We don’t like to talk about the wrath of God. It seems so harsh and unsettling in a world where a lot of people already carry around a burden of guilt. If we want to attract people to the Lord we might focus on His attributes of love and compassion, but certainly not His wrath.
Perhaps you read Jonathon Edward’s sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” in school. In the sermon Edwards uses three metaphors to leave a lasting impression on his audience. One is a rising wave of water held back for an eventual release. The second is an arrow that bends back until the tension becomes so great the arrow flies. The third portrays God holding a sinner like a spider over a hot fire, prepared to drop him into the flames at any moment.
Chances are you won’t find these word pictures on many church guest packets. This is, of course, a good thing. God is more than wrath, and it makes little sense to choose this one characteristic as the first thing a broken sinner discovers in a church setting. We should also not use fear as a tactic to move someone in a direction they might not otherwise be prepared to go.
On the other hand, fear isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially since there really is such a thing as God’s wrath. Out of curiosity I did a quick search of the word “wrath” in my Bible program and found 190 verses. I typed in the word “compassion” and only found 73 verses. Surprised?
Fear is a good thing if it makes us aware of something dangerous. It is only irrational when it causes us to be afraid of a threat that doesn’t exist, or paralyzes us to the point we are unable to respond.
We must remember, if we have been washed clean by Jesus, we don’t need to fear God’s wrath. It would be irrational for those who have accepted Jesus as their Savior to live in fear. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1) The grace of Jesus casts out fear because it reminds us the wrath of God was turned away when Jesus took our place and endured our punishment on the cross.
This is where the subject of peace enters the picture. It is difficult to understand peace if we are unaware of the conflict. In our relationship with God, the peace we have with Him makes little sense unless we recognize we once stood in the crosshairs of His wrath. We are also more easily lured into sin when we forget the seriousness of our past disobedience and the price that was paid for our salvation.
Please don’t get me wrong. I don’t enjoy talking about the wrath of God. People used to say, “Some preachers preach about hell as if they want people to go there and others preach to keep people out.” I suspect I don’t preach about the wrath of God enough, but when I do I certainly want to be counted among those who are looking out for the welfare of my audience.
No, we won’t be changing the “Welcome” wording on our guest brochure to “Don’t go to hell”, anytime soon. And we must be wise as we reach out to a culture that had already pegged the church as a judgmental place. Just as we can’t understand the peace of God without understanding His wrath, we must realize it is hard to accept His wrath if we aren’t aware of His love, grace and compassion. Indeed, God’s heart has always been to love us and save us from ourselves. If He enjoyed the thought of punishing sinners He would never have allowed His Son to die in our place.
There is no reason to worry about the past if you know the Lord. In Philippians 4:7 we read, “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
He is our peace. And where there is peace there is no reason to fear.