On God’s Wrath
One way (not the only way) in which God’s wrath is spoken of in Scripture is that God sometimes removes His protection and allows people to feel the consequences of the sins to which they have given themselves. Rather than intervene, He lets the “reap what you sow” principle work, perhaps without His intervention. For example:
1. The Israelites were warned that if they mistreated others (sojourners, fatherless, widows), then “my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword” (Ex 22:24). God did not personally wield the sword, but He did it through others while removing HIs protection.
2. Saul was chastised because He did not carry out God’s wrath against Amalek (1 Sam 28:18). Had Saul done what he was told, God would not have protected the Amalekites.
3. The Lord’s wrath was kindled against Judah because of Manasseh, and God said He would remove them from His sight, which meant withdrawing His protection so that they would go into captivity (2 Kings 23:26-27).
This shows that sometimes the wrath of God was seen in one nation coming against another. God gave people over to their situation and would not protect them from the impending destruction.
This same basic idea can be seen in Romans 1, where “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (v. 18). How is this wrath manifested? By God giving them up to their destructive ways (vv. 24, 26, 28). “God gave them over” tells us that God leaves them to wallow in the consequences their own self-destruction. “And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up…” This coincides with Ephesians 4:19, where the people gave themselves up to their own evil ways. In these cases, it seems that the wrath of God is applied through God giving people over to what they had done to themselves. Rather than save them from themselves, He allows them to experience the self-destruction of their own ways. Their rebellion removes them from God’s protection as God gives them over to their own destructive desires.
It’s as if God says, “You don’t want Me in your lives? You don’t want my protection? You don’t want My rules? Have at it. Here is what you get when you are on your own. I am cutting you loose to feel the weight of your own sin and rebellion. How is that working for you?”
God warned Israel about this. There is a correlation between wrath and God removing His presence so that the protections they enjoyed with His presence are no longer available. Note Deuteronomy 31:17-18:
“Then my anger will be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them and hide my face from them, and they will be devoured. And many evils and troubles will come upon them, so that they will say in that day, ‘Have not these evils come upon us because our God is not among us?’ And I will surely hide my face in that day because of all the evil that they have done, because they have turned to other gods.”
This is what sin does. The wrath of God is experienced when we feel the weight and destruction of sin, particularly when we refuse to turn to God for reconciliation and redemption. To be without God is to find ourselves experiencing the destruction of what sin can do. This is God’s wrath. If we want to do things our own way without Him, He’ll give us over to the consequences of what that entails. Is this what we really want?
If we do not want God in our lives, then God will give us over to own desires. The consequences we suffer will be a manifestation of God’s wrath, but it will also be the natural consequences of losing out on God’s protections and help. By essentially telling God to get out of our lives, and by His respecting our free will to do what we desire, we judge ourselves unworthy of the eternal life He offers (cf. Acts 13:46). We cannot say that God was being mean and unfair to us. All we can say is that we received the consequences of our own desires.
Because Christ became sin for us, we can become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor 5:21). Much can be said about this with respect to what Jesus did for us, but for now let us be thankful and focus on this point:
“For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him” (1 Thess 5:9-10).
We need not experience the loss of God’s presence. We need not experience what it will be like to be given over to our own selfish destruction. Christ has made it so that we are not destined for wrath.