One of my online friends posted a blog about the "problem" of God's love. Now, my friend was - as a good blogger - attempting to make a point by making a seemingly controversial statement. His point was to revisit the seeming difficulty of reconciling God's love with God's wrath. That is, we read that God is loving and we look at Jesus, who is the exact picture of God (Heb. 1:3), and see love. Yet we also see cases in the Bible where God acts in wrath. "What's up with that?"
I've been doing some thinking and preaching on this matter lately so I responded to my friend's post. Here's an expanded version.
First, I think that "wrath" and "anger" are good words as they are used in the Bible of describing God's response to people's sin, transgression, and rebellion. But the real idea that must proceed God's "wrath" is the idea of God's justice. That is, God gets "angry" as a response to our sin. We sin, punishment is earned, and God is just and acts to appropriately punish. He is also "angry" in that we have (to our own hurt and/or the hurt of others) messed up his gracious intentions for his people. And - let's be Very Clear about this - when we say God is "angry," that is NOT like our human fathers when they went ballistic. He's not capricious or out of control. No; that's how the pagan gods act.
Anyway, I’m a little nervous when someone proposes that God’s love is a “problem.” I know my friend was jesting a bit; but – yikes!
The reality is that God is both loving and just. And this is where the wheels can come off the wagon. We must see God – as does inscripturated revelation – *first* as loving; and only then as just (in response to our sin).
This is the narrative of Genesis 2 and 3 and – very importantly – the message that God himself gives us about himself in Exodus 34:6-7.
So (in Gen 2) there’s Yahweh, loving and providing for us; then we (in Adam) mess it all up (Gen 3); then God starts “cursing” the parties involved. But Yahweh can’t even get through the first curse (!) before he holds out hope that humanity will get its revenge and tells us that Jesus is coming. Even as he curses Eve, he holds out hope for continuing existence of humanity through children. Even as he curses Adam, God says that Adam’s needs will be provided for through labor. EVEN IN GOD’S “CURSING,” God is persistent to bless his image-bearers.
Notice that in the Exodus passage (very important because it is the most quoted text of the Bible by the Bible), God ‘leads off’ with compassion, grace, patience, love, forgiveness, and ends with justice.
When we emphasize God’s justice before we establish his gracious provision, it seems to me that we are making an un-Biblical emphasis. God is love (1Jn 4:8b) first both in logical and narrative priority. Only then, as a response to our high-handed rebellion, he is just. In Biblical fact, God isn’t too ‘eager’ to express his wrath (Rm 8:22-23) – there seem to be other priorities that take precedence.
The remarkable thing is that, even though we were clearly enemies of God (Eph 2:3) and deserving of wrath; God chose to love his enemies (Eph 2:4) and, by grace (Eph 2:8-9), gave us every spiritual blessing (Eph 1:3-14). Loving your enemies – where have we heard that before? Oh – hold on – Jesus said that (Lk 6:27,35).
It seems to me that’s what Yahweh is like. We don’t need to pit one characteristic against another (as my friend rightly condemned). I’m suggesting that we do need to begin with what God says.