Is God a God of Love or a God of Wrath?

Perhaps you have never noticed this before. But we readers of the Bible have a significant problem. It has to do with the fact that, though we have emphasized in our evangelical churches that God is a god of love and compassion, the Bible also describes God as a god of wrath and anger and vengeance. Consider, then, the two groups of passages below. Group one describes God as a god of love and compassion. Group two describes God as a god of wrath, anger, and vengeance.

Group One:

The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.

The LORD is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion.

He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing.

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.

The LORD loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love.

How priceless is your unfailing love! Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings.

For great is your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies.

You are forgiving and good, O Lord, abounding in love to all who call to you.

You, O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.

I will sing of the LORD’s great love forever; with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations. I will declare that your love stands firm forever, that you established your faithfulness in heaven itself.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.

I will sing of your love and justice; to you, O LORD, I will sing praise.

Praise the LORD, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits—who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.

Praise the LORD, all you nations; extol him, all you peoples. For great is his love toward us, and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever. Praise the LORD.

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good. His love endures forever. Give thanks to the God of gods. His love endures forever. Give thanks to the Lord of lords: His love endures forever.

The LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The LORD is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.

The LORD is faithful to all his promises and loving toward all he has made.

The LORD is righteous in all his ways and loving toward all he has made.

Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken.

I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.

You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.

The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.

The LORD is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion.

The LORD longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the LORD is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!

Shout for joy, O heavens; rejoice, O earth; burst into song, O mountains! For the LORD comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones. But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.” “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.”

I will tell of the kindnesses of the LORD, the deeds for which he is to be praised, according to all the LORD has done for us—yes, the many good things he has done for the house of Israel, according to his compassion and many kindnesses.

Group Two:

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.

But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God “will give to each person according to what he has done.”

For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person–such a man is an idolater–has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient.

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.

God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power.

They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”

And the twenty-four elders, who were seated on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying: “We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and have begun to reign. The nations were angry; and your wrath has come. The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your saints and those who reverence your name, both small and great– and for destroying those who destroy the earth.”

A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: “If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand, he, too, will drink of the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. He will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name.”

I saw in heaven another great and marvelous sign: seven angels with the seven last plagues–last, because with them God’s wrath is completed.

Out of the temple came the seven angels with the seven plagues. They were dressed in clean, shining linen and wore golden sashes around their chests. Then one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls filled with the wrath of God, who lives for ever and ever. And the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power.

Then I heard a loud voice from the temple saying to the seven angels, “Go, pour out the seven bowls of God’s wrath on the earth.” The first angel went and poured out his bowl on the land, and ugly and painful sores broke out on the people who had the mark of the beast and worshiped his image. The second angel poured out his bowl on the sea, and it turned into blood like that of a dead man, and every living thing in the sea died. The third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and springs of water, and they became blood. Then I heard the angel in charge of the waters say: “You are just in these judgments, you who are and who were, the Holy One, because you have so judged; for they have shed the blood of your saints and prophets, and you have given them blood to drink as they deserve.”

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.

The great city split into three parts, and the cities of the nations collapsed. God remembered Babylon the Great and gave her the cup filled with the wine of the fury of his wrath. Every island fled away and the mountains could not be found. From the sky huge hailstones of about a hundred pounds each fell upon men. And they cursed God on account of the plague of hail, because the plague was so terrible.

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty.

Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

“To the angel of the church in Thyatira write: These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze. I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first. Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.”

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.'”

So, as you can see, we have a significant problem. How can we, as evangelicals, reconcile the God of love and compassion described in the Old Testament with the God of wrath, anger, and vengeance described in the New Testament? How can we reconcile the Old Testament God of love with the New Testament God of wrath? I suppose the easiest and most obvious solution would be to just get rid of the New Testament. Does anyone have any other suggestions?

Jerry Shepherd
September 17, 2013

27 thoughts on “Is God a God of Love or a God of Wrath?

  1. Well, this does fly in the face of conventional wisdom (ie OT God is a God of wrath, NT God is a God of love). This does make me wonder how much of what is preached from Evangelical pulpits is incorrect or poorly researched! Maybe there is something to the joke about Evangelical Theology being like a river that is a mile wide and 4″ deep… Ah well, as long as we remember that Love Wins… 😉

    • Hi Dave. You are certainly correct. There is a lot of good evangelical preaching out there. And there is a lot of bad so-called evangelical preaching out there as well. And the reason for the bad preaching is, primarily, a departure from Scripture, and a departure from the Gospel as it is found in Jesus Christ and in the pages of his New Testament. The volume you mentioned largely falls in this latter category.

      • I have to admit, that after being in your classes I find myself a little gun shy when delivering my Sunday sermons. I have been exercizing a high level of due diligence when it comes to fact checking before delivery. Answering to God for false teaching is not an experience I would relish! 🙂

        I find illustrations to be especially trecherous, it is amazing how often stories that have been debunked or are obvious urban myth are retold from the pulpit as truth.

  2. As it turns out, I’m preaching a sermon this coming Sunday on propitiation at Renfrew Baptist Church, Calgary (how’s that for shameless promotion!), and of course, the concepts of both wrath and love combine powerfully in this great biblical doctrine. The idea with propitiation (Romans 3:25; 1 John 2:2; 4:10) is that God, being holy/righteous/just, must punish human sin, if he is to be true to Himself, and that punishment expresses itself in wrath. (There are over 580 references to God’s wrath in the Old Testament, to use Leon Morris’ figure… Jerry has only given us scant few in the above). Anyway, at the cross of Christ, God pours out his wrath on human sin, only the One who absorbs/experiences that wrath is His (willing!) Son, instead of us. How’s that for an expression of God’s love to us?? Propitiation says that God Himself provides the peace offering (Jesus) in order to avert/pacify/appease/exhaust His own wrath. Hallelujah! God kills God for the likes of us. Wonder of wonders. The Christian conception of propitiation is decidedly different than the pagan conception, where the worshiper has to “bribe” his pagan god, who is fuming mad, in the hope that his (the worshiper’s) offering will avert the angry god’s wrath. Soooo, my conclusion: the wrath of God must be expressed against sin, as it is on the cross (Jesus absorbs God’s wrath), and in so doing, God’s love for us is put forth as being the inexplicable, amazing thing that it is! At the cross wrath and love combine.

    • Hi Brent. You can put a shameless promotion on this blog anytime you want to! I wish I could be there to hear that sermon. Perhaps there will be a podcast/mp3 of it?

      Perhaps you have come across the book, Where Wrath and Mercy Meet: Proclaiming the Atonement Today, edited by David G. Peterson. The book is a collection of essays by professors of Oak Hill Theological College in response to so-called evangelical criticisms of the doctrine of penal atonement. There has actually been a spate of books on both sides of the debate; but I mention this one in particular because the title captures the thought of your sermon very well.

      Let me make one slight correction. You said, “There are over 580 references to God’s wrath in the Old Testament, to use Leon Morris’ figure… Jerry has only given us scant few in the above.” So, just for the record, I actually didn’t give any at all. All of my references to God’s wrath were from the New Testament (hence the irony!).

      (By the way, readers, I’m hoping that, fairly soon, Brent will be posting one of his own biblical-theological papers on the blog).

      • Ah! I stand corrected. It just shows you that I should actually READ all the passages you posted, instead of just scrolling/skimming them. Ha ha. Thanks for the tip on the Petersen book. I am not familiar with it.

      • More shameless promotion: You asked, Jerry, about a possible MP3 of the upcoming sermon on propitiation? My sermon MP3s are posted on our church website: http://www.renfrewbaptist.ca.

        We began the 10-week series on the cross of Christ last Sunday. It is a series that I had – more or less- done in my days at Fellowship (Fort Sask.) but I am re-writing and revising the sermons for this go-around.

        • Thanks for the info, Brent. I will certainly check out this sermon series. Ten weeks, huh? How can you possibly find enough things to say about the cross of Christ to fill ten sermons? (just for the record, that’s a bit of sarcasm!)

  3. It seems to me that you’ve setup something of a straw man here. God is a God of wrath, love, compassion, mercy, holiness, righteousness, patience, etc. etc. in both Testaments, equally the same, if we read carefully and whole-canonically. I suspect that this is where you want to take us? (Having sat through many of your classes). ha ha.

    • Hi Jeff. Interestingly, Marcion didn’t just jettison the Old Testament. He didn’t like a lot of the New Testament either. His canon consisted of only Luke and some of the Pauline letters, and even for these books he used a pair of scissors. So I don’t think the redivivus version of the heretic would really be any different.

      Yes, Brent’s comments were right on track.

  4. A friend says, “If you don’t stir the pot, the soup is gonna burn.” Consider the pot well and thoroughly stirred.
    I would much rather be left with my safe and never wrathful version of God, thank you very much. If the Bible won’t let me jettison the Old Testament God of wrath in favour of a more cuddly New Testament version perhaps I must dispose of him entirely… or maybe the better route is to throw out our caricatures of God (idols?) and worship Him as the Bible teaches he is. This is a far more dangerous proposition than I ever imagined for he continually refuses to submit to my very good ideas.

  5. More to throw into the “pot of soup” (see Jonathan P.’s comment):

    In both the Old Testament and the New Testament, there seems to be some evidence of what Kenneth Bailey has called a “tension deep within the heart of God”; namely, a tension in the very life of God, between his judgment and his mercy; a tension, if you will, between His wrath and His love. To see this in the Old Testament, consider Hosea 11:8-9. To see it in the New Testament, consider Luke 13:6-9. So maybe there is an organic meshing of wrath and love in both Testaments, since both Testaments reveal the God who is the same yesterday, today and forever. (?)

    • Excellent comments, Brent. The only thing I would add is that we have to seriously consider whether this “tension deep within the heart of God” is one that actually exists in God’s own heart, or whether this is God’s accommodation to our understanding, God “lisping” to us, God talking to us in baby-talk, as Calvin said. On the other hand, even if this is accommodative language, it is authoritative accommodative language, and thus definitely a way which God has authorized for us to think about him. If I didn’t explain that very well, please come back at me.

  6. Is not his wrath an expression of his love? If someone attempts to kidnap my children I would exercise ‘wrath’ on that kidnapper: I would tackle him. I will come to blows with him. If I ‘win’ I would see that he comes to judgement. I would even kill for the life of my children.
    God’s wrath is such an expression of his love. He loves creation as it has been (and will be). He loves his people. Most importantly he loves his son. No one can stand against these things and expect God to ignore it.

  7. Well done, Jerry! My stomach turns when I hear talk of the Old Testament God and the New Testament God as though they are unique from each other – as though he has changed somehow – or as though there are two different Gods. I hope there will be more on these topics in the future!

  8. As I just read my comment above it sounds condescending. What I meant to describe is a “sinking feeling.” I’ve described God that way in the past and still catch myself thinking that way sometimes. 🙂

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