If God is Loving, How Can He Be “Filled with Wrath”?
“The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord takes vengeance and is filled with wrath. The Lord takes vengeance on his foes and vents his wrath against his enemies.”
Nahum 1:2 NIV
Depending on the type of church one was raised or participates in, the wrath of God might be an unwelcome, foreign concept. Isn’t God good and loving? Wrath and vengeance may seem antithetical to God’s character. In fact throughout history there have been people who have rejected portions of the Bible as God’s word (particularly the OT) because of this seeming contradiction. Often arguing, if Jesus is the visible image of the invisible God, we don’t see vengeance and wrath in him, we see only love, kindness, mercy and grace extended to others. This is a good point, however one should also note Jesus’ anger against the money changers in the Temple, or the risen and glorified Jesus presented in Revelation with a sword coming out of his mouth (a symbol of judgement, Rev. 1:16 ). The truth is God is perfectly holy and just, while he is also love (1 John 4:8) and loving toward people. Which means that God’s wrath and judgment must be against all that is unholy and unjust. In Romans 1:18 we are reminded that God’s wrath is not against people per se, but against sin that people do, “the godlessness and wickedness of people”. And while we don’t like that because it incriminates us, since we have “all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23).” We should be thankful for his wrath and judgement because it is the only true justice there is. While we seek to bring justice here on earth, it is never adequate enough. Tell the mother whose son was murdered, that the murderer is incarcerated for life, and therefore justice has been served. Nope, it doesn’t even come close to justice.
Fortunately, it is because of God’s love that he released his wrath against Jesus who took our sins on the cross. He received the punishment we deserved, he received the full judgement of God against our sins so we don’t have to experience his judgement. We get out scot free when we receive this gift of grace Jesus did for us. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—” (Ephesians 2:8-9). This is so incredibly freeing as we move out from under our condemnation and guilt. We can truly live the life we were meant to live. We are given the Holy Spirit to live in grace, and help us walk in the truth and not according to our flesh (Galatians 5:1, 13; Romans 8:10-13).
At the same time we need to remember that there is a second judgment as well. God will judge our deeds and reward us accordingly. This is not a heaven or hell judgment, which is based on our faith and trust in Jesus. It is a judgment on what we receive in heaven (or hell) for what we did here on earth for good or bad (see Rev. 22:12; ). Jesus has saved us to serve him and to do the good works he has for us (Eph. 2:10).