The God Of Wrath And Mercy
by R.C. Sproul
One of the things that we learn about God in Scripture is that He is the Judge of all of the earth. If a judge eternally tolerates wickedness without exercising judgment, he is not a just judge; he is an unjust judge—he himself is part of the context of evil. God, on the other hand, is not indifferent to the way people commit violence against each other. God is not a passive spectator to all these things. And yet we are tempting Him day and night by our unrestrained wickedness, and He has promised to bring judgment to the world. (He also promises a way of escape from that judgment.) We think of September 11, 2001, as the greatest day of calamity in the history of the United States of America, but that day of calamity is not worthy to be compared with the day of calamity that God says will come in the future when the grapes of wrath are thrown into the winepress and are trampled by His judgment.
Notice that the celebration of this event in “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” is a celebration that is extremely foreign to our cultural way of thinking today. It is a celebration not of the nastiness of God, not of some dark, shadowy, demonic element within God, but rather of His divine glory. “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.” His coming in judgment is a manifestation of His divine glory, of His divine perfection. We often see the wrath of God as somehow being an impediment to our view of God’s character. That’s because, in present-day America, our view of God’s character is an idol. It is an idol of a God who has been stripped of His true attributes. He’s a God who is defined in terms of love and mercy and grace, but we have thrown out any idea of His being just and holy and wrathful. If we are going to be faithful to the biblical understanding of God, we have to understand that He is, among other things, a God of wrath. To be sure, He is also a God of mercy. But the idea of mercy is an empty concept if He has no capacity for wrath. The only way to understand mercy is against the background of the reality of wrath. When God holds back His wrath, when God circumvents His wrath, then we understand true mercy. If God is incapable of wrath, there can be no mercy because there is nothing from which to be saved.
I recently heard a radio commentator proclaim, “I’m going to say it. In this war against terrorism, God is on our side.” He continued, “I know that God is on our side because God is good, and we are good. We are good people.”
Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote a best-selling book titled Why Bad Things Happen to Good People. The real question is, “Why do good things happen to sinful people such as ourselves?” The Scriptures tell us that there is “none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10). We need to be very careful when we assume that God is on our side, particularly if we make that assumption based on our evaluation of our own goodness. The Scriptures tell us that if the Lord would “mark iniquity,” none of us could possibly stand (Psalm 130:3). Salvation is about rescue from the wrath of God, which is a just wrath, a wrath that is deserved.
Let me repeat that at the heart of a Christian worldview stands our understanding of God and our understanding of mankind. If we understand humanity as being essentially, basically, incontrovertibly good, then of course there is no room in our thinking for the wrath of God. For God to be wrathful toward good people would indeed indicate a demonic, dark side to His character. But as we have seen, when the Scriptures speak of God’s wrath, it is not a wrath that is revealed against innocence, righteousness, purity, or goodness, but a wrath that is revealed “against all ungodliness and unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18).
If God were to examine my life, He would find enough ungodliness and unrighteousness to be inclined to pick me up, use His sickle to cut me from the earth, and throw me into the winepress of His wrath. That would be completely consistent with His perfection, His holiness, and His glory. But thanks be to God that He has given us a way of salvation by which we can escape His fury. ThatÕs what the gospel is all about.
Taken from When Worlds Collide by R.C. Sproul copyright © 2011. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187.