“Holy Hostility”

That’s what John Stott calls God’s wrath.

Lately, I’ve been surfing blogs, podcasts and websites of folks who, burned by “the institutional church”, “organized religion”, “evangelicalism” or various other expressions of Christianity in the West, have taken to calling God “Dad” and talking about His great love. I’m not against that per se. I just find that at times it’s a bit reactionary and therefore unbalanced. These folks seem to be rushing from abject terror of the Cosmic Cop into the awaiting arms of a great Celestial Softy.

I think Stott’s commentary “What is God’s Wrath?” can help to restore balance. Afterall, since “Dad” is so crazy about us, then shouldn’t we expect Him to be hostile toward whatever and whoever would harm us? (Romans 1:18-32. 1) What is the wrath of God?

If we are to preserve the balance of Scripture, our definition of God’s anger must avoid opposite extremes. On the one hand, there are those who see it as no different from sinful human anger. On the other, there are those who declare that the very notion of anger as a personal attribute or attitude of God must be abandoned.
Human anger, although there is such a thing as righteous indignation, is mostly very unrighteous. It is an irrational and uncontrollable emotion, containing much vanity, animosity, malice and the desire for revenge. It should go without saying that God’s anger is absolutely free of all such poisonous ingredients.
The desire to eliminate any notion of God’s personal anger, as being absolutely unworthy of him, is usually associated with the name C.H.Dodd, whose commentary on Romans was published in 1932. He argued that ‘Paul never uses the verb “to be angry” with God as subject’, although he is often said to love, and that the noun *orge* (anger) is used only three times in the expression ‘the anger of God’, whereas it occurs constantly as ‘wrath’ or ‘the wrath’, without reference to God, ‘in a curiously impersonal way’. Dodd’s conclusion is that Paul retains the concept ‘not to describe the attitude of God to man, but to describe an inevitable process of cause and effect in a moral universe’. A.T.Hanson elaborated this view in *The wrath of the Lamb* (1959), maintaining that God’s wrath is ‘wholly impersonal’ and is ‘the inevitable process of sin working itself out in history’.
But the argument based on the comparative absence of the expression ‘the wrath of God’ in favour of ‘wrath’ or ‘the wrath’ is weak. For Paul treats grace similarly. At the end of Romans 5 he writes both of ‘the grace of God’ (15), and about ‘the grace’ which he nevertheless personifies as both ‘increasing’ (20) and ‘reigning’ (21), and which is the most personal of all God’s attributes. If then ‘grace’ is God acting graciously, ‘wrath’ must be God reacting in revulsion against sin. It is his ‘deeply personal abhorrence’ of evil.
The wrath of God, then, is almost totally different from human anger. It does not mean that God loses his temper, flies into a rage, or is ever malicious, spiteful or vindictive. The alternative to ‘wrath’ is not ‘love’ but ‘neutrality’ in the moral conflict. And God is not neutral. On the contrary, his wrath is his holy hostility to evil, his refusal to condone it or come to terms with it, his just judgement upon it.


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