I’m certain that everyone has heard of Jonathan Edwards, that famous preacher who taught us how we are sinners in the hands of an angry God and how we are all damned to Hell. He was one of the first “fire and brimstone preachers”. He is famous for his Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. He was also a Calvinist preacher. I’ve written on Calvinism before so you know how much I find it to be theologically ridiculous and theologically harmful to the genuine Truth of Christianity. So the question is this – Are we really in the hands of an angry God? Does this even logically hold up with what we know of God revealing himself in the Bible? Calvinists think so. But then again, Calvinists have a lot of homework to do before they begin receiving ecumenism back into the historic, Orthodox and Catholic faith.
People who advocate this idea of a wrathful God find any notion against it to be un-Biblical. In fact, I’m probably going to upset a lot of my more fundamentalist Christian relatives if they see this post but that doesn’t really bother me. There are a lot of verses that really do seem to suggest that God has a lot of wrath toward some people and that he in fact is really hateful toward them. But the problem is that a lot of these verses have been taken out of their broader, salvific context and distorted in order to create a more monstrous God.
The first question that should be asked is this – Did God actually forsake Jesus on the cross? Why is this question so important? Many Evangelical Christians think God forsook and turned his back on his own Son when he died on the cross. This allows them to feed on this heretical idea of a wrathful God. But the truth is that God never forsook his Son on the cross.
Matthew 27:46 – περὶ δὲ τὴν ἐνάτην ὥραν ἀνεβόησεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς φωνῇ μεγάλῃ λέγων· Ἠλὶ ἠλὶ, λιμᾶ σαβαχθανί; τοῦτ’ ἔστι Θεέ μου, Θεέ μου, ἱνατί με ἐγκατέλιπες; (Byzantine Majority Text)
Acts 2:27 – ὅτι οὐκ ἐγκαταλείψεις τὴν ψυχήν μου εἰς ᾍδου, οὐδὲ δώσεις τὸν ὅσιόν σου ἰδεῖν διαφθοράν. (Byzantine Majority Text)
Acts 2:31 – προϊδὼν ἐλάλησεν περὶ τῆς ἀναστάσεως τοῦ χριστοῦ, ὅτι οὐ κατελείφθη ἡ ψυχὴ αὐτοῦ εἰς ᾍδου, οὐδὲ ἡ σὰρξ αὐτοῦ εἴδεν διαφθοράν. (Byzantine Majority Text)
We see in these three texts, the exact same word for forsaken/abandoned are used. And in two of the three, Jesus is not abandoned by God. So this creates a huge contradiction when it comes to a strictly literalistic rendering of the Word of God. Was Jesus abandoned or was he not abandoned? Or perhaps Matthew 27:46 is actually meant to teach us something about our own relationship with God. We are broken people. Jesus is citing Psalm 22:1. The author writing this Psalm is broken. He feels distant and away from God. Jesus feels abandoned by God in his state of suffering but he himself was God the Son so how could the Trinity be separated! Jesus only felt abandoned by God. He was not abandoned by God.
Romans 1:18 – For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth. (RSV Catholic Edition)
Romans 1:26 – For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. (RSV Catholic Edition)
It is very interesting and intriguing to me how in Romans 1:18 it talks about God’s wrath upon all the wickedness but yet, in 1:26, it talks about how God gave these people up to their own dishonorable passions. Why would a wrathful God ever do that? Just allow people to go about their own way. It reminds me of Rob Bell’s book Love Wins where he demonstrates that God’s supreme desire is for all to come to him but even still, he gives into what people ultimately want.
1 Timothy 2:3-4 – This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (RSV Catholic Edition)
And when we look at the life of Jesus as depicted in the Gospels, we see Jesus missing out on opportunity after opportunity to really harp on someone who just wasn’t living up to his standards. We see he meets a women who has been in several adulterous relationships and Jesus tells her all about herself that she never knew he knew. Jesus is denied by Peter and yet never once is wrathful or vengeful toward Peter. Jesus sees Zacchaeus in the tree. A tax-collector. And he says to him to get down and he spends the day in his house. Jesus is spat on and whipped and what does he do? He calls out an angel army to destroy these God-mockers! No. Just kidding. He says “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34, RSV Catholic Edition)
Colossians 3:5-6 – Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. (RSV Catholic Edition)
It is interesting to note how in every instance the wrath of God shows up, mercy is always most abundant in the author’s setting. If the wrath of God was actually real and not just a feeling, then I am 100% certain that we would be dead by now. We put up walls against God in Colossians 3:5-6 and Romans 1:18 because of our sinfulness and these walls cause grievous damage to our overall image of God. Because of this, we feel wrath as if it were from God. This is what the Bible actually describes when it talks about the wrath of God. It is describing our own brokenness and distortion that has caused us to see God as hostile toward us. We are broken and want to do the things we want and this leaves us even more broken. And we feel as if God is wrathful toward us when he isn’t.
Well what about the wrath we find directed toward nations such as Israel (Is. 51:17 and 22) and in verses such as Jer. 25:15, Hab. 2:15, Rev. 14:10, and 16:19. What we see in these passages is the cup of God’s wrath becoming a metaphor for the destruction of nations. Again, because of the terror they feel at their destruction, they view it as God pouring wrath onto them. But that does not mean God is wrathful toward them.
Have we made God a sinner by saying that he is wrathful? Yes we have. We see that wrath is actually one of the seven deadly sins.
Vices can be classified according to the virtues they oppose, or also be linked to the capital sins which Christian experience has distinguished, following St. John Cassian and St. Gregory the Great. They are called “capital” because they engender other sins, other vices. They are pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, and sloth or acedia. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1866)
I think it is time to dump this idea of a wrathful God before we end up realizing that we have created a chasm between us and him as well as between him and others who may want to enter into communion with him. God is love. Never once do we find “God is wrath”.
For additional sources and questions regarding God’s alleged wrath, I would highly recommend the following links.