You probably had textbooks in school. For me, they were bricks in my bag, but for many students today they might be a bit lighter and electronic. The textbooks in my day included a glossary in the back. Whenever a glossary term appeared in the text, they were bolded. Those bolded terms signaled to the reader, “If you don’t know what this word means, please look it up in the glossary.”
We need to do the same thing with the term “wrath of God,” which appears frequently in the Bible. Many have misread this term thinking it means that God flies off the handle from time to time, overwhelmed in a flurry of angry passion against you or me. However, if we look at how this term is used of God throughout the Bible, we find the term means something different.
The Bible tells us that emotions could never overwhelm God. For God to fly off the handle in fiery anger would contradict his character, which would make God something less than God. The wrath of God refers to God’s measured displeasure against all sin and evil. A key passage comes from The Letter to the Romans, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men and women, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth (Romans 1:18).”
We get a taste of God’s wrath – albeit an imperfect one – when we feel wrath toward a great injustice we witness. When we sense anger at Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine, we have a sense of God’s wrath.
However, God’s wrath will always differ from human wrath. God always sees the situation perfectly clearly. He sees the motives of the heart. He knows the mitigating circumstances. He holds no bias and will not ignore an offense nor overreact at another. To uphold his justice God must meet ungodliness and unrighteousness with wrath. A God who did otherwise could hardly be called good.
We might complain about God’s wrath, “Oh how mean, why would I ever want to believe in a wrathful God?” However, when we do, we only display the attitude of a child rightly in time out for doing something wrong, kicking, screaming, saying things like, “You’re mean; I don’t like you,” at one of the people in his life who cares deeply for him.
Even more than a parent, God cares for us. His wrath never disconnects from everything else he is. Just as we later in life treasure the good lessons our parents taught us through appropriate discipline, we ought to treasure God’s measured displeasure against our sin even more. His wrath reserved against us serves as a sign that we are headed in the wrong direction and need to change course. Ultimately, it serves to tell us to stop chasing sin and start pursuing his Son.