The Heart of It All: The Nature and Character of God
April 24, 2012
by Peter Amsterdam
The Heart of It All: The Nature and Character of God
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(For an introduction and explanation regarding this series overall, please see The Heart of It All: Introduction.)
Note: This article continues the series on “The Nature and Character of God.” I would suggest that before reading this article (and a few more soon to follow), you review the earlier articles regarding God’s nature and character. God’s wrath is best understood in connection with God’s holiness, righteousness, justice, patience, mercy, love, and grace. The topic of God’s wrath typically raises many questions, including regarding salvation: What happens to those who don’t hear about Jesus in their lifetime? Or who are taught from their youth that Jesus was not God and therefore never had a fair opportunity to believe in Him? The topic of this article is God’s wrath as part of God’s nature and character as portrayed by Scripture. Other issues that come to mind, but that aren’t directly connected to that topic, will be covered in future articles such as those on the topics of salvation, God’s providence, the afterlife, heaven and hell, etc.
We have seen in earlier articles in this series that God’s nature and character includes His perfect holiness, righteousness, and justice. God’s wrath, or anger, against evil and sin is also an integral part of His nature. Because God is holy, He delights in holiness and goodness, and His very nature stands in opposition to sin. Because God loves those things which are holy and good and right, He has to abhor those things which aren’t. Simply put, God hates sin.
There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to Him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.
You are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with You. The boastful shall not stand before Your eyes; You hate all evildoers. You destroy those who speak lies; the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.
What God’s Wrath Is, and Isn’t
God hates evil. He hates what it does to humanity. He hates the damage it does to those whom He loves, which is everyone. He loves us deeply and is opposed to and abhors those things which hurt and destroy us. His anger isn’t rage or temper that is out of control; it’s not that God loses His temper and flies off the handle and destroys people or things. He is holy, and His anger is what happens when His holiness and righteousness encounter sin.
Authors Lewis and Demarest put it this way:
Concerned for the well being of His creatures, God can only be repulsed by the injustice, unrighteousness and corruption that destroys their health physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. The Bible frequently speaks of God’s righteous anger with the evil that would destroy His people and their work in the world. Righteous indignation is anger aroused, not by being overcome by emotions irrationally or selfishly, but by an altruistic concern for people who are suffering from injustice, selfishness, greed, lust, envy, jealousy, and lack of self-control in any respect. In a way such as this God detests evil.
Theologian John Theodore Mueller wrote:
He [God] is the Author of all holiness and stands in direct opposition to sin.
Theologian Wayne Grudem succinctly states:
God’s wrath means that He intensely hates all sin.
Because of God’s nature, there is no other option than for Him to despise sin. Anything else would be denying His nature. If God didn’t hate sin, what would that mean? That He accepts and tolerates it? That He doesn’t like it but doesn’t mind it so much? That He’s indifferent to it? For Him to have any attitude other than hatred of and separation from sin would mean that He is not intrinsically holy or righteous or just, and thus He wouldn’t be God.
A holy love of the ethically good and a holy hatred of the ethically evil are intrinsic to the divine agency … We can’t think of them apart. To separate them in thought would require us to think God apathetically indifferent as between righteousness and sin.
While wrath sometimes expresses utter destruction in Scripture, it is more often used to express God’s righteous anger toward sin. Most of the times when the word wrath is used in the Old Testament, it doesn’t mean physical destruction and punishment, but rather God’s anger toward sin. There have been times when God’s wrath at sin resulted in destruction, due to the total depravity and unrepentant nature of the people of the time, as in the flood and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Understanding that God’s holiness necessitates His repulsion toward sin and His separation from it helps bring to light His love and mercy. He has shown and continues to show love and mercy to all through providing the means by which sin can be forgiven.
An example of God’s hatred of sin in connection to His wrath was His reaction to the children of Israel’s sin in setting up, sacrificing to, and worshipping the golden calf when Moses was on Mount Sinai for forty days and nights.
The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. Now therefore let Me alone, that My wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.”
After Moses earnestly begged the Lord to turn from His burning anger, the Lord had mercy.
The Lord relented from the disaster that He had spoken of bringing on His people.
God’s Mercy and Patience in Connection with His Wrath
Besides showing God’s wrathful anger at sin, these passages also express some of His other attributes—His love, mercy, and patience. Examples of His patience, love, and mercy are evident throughout the Old Testament. He showed Himself to be loving and kind through forgiving His people when they would repent of their sins. He was patient with Israel for generation after generation, in spite of their idol worship and turning their back on Him numerous times. God’s mercy to the undeserving, and His willingness to lovingly give people time to repent, is seen throughout the Old Testament from beginning to end.
While God’s wrath is spoken of more often in the Old Testament, it is also addressed in the New Testament.
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.
The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, He will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.
Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of Their wrath has come, and who can stand?”
God’s necessary response to sin and His punishment of it—His wrath—exists; and because no one is righteous, and every person has sinned, if it were not for God’s mercy and longsuffering and His plan of salvation and redemption, all of humanity in its natural state would be destined for punishment for our sins, destined for His wrath.
As it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one.”
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
God is holy, and mankind is sinful, and thus mankind is separated from God. However, while God by nature abhors sin, His nature is also love, mercy, and grace, which are manifest in His going to the ultimate in His love for humankind to make forgiveness of sin possible. The Logos, God the Son, became incarnate, lived a sinless life, and died a horrible death, out of deep love—to make it possible for humanity to be reconciled to God. He suffered the punishment of God’s wrath for our sins in our place.
Freedom from Wrath
God’s wrath is a sobering and fearful thing. However, the depth of God’s love for every single human being, as evidenced by His sacrifice, should leave us with no doubt as to His goodness, love, and mercy. He doesn’t wish for any to perish. He wants all to reach repentance. He has made it possible to avoid His anger and wrath through Jesus taking it upon Himself.
He was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the punishment that made us whole, and by His bruises we are healed.
Lewis and Demarest express it this way:
Because of the propitiatory provision of Christ’s death, God can look upon believers without displeasure and believers can be reconciled to God. “God presented Him [Christ] as a sacrifice of atonement through faith in His blood.”
Since God’s wrath has been turned away, we can enjoy reconciliation to God. Christ not only removed wrath, but reconciled all things in heaven and earth, making peace through His blood shed on the cross. We who formerly feared God’s wrath now rejoice in the Father’s presence. God does not impute our sins to us; to believers He imputes Christ’s righteousness.
God’s love turned His own wrath to peace by Christ’s atonement.
When writing of Jesus taking our punishment, Theologian J. Rodman Williams states:
All the wrath of God Almighty was poured out upon Him … The weight of the divine fury directed against sin at the cross is humanly inconceivable. This was God in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, enduring our condemnation and punishment, dying for the sins of all mankind. Christ bore our punishment! Our wholly deserved judgment and death He has fully borne. This is vicarious punishment—beyond all human measure. Christ experienced the full consequences of our sinful condition.
Because of God’s love, because of Jesus taking the punishment for humanity’s sins upon Himself, all those who accept Jesus are delivered from the wrath of God.
Since, therefore, we have now been justified by His blood, much more shall we be saved by Him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life.
To wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.
The present natural state of man is separation from God because of sin. This results in being condemned to punishment in the afterlife. Those who believe in Jesus aren’t condemned, because He has taken their punishment. Those who refuse to accept the salvation He offers carry on in the condemnation and separation from God that they already have. Salvation offers a change from the status quo of condemnation. Jesus didn’t come to earth to condemn people, but rather to save them from the condemnation they already have due to the inherently sinful and fallen nature of humankind. If they accept Him, they won’t perish. If they choose not to accept Him, they carry on in the condemnation that is humanity’s natural condition.
Jesus explained it to Nicodemus this way:
God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
God is true to all of His nature and character. In His holy, righteous, just, loving, merciful, and gracious nature, He has brought about a means for reconciliation between Him and His creation. Jesus’ sacrifice, His death on the cross, has made it possible for people to not have to suffer God’s righteous judgment for their sins, and thus to avoid experiencing His wrath.
This is truly the love of God toward humanity. Of course, for people to be aware of and understand God’s offer of reconciliation, they need to hear about it. Those of us who are freed from the wrath of God, who are already reconciled with Him through Jesus, are called by Him to share this wonderful good news with the world.
All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us.
You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Other versions cited are The New International Version (NIV), the New American Standard Bible (NASB), The New Revised Standard Version (NRS), The New King James Version (NKJV), and the King James Version (KJV).
 Proverbs 6:16–19.
 Psalm 5:4–6.
 Gordon R. Lewis and Bruce A. Demarest, Integrative Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), Vol 1, p. 236.
 John Theodore Mueller, Christian Dogmatics, A Handbook of Doctrinal Theology for Pastors, Teachers, and Laymen (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1934), 172.
 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 206.
 John Miley, Systematic Theology (New York: Hunt and Eaton, 1892), 201.
 Exodus 32:9–10.
 Exodus 32:14.
 John 3:36 NIV.
 Romans 1:18.
 Romans 2:6–8.
 Revelation 6:15–17.
 Romans 3:10.
 Romans 3:23.
The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 2 Peter 3:9.
 Isaiah 53:5 NRS.
 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. Romans 3:25.
 For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross. Colossians 1:19–20.
 We also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. Romans 5:11.
 In Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 2 Corinthians 5:19.
 Gordon R. Lewis and Bruce A. Demarest, Integrative Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), Vol 2, p. 406.
 Gordon R. Lewis and Bruce A. Demarest, Integrative Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), Vol 3, p. 154.
J. Rodman Williams, Renewal Theology, Systematic Theology from a Charismatic Perspective (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 359.
 Romans 5:9–10.
 1 Thessalonians 1:10.
 John 3:17–18.
 2 Corinthians 5:18–20.
 Ephesians 2:1–9.