A lot of people assume that because I am a pastor that I have it all together—at least spiritually. They assume that I roll over each morning, open my eyes, and sigh with contentment, “Good morning, Lord!” Then I grab the harp beside my bed and pluck out a few psalms I composed in my dreams. Spiritually refreshed and smiling, I go downstairs where all my kids sit around the table with their Bibles open. In unison they say, “Daddy, teach us God’s Word before we start the day.”
But that’s not typically how my day starts. Usually I wake up to the sound of one kid complaining that his sister put her fingers in his milk. My first thought is not usually, “Good morning, Lord,” but something more along the lines of, “Good Lord . . . is it already morning?” And after dinner when I say, “Hey kids, let’s read the Bible,” they say, “Not yet, Dad. Mom promised us thirty minutes of TV time.”
So my life may look a lot more like yours than you think. The questions I ask about God and faith are probably not that different from yours, either. Like many, I’ve struggled with the concept of God’s wrath. Many believe it’s unfair. What was so bad about a bite from a forbidden fruit? Or what could we possibly do during our eighty years on earth that could warrant an eternity in hell?
Even the great C. S. Lewis admitted, “There is no doctrine which I would more willingly remove from Christianity than this, if it lay in my power.” I’ve often felt the same way. Give me a divine eraser and an hour, and I’ll give you a Bible without God’s wrath.
But we can’t remove God’s wrath from the Bible. And I want to show you in this chapter that if we properly understood it, we wouldn’t want to remove it. It’s an essential part of God’s goodness.
GOD’S WRATH IS REAL
If you take your Bible seriously at all, there’s no denying the existence of God’s wrath. The Old and New Testaments are filled with more than six hundred references to it. In the Psalms, David tells us that God is “angry with the wicked every day” (Ps 7:11 NLT).
This is another place many assume a big “gap” between the Old and New Testaments. God got a lot nicer in the New Testament. He grew up a little and came back to earth as God 2.0., Jesus-the-meek-and-mild.
Growing up, that’s how I saw Jesus. I learned the gospel through “flannelgraph Jesus.” We had cutout figures for almost every moment of his life: Jesus with sheep on his shoulders, bread in his hands, or two fingers lifted in blessing. We didn’t have a “raining-down-judgment” Jesus, however. Nor can I recall a “flared-nostrils-and-a-bullwhip-in-his-hand” Jesus (Matt 21:12–17).
The wrath of God, however, was one of Jesus’s primary teaching themes. He said, “Whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them” (John 3:36). In Why I Am Not a Christian, skeptic Bertrand Russell admitted that the primary reason he couldn’t believe Jesus was because he believed in hell and taught about it “in one verse after another . . . again and again.” Russell called Christ’s belief in the wrath of God “the one serious defect in Christ’s moral character.”2
The Pharisees didn’t hate Jesus because of his effusive talk about God as the missing piece in their lives. They killed him because he told them that God’s wrath was coming upon them (Matt 23:13–36). Greear and David Jeremiah, Not God Enough: Why Your Small God Leads to Big Problems (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2018).
We have just released a new Bible Study based on J.D. Greear’s newest book, Not God Enough. These lessons are available on Amazon, as we as a part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription Service. Like Netflix for Bible Lessons, one low subscription gives you access to all our lessons–thousands of them. For a medium-sized church, lessons are as little as $10 per teacher per year.