It is rare today to hear a sermon that focuses on the wrath of God. Some may even think that the very idea of anger is incompatible with the gospel’s message of God’s mercy and grace. Yet one theme in the book of Jeremiah deals with the real threat posed by the wrath of God. For example, in Jeremiah 4:4 the Lord warned His people: “Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, circumcise your hearts, you people of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, or my wrath will flare up and burn like fire because of the evil you have done—burn with no one to quench it.”
The Hebrew noun that is translated “wrath” is derived from a verb that means, “to be hot.” The imagery of heat often appears with statements that speak of God’s wrath. The impression left by this language is terrifying. It is meant to be. Elsewhere the Scriptures warn: “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31). This is because God in His wrath is “a consuming fire” (Deut. 4:24; Heb. 12:29).
God’s wrath is a reflection of His justice. It is directed toward those who do evil. Unlike our anger, which is affected by our sinful nature, divine anger is motivated by righteousness (James 1:20). In his book Knowing God, theologian J. I. Packer points out that the wrath of God, unlike human anger, is never capricious, self-indulgent, or irritable. “It is, instead, a right and necessary reaction to objective moral evil. . . . God is only angry where anger is called for."
Believers and unbelievers alike have an intuitive sense of God’s wrath, though not everyone will admit that this is their experience. This inner awareness of God’s displeasure with sin is part of God’s general revelation of Himself to all humanity. But it is also an aspect of the divine nature that sinful humanity suppresses (Rom. 1:18–19). One reason we are uncomfortable with the idea of divine wrath is because our fallen nature tends to live in denial of God’s righteous nature and His wrath.
God’s capacity to experience and express wrath cannot be separated from His other attributes of love and mercy or His propensity to show grace. To do so would compartmentalize His nature in an incoherent way. God does not have a split personality. His righteous anger is in harmony with His grace. Nowhere is this more evident than in the person and work of Jesus Christ, who bore our sins in His body on the cross and delivered us from the wrath to come (1 Peter 2:24; 1 Thess. 1:10).
For Further Study
To learn more about this subject read the chapter entitled, “The Wrath of God,” in Knowing God by J. I. Packer (InterVarsity).
By John Koessler, Chair and Professor of Pastoral Studies
John Koessler serves as chair and professor of pastoral studies at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois. He is married to Jane and has two sons, Drew and Jarred. John is the author of Folly, Grace & Power: The Mysterious Act of Preaching (Zondervan), A Stranger in the House of God (Zondervan) and served as general editor of The Moody Handbook of Preaching (Moody). John has written several other books and articles and serves as a contributing editor for Today in the Word.