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The Two Sides of the Character of God: Love and Wrath

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People – those who are more ignorant of the Scriptures than they will admit – will often claim that there are contradictory images of God in the Bible, one of the loving God we see in Jesus, the other a wrathful God who, for example, told Israel to destroy the societies on Canaan. However, the problem isn’t the God that we see in Scripture, but rather the view of God from which they make their judgment.

What these people, whether professing Christians or honest unbelievers, fail to acknowledge is that they are judging God, as He is presented in the Bible, from a humanistic worldview, that is, from an assumption that people are inherently good and deserving of hugs, self-esteem, flowers, and all the other syrupy slogans that have become so common in our society. However, that isn’t the view of the Bible.

The worldview of the Bible includes the understanding that humans, from the moment of conception (Ps. 51:5), are wicked (Rom. 3:10-18), sinful (Is. 64:6, Jer. 17:9), and separated from God (Is. 59:2, Hab. 1:13). The Bible says that all men are “dead in trespasses and sins, by nature children of wrath” (Eph. 2:1-3). This is not a syrupy view!

Thus, we are forced to conclude that those who hold to this syrupy worldview are seeking to impose an anti-biblical presupposition onto a Bible that teaches a contrary worldview. Of course this results in conflict!

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In contrast, we must view the Bible from its own worldview. Consider Psalm 34:15-16:

The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous
     and His ears toward their cry.
The face of the Lord is against those who do evil,
    to cut off the memory of them from the earth.

In these two verses, an example of Hebrew parallelism, we see God in two distinct fashions: in the first two lines, there is a kind God; in the latter two lines, there is an unkind God, as the two sides of a single coin. Do these two verses confirm the view I described above? I am sure those folks would say so. But that would only be because they avoid considering the other side of the verses, i. e., to whom is God kind or unkind. The first reaction is to the “righteous,” an epithet for the people of God, or the Church. The second is to “those who do evil,” that is, those who are not His people (Rom. 1:18, 2:8). In other words, these verses – and the rest of Scripture – are far from teaching contradictory views of God. Rather, they reveal one God who responds with justice to different types of people! That is the fundamental error of the humanistic interpretation of scripture, not that there are two kinds of God, but that there are two kinds of people, and His reaction is distinguished by which type of person a particular individual is. God’s actions are always consistent with His nature.

For the man who submits to receive God on His terms, not ours, there is this message of kindness (Rom. 3:21-26):

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in His divine forbearance He had passed over former sins. It was to show His righteousness at the present time, so that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

This passage shows that God’s attitude to the particular individual is changeable. How does one move from the class of people under the wrath of God to the class under His love? Through Jesus Christ alone. If you fear the wrathful God revealed in Scripture, as the unbeliever should, then He calls you to give up your unbelief, receive Him as He is offered in Scripture, and then you will be under His love (John 1:12), no longer under His wrath (Rom. 5:9).


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