God’s love implies wrath

August 1, 2013

Imagine a group of Calvinists not wanting to sing about the wrath of God!

But—oh yeah—this is the rapidly declining mainline group of Calvinists known as the PC(USA). Of course their hymnal committee wanted to modify this unfashionable couplet from Keith Getty/Stuart Townend contemporary hymn “In Christ Alone”: “Till on that cross as Jesus died/the wrath of God was satisfied.”

They wanted to replace it with the following, instead: “…as Jesus died/the love of God was magnified.”

Getty and Townend refused the change. Therefore, the new Presbyterian hymnal will not include the popular hymn—which is a shame because it’s theologically rich, not to mention orthodox.

As Timothy George correctly observes, many modern-day Christians feel squeamish about God’s wrath because they mistakenly believe that it stands in opposition to his love and grace.

[I]n his brilliant essay, “The Wrath of God as an Aspect of the Love of God,” British scholar Tony Lane explains that “the love of God implies his wrath. Without his wrath God simply does not love in the sense that the Bible portrays his love.” God’s love is not sentimental; it is holy. It is tender, but not squishy.  It involves not only compassion, kindness, and mercy beyond measure (what the New Testament calls grace) but also indignation against injustice and unremitting opposition to all that is evil.

I wonder if both theological conservatives and liberals often accept the same premise: that God’s wrath is something other than a manifestation of God’s love. Southern Baptist theologian Denny Burk, for example, doesn’t mention love in his blog post about the Presbyterian dust-up.

I wish someone would say the following: on the cross, where Jesus died, two things happened at once: the wrath of God was satisfied and the love of God was magnified. Both are equally true.

13 Responses to “God’s love implies wrath”

  1. Clay Knick Says:

    Yes! But we mainliners can’t talk about wrath or judgment any longer since we don’t believe in either or are worried someone (a millennial!) might be listening and get offended.

    • brentwhite Says:

      Clay, I’m so glad you said that! That’s exactly right. I’m so sick of hearing (from Rachel Held Evans, especially) about millennials, and what they like or dislike about the church. Who cares? All we can do is be faithful, you know?

      You’re also right to imply that if we don’t believe in judgment anymore, then this talk of wrath is nonsensical.

  2. Tom Harkins Says:

    Brent, I find “love” and “wrath” (or, perhaps even better, “hatred”) to be on a “love continuum.” It is somewhat like a thermometer, with “room temperature” being “normal,” and above that “hot” and below that “cold.” But it is all part of the same thing–the relative presence or absence of “heat.” Similarly, those who accept Christ receive his love (greater or lesser as we are more or less faithful) and those who refuse Christ receive his wrath (greater or lesser based on their evil) (or, hatred?–“Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated”). But it is all part of the same thing–the relative presence or absence of “love.” Perhaps not the best analogy, but it is helpful to me.

    The key to the thing as I see it is that the nature of love is “conditional.” Freely offered to all, but only “retained” to the extent of the “response.” Cf. John 14:21 (“Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him….”) (NIV). This is pictured, in my view, with what Jesus told his disciples when he sent them out. “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you.” Luke 10:5-6 (NIV). I recognize this view of love borders on heresy in today’s “pop theology,” but it seems to me to be entirely biblical. Given this viewpoint, seeing wrath as being consistent with “love” falls right into place.

    (I recognize that “nothing can separate us from the love of God,” as Paul says in Romans, but we must recall that this statement is made to Christians, who by definition have “accepted” the love offer. And as to relative “degrees,” I don’t know if I can put my finger on a particular verse for those who are Christians, but I think it is there as well considering scripture as a whole (including differing rewards), and “those who know the law and do not keep it will be beaten with many stripes, but those who do not know it and do not keep it will be beaten with few stripes.” Also, I note that in some translations, Daniel is spoken of by Gabriel as being “GREATLY beloved.” Anyway, that is my view.)


  3. “Denny Burk, for example, doesn’t mention love in his blog post about the Presbyterian dust-up.”

    There’s no room for love in a world full of asinine faux-omniscient declarations (like “the cross itself is the stumbling block, and that is why the PCUSA cannot abide this hymn”). Burk’s the kind of guy who reads Jeremiah 17:9 and thinks he’s the answer to the question.

  4. Tom Harkins Says:

    Brendt, I’m not sure I follow what you are saying here. Do you think “there is no room for love” in the world based on some statements that seem harsh? (If that is what you are saying?) Regardless of whether the cross is a stumbling block to some people, surely the presence or absence of love itself cannot be determined by such a belief (stumbling block) on someone’s part. There is a lot of evidence of love regardless.

    I think Brent’s point is that the existence of wrath does not defeat the simultaneous existence of love, since actually love for some persons means wrath towards other persons who harm those who are loved. Also, God is properly wrathful for disobedience on all our parts, and it took the cross to deal with that wrath, which thereby “exonerates” who accept the sacrifice that the cross accomplished. Thus, that action of God (Christ’s death on the cross) thereby simultaneously manifests both wrath and love. I guess I would say that someone who does not accept the wrath aspect of the cross has a deficient understanding of God, including his love. I don’t know what Denny Burk may have said or meant, but that would be my take on this issue.


    • Tom, I didn’t say “THE world”, I said “A world” — more specifically Burk’s sad little world. Note the Burk quote I cited there. He has no evidence whatsoever to support such a definitive statement. He is claiming to be omniscient and able to tell us the hearts and minds of those PCUSA guys. Claims of omniscience are claims of divinity. Jesus was executed for claiming to be God — and He actually was.

      So re-phrasing my statement, Burk has left no room in his world for love, so it’s not surprising that he doesn’t mention it.

      As for Brent, I agree completely with him. He’s a smart cookie even if his collegiate loyalties are somewhat skewed. 🙂 (I went to GT with him and he doesn’t hate UGA nearly enough.)

      • brentwhite Says:

        What?! For the record, I couldn’t hate UGA more! I have nothing but wrath toward the University of Georgia.


      • I seem to recall earlier statements that implied you had mellowed some. Glad to see the prodigal has returned. THWG!

      • brentwhite Says:

        What I might have indicated is that, due to the fact that I minister among UGA fans, I have to be a little low-key about my hatred. But the hatred burns brightly.

        Tom Harkins, meanwhile, lives in or near Dallas. I never asked where his college football loyalties lie.

      • Tom Harkins Says:

        Fort Worth. Duke grad from law school. Go Devils!

      • brentwhite Says:

        At least you’re ACC! You can appreciate what it’s like for Brendt and me in the heart of the SEC.


      • Yeah, but Brent, we were there in the era of Baby Hurley. Not sure that Duke is that much better. 🙂


  5. […] his brief, but excellent article, Brent White* argues that “God’s love implies [His] wrath”. White quotes Timothy […]


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