Justice and Wrath
God is a righteous judge, a God who displays His wrath every day. If He does not relent He will sharpen His sword, He will bend and string His bow. He has prepared His deadly weapons; He makes ready His flaming arrows … I will sing the praises of the Name of the LORD Most High
…taken from Psalm 7:11-17
The Lord is the true God; He is the living God, the eternal King. When He is angry the earth trembles; the nations cannot endure His wrath
We have seen before in our studies that the attributes of God blend together, shaping and informing one another within the glorious beauty of His holiness. This is no less the case when we come to attributes such as Justice and Wrath. We are not suddenly confronted with a deviation from the ‘real’ nature of God. The familiar idea that somehow God’s justice and wrath stand against His grace and love is utterly false. They are not in conflict with each other within the being of God. We don’t need to ‘balance’ them against each other, or hold them ‘in tension’, but rather to integrate them deeply. Failure here will lead to an idol. Justice is present in His mercy (I John1:9) and after a summer series in the Minor Prophets, I hope we have grasped that He judges because He is a God of love. When we grasp that God loves His glory in His Son, and His Church, then we understand why He is implacably opposed to all that harms either or both.
The idea of justice corresponds to the fact that God will treat people in accordance with His judgement of them. Our struggle (such as it is) with God’s justice, and the wrath that lies behind it, is that we simply aren’t sure that ‘sin’ is really so prevalent (Jude 15), nor so bad as to demand such extreme punishment. And we aren’t sure because we have so little sense of the preciousness of the glory of Christ, or the Church. Or perhaps our struggle is that we read the Bible so little, while assuming with such certainty we know what God is like. We might be surprised – if we read the Bible consecutively – just how frequently the Bible speaks of God’s wrath and judgement, and by the intensity of the language (see e.g. Is.63:1-6; Jer.7:20; Nah.1:2-8; Rom.2:5-8 etc.). It is only by avoiding much of the Bible that we can avoid appreciating the glorious, holy, pure, balanced, measured, appropriate, righteous, personal, implacable justice of God. It is the unflinching testimony of the Scriptures that God hates sin and evil in all its forms with an eternal ferocity (e.g. Psalm 5:4-5; 11:5; Zech.8:17), and that He will not sheath His sword of justice until His last enemy is slain (Rev.19:15).
As Christians, our meditation on the wrath and justice of God needs to be set firmly in the context of the cross: the vindication of God’s justice (Rom.3:25-26). Not only does a deepening vision of His wrath and Justice deepen our joy and worship for the cross, but it also strengthens our confidence that Christ, in His love for His bride gave Himself up for her, to be exposed to that wrath and to endure the justice of His Father on her behalf, and gives us firm ground on which to stand as we gaze on that justice (Rom.5:10; I Thess.1:10, 5:9). As we gaze on the cross, we have no fear that God’s indignation is disproportionate, or that His justice will somehow be shown to be unjust. He cannot but be just. His reign is built on justice (Ps. 89:14, Ps.51:4). He is the standard of justice. His anger burns at the right things, in the right way, to the right extent. His indignation is just, and He does not make mistakes or say or do things that He will later regret. We should be careful before we accuse the Lord and discredit His justice (Job 40:8). Rather we gaze at the cross and understand that this is how terrible sin must be.
When all is said and done there is no room for triumphalism. We don’t voyeuristically rejoice in the prospect of the wrath of Him who sits on the throne and of the Lamb (Rev.6:16). As one old Scottish preacher asked when an associate declared he had recently preached on the Judgement of God, ‘Ay, but did you do it with tears in your eyes?’ When Paul reflects on the justice of God against His own people, He confesses to having great sorrow and unceasing anguish in his heart, and wishes that he himself could be cut off from Christ for the sake of his people (Rom.9:2-3). He learned this from his Master (Matt.23:37). It is one thing to think rightly about God’s wrath and justice. It is another thing altogether to feel rightly about it.
Jonathan Edwards once wrote, ‘Almost every natural man (sic) who hears about hell flatters himself that he shall escape it’. Do you agree with him? Why do you think it is? He says ‘Almost…’ who do you think the exceptions might be?
Read Romans 1:18-32. What do you make of the idea that God’s wrath is being revealed now, within history? Is it would be right to speak of military and political conquests; natural disasters; plagues etc. as expressions of the wrath of God? Can you think of passages where they are spoken of in this way?
Would you conclude that Britain was currently being given over as a result of the revealing of God’ wrath? Why / Why not? If you think the answer is yes, what is your response to that prospect?
Are you comfortable worshipping God for His justice and anger? Do you think it is a communicable attribute? Why / Why not?
Would it be appropriate for someone leading intercessions at MIE for the persecuted Church appropriating the words of Rev.6:10?
Do you think we should talk more about God’s justice and wrath in our evangelism? Why / Why not?
How would you counsel someone who said they couldn’t worship a God who sent people to hell?
The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord takes vengeance and is filled with wrath. The Lord takes vengeance on his foes and vents his wrath against his enemies. The Lord is slow to anger but great in power; the Lord will not leave the guilty unpunished … Who can withstand his indignation? Who can endure his fierce anger? His wrath is poured out like fire; the rocks are shattered before him.
Nahum 1:2-3 & 6
For further reflection
How often have you meditated on the justice of God, or the anger of God, finding expression in the judgement of the wicked? Here is a section from a sermon preached a couple of hundred years ago, called ‘Sinners in the hands of an angry God’ preached by Jonathan Edwards, 8th July 1741. Before you read it, know that God used this sermon to instigate one of the greatest revivals the world has ever seen, and many fled to Jesus to find refuge in Him.
‘Your wickedness makes you as heavy as lead, and to tend downwards with great weight and pressure towards hell; and if God should let you go, you would immediately sink and swiftly descend and plunge into the bottomless gulf … There are the black clouds of God’s wrath now hanging directly over your heads, full of the dreadful storm, and big with thunder; and were it not for the restraining hand of God, it would immediately burst forth upon you. The sovereign pleasure of God, for the present, stays His rough wind; otherwise it would come with a fury and your destruction would come like the whirlwind, and you would be like the chaff of the summer threshing floor’.
What do you make of it? Would you appreciate hearing preaching like this in MIE? Why / why not? Would you bring someone to an evangelistic event if you knew this sort of thing would be preached?
 The love of the Father for His Son (and vice versa!) is the most common way the Bible speaks of the love of God. Does God feel the same way about His Spirit? On the one hand there is little explicit reference to His love for the Spirit, on the other, it is strange to think that one Person of the Trinity would be unloved. Perhaps Matt.12:31 gives us a sense of how precious the Spirit is within the life of God (footnote starts on back page!)