Can A Loving God Also Be Wrathful?

PCUSAThe new hymn, In Christ Alone, sets the Gospel in fine, tightly-knit lyrics, with singable music.

But in one case it has raised a serious theological question. A hymnal committee of the Presbyterian Church (USA) wants to include the hymn in its upcoming new hymnal, but they want to change one line.

The hymn as written says, “On that cross as Jesus died / the wrath of God was satisfied.”  The hymnal committee wants this to say instead, “On that cross as Jesus died / the love of God was magnified.” The composers will not agree to the change.

The hymnal committee would probably argue, how can the holy God whose love for sinners is boundless also be wrathful against their sins?

Consider the following analogy: The father of two boys loves them deeply. Throughout the community his love for them is observed and admired.

But one day as the father is walking home from work he glances down an alley and sees a big ruffian known to be a drug dealer taking them by force towards a nearby car.

Does the father stand there and say to himself, “Everyone knows of my great love for my sons; I am too loving to be angry about what I see.”  Instead, laying his life on the line, and at great risk, the father goes into action. Each state of mind — love and wrath — shows the other state to be real. Both compel him to do what’s necessary to rescue his sons.

We see this to an infinite degree in the character of God. Except that his wrath is more than the deep passing anger that humans experience. Wrath has to do with his settled and relentless opposition to sin. This is presented clearly in both Old and New Testaments.

In fact, in making his case to the young church in Rome for salvation through faith in Christ the Apostle Paul’s very first sentence refers to the wrath of God as follows: “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).

In that same letter he refers at least eight times to God’s wrath against sin. God’s wrath is the other side of his measureless love for sinners.

Moreover, the Psalter speak of God’s wrath at least 26 times and this sacred Psalter is the hymn book of the ancient church, used regularly in worship.

So what is to be done about God’s wrath? To identify fully with the predicament of mankind in our sins and to appease the wrath of a holy God against sin, Jesus came to die a substitutionary death offered for all, but given to those who turn to him in faith for salvation.

When we truly feel our plight as sinners we are drawn to Calvary where we understand that all sin is an offence to God’s holy character but God loves sinners enough provide a way to escape its consequences.

Here are the words to the contemporary hymn in question:

 

In Christ alone my hope is found

He is my light, my strength, my song;

This cornerstone, this solid ground,

Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.

What heights of love, what depths of peace,

When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!

My comforter, my all in all —

Here in the love of Christ I stand.

 

In Christ alone, Who took on flesh,

Fullness of God in helpless babe!

This gift of love and righteousness,

Scorned by the ones he came to save.

Till on that cross as Jesus died,

The wrath of God was satisfied,

For every sin on him was laid —

Here in the death of Christ I live.

 

There in the ground his body lay,

Light of the world by darkness slain;

Then bursting forth in glorious day,

Up from the grave He rose again!

And as he stands in victory,

Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me;

For I am His and He is mine —

Bought with the precious love of Christ.

 

No guilt in life, no fear in death —

This is the pow’r of Christ in me;

From life’s first cry to final breath,

Jesus commands my destiny.

No power of hell, no scheme of man,

Can ever pluck me from his hand,

Till he returns or calls me home —

Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.*

The essence of the Gospel pulsates in these lines. God’s wrath against sin is not to be trivialized or wished out of existence. But God’s love for sinners shines brightly into our lives from Calvary.

* Words and music by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend

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