrath, love will always win. It was as Steven J. Lawson says, “We have so elevated the love of God beyond his holiness and wrath that we have air conditioned hell.” (2018: n.p.)
From that time on I have been thinking about working on an article to show from the Bible that this God who is glorified in showing his love is also glorified in showing his wrath, e. Everything God does is for his own glory. In this article I want to first look at love as God’s character, then wrath as God’s character, and thean we will look at how they are not contradictory and how God is glorified in showing them both.
The love of God
When it comes to God it is hard to define love. But let’s start here: God is love, meaning that he is the one who possesses love, real and genuine love flows from God. But what is this love, one may ask?. God’s love is his moral goodness towards those who do not deserve it. This how Packer defines it as “is an exercise of his goodness towards individual sinners whereby, having identified himself with their welfare, he has given his son to be their savior and brings them to know and enjoy him in a covenant relation.” (Packer 1973:136).
We do not deserve God’s love because we are sinners. We are people who have wronged him. We have rebelled against him. We deserve punishment rather because we have provoked his holy anger (Romans 1: 18, Ephesians 2:3). The word “world” in John 3:16 is referring to fallen humanity, a humanity that is in rebellion against God. And so it should be shocking to us that God should would show us love at all because we deserve the opposite of it (Deuteronomy 7:6-9).
The love of God is amazing, it is wonderful, it is scandalous. What makes it all the more amazing is that this love cost him his only begotten son Jesus Christ (John 3:16, Romans 5:8). If you are a Christian this love should transform you (2 Cor 5:14-15), you should give your all to the Lord Jesus Christ in response, you should be willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of Christ. You should know, love, live for and serve Christ wholeheartedly, with all your resources, time and energy.
God’s love should not be defined independent or at the expense of all his other attributes (Sproul 2012:17). At this point we must note that God is holy (he is set apart from sin, he is morally pure) and his love is also holy, that is why he sacrificed his son to show it. The only way for him to show this love was to deal with his justice and his wrath. And the Lord Jesus Christ was put forward as a propitiation (a sacrifice to remove God’s wrath, Romans 3:25) and that is how he has shown his love for us as sinners. And so on the cross God deals with our sin while he shows his love, that is how holy his love is. This is what makes God’s love so great, that in order to show his love for those who don’t deserve it, he had to sacrifice his own son.
The wrath of God
The wrath of God is God’s holy anger against sin. Because God is holy he cannot come in contact with sin and his automatic reaction towards it is wrath. Grudem defines wrath as follows: “God’s wrath means that he intensely hates all sin.” (1994:206) Notice the word ‘intensely’, God seriously hates sin with all that he is (Exodus 32:9-10, Deut 9:7-9, Romans1:18 ff).
The idea of God’s wrath is closely related to his justice. His justice is how he satisfies his wrath. Because God is holy and he is angry against sin, he must do that which is right and punish sin (Exodus 34:6-8). God must punish sin, and that is why the sins of those who are Christians has been punished in the Lord Jesus Christ at the Cross.
People raise objections about God’s wrath and Justice, for example, statements like “God is unfair by sending people to hell.”. God however is not unfair. It is rather the natural thing for him to do because of our sins. Every human being is guilty before God and is already condemned (John 3:18, 36). God has every right to send everyone to hell because of his wrath and Justice. The Lord, by punishing sinners, is not being unfair but he is being just. This is not only biblical but it is also logical. Human beings are sinners and our sin provoke God’s wrath and in his Justice he punishes sinners. What is not logical, however, is that he should show sinners his love at all. If you are reading this article and you are a non-Christian God will show you his wrath and when you die you will go to hell, the only way to avoid that is by turning to Jesus in repentance and faith.
The Holy love of God
The love of God does not contradict the wrath of God, infact, they compliment each other. John Stott quoting Calvin writes, “In a marvelous and divine way he loved us even when he hated us” (1986:154). God does not show his love in the absence of his wrath and vice versa.
One place where we clearly see this is the is in the cross of Jesus Christ. “In the cross of Christ God’s Justice and Love are simultaneously revealed” (Stott 1986:154). When Jesus dies on the cross we see the love of God (Romans 5:8) and the wrath of God (Romans 3:25). Someone once said, “Iif you can’t see God’s wrath on the cross then you can’t see his love either.”
How can a loving God send people to hell? Firstly, because he is a holy God. Secondly, because he is the God of wrath (He intensely hates sin and those who are sinners, it is his righteous response towards evil and sin). Thirdly, because he is the God is of justice and because he hates sin, he must punish sin. A God who does not punish sinners is not a holy God, nor is he a God of wrath or a just God. He is not the God of the Bible, only an imagination that people have made up with their own minds.
The question we should ask rather is, why should a holy God show sinners his love and bring them to heaven.? That should make us wonder, that should make us humble and leave us in awe. Because we are are sinners we deserve to be punished by a holy God, who is full of wrath and justice. But he does the opposite by showing us his love. This should strike us! we don’t have any rights as human beings as far as God is concerned. The only right we have is to go to hell for eternity, so we cannot claim God’s love or his grace or his mercy upon our lives because we don’t deserve them. The only way we can have access to them is by God choosing to show them to us, and he has for some of humanity. And he has left others to suffer his wrath and justice by sending them to hell.
God is both glorified in showing his love, his wrath and justice. God’s love is not in a tug of war with his wrath. They are both God’s attributes and he displays them so that his name will be glorified. Everything God does is ultimately for his own glory. Both showing his love (by saving some unto eternal life) and showing his wrath (condemning some to hell) is for his own glory (Romans 9:22-23).
The love of God is holy, and God does not show it at the expense of all his attributes. He shows his love in relation to all his other attributes. God also shows his wrath and justice to the glory of his name. We see the love of God and his wrath both shown simultaneously on the cross and he shows them both to ultimately bring glory to his own name.
- Grudem, W. (1994) Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids:, Zondervan.
- Lawson, S. L (2018) Twitter. Available at: mobile.twitter.com (17/09/2018).
- Packer, J. I. (1973) Knowing God. London:, Hodder and Stoughton Limited.
- Sproul, R. C. (2012) God’s love. Colorado Springs:, David C Cook.
- Stott, J. (1986) The Cross of Christ. Nottingham:, Inter-Varsity Press.