Is God really capable of wrath?
God has been blamed for the problems of humanity ever since Adam and Eve committed their first sins in Eden. Adam said: “the woman you put here with me–she gave me some fruit from the tree” (Genesis 3:12). Later Eve said: “The serpent deceived me, and I ate” (v. 13). God did not get angry, nor did He punish them; He merely reminded them that there are consequences to actions short on love. Indeed, lack of love is responsible for all sins, and all the pain and suffering in our world. Lack of love makes humans untrustworthy, thus it makes them dangerous towards one another to the point of self-destruction, not because God punishes them with death.
Today most people recognize that misguided religions produce the kind of mutual distrust that will soon bring about mutual oblivion upon the world. I am not making that prediction, the Bible does (see Mark 13:19-20). This mutual destruction is not a punishment from God, it is the natural consequence of a world where there is lack of love.
Insurance companies use the expression “acts of God.” The implication is that God destroys people, blaming Him for causing tsunamis, earthquakes, tornadoes and floods. It is probably true that God does not prevent such events from occurring, which He would do if humans were unconditionally loving towards one another. The wrath of God is not anger, as it is often portrayed by religious figures. In fact, that word is probably mistranslated, because in pagan mentality the gods are eager to punish human misbehavior. The Only True God, does not.
Isaiah the prophet makes mention of God’s “strange act” (Isaiah 28:21-22). This act is often believed to be His anger towards the guilty. How could a loving God destroy the guilty? In reality there is another way to look at this strange act. Consider how strange it would be for a person to be in a position to prevent a murder while failing to do so! God is clearly in that position. He has the power to prevent every single act of violence in this world, but He does not. Strange indeed! But if God took action to prevent all forms of violence, He would impose His will on people He created free. This would in turn destroy the very freedom they must enjoy to be loving. God does not want to remote control His created beings, this would be an insult to the very intelligence He has given them. He created them with the mental capability to be loving. Retracting the freedom God has given us would be pure tyranny on His part, and love would no longer be possible.
Paul explains the nature of God’s wrath: “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness” (Romans 1:18, emphasis supplied). A bit later Paul says that “God gave them over to shameful lusts” (v. 26). That is the way Paul understands the so called “wrath” of God, He allowed them to do shameful things. In other words, God avoids intervening in human actions as much as possible. He allows evil to follow its course knowing that it leads inevitably to mutual and self- destruction. Paul goes so far as to say: “Since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind…they became filled with every kind of wickedness, evil greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice” (Romans 1:27-28, emphasis supplied).
The so called wrath or anger of God should probably not be called by these words. In Paul’s statement the Greek word translated “wrath” or “anger” is orge. It is an internal disposition, a painful disposition of heart founded on one’s passions. God’s passion is love, and He is unwilling to do anything that has the potential to destroy love.
In Hebrew the word is ‘aph. This word can also mean countenance, or face. In a passage of the Old Testatment, let us transpose the word “wrath” and use “countenance” instead: “The displeasure of God will not pull back until He fully realizes the purpose of His heart, which is the fulfillment of His countenance. In days to come, you will understand this” (Jeremiah 30:24, my translation, and NIV).
Indeed, the purpose of salvation is to restore the image of God, or the countenance of God in humans. It is the restoration of what God is by nature: The restitution of His infinite and unconditional love in the human heart. And yes, “In days to come,” we will finally “understand this” incredible universal truth. May this day come soon, the world desperately needs that understanding.