by George Sidney Hurd
The wrath of God is without a doubt the most misunderstood of all divine attributes. Those of the Augustinian persuasion often present God’s wrath in a manner inconsistent with His essential nature, which is love (1Jn 4:8,16). On the other hand, Progressive Christians tend to redefine His wrath in such a manner as to exclude all anger – even in the face of great evil and injustice.
Since those that hold to the doctrine of eternal torment believe that those consigned to the Lake of Fire will forever be the subjects of God’s unmitigated wrath without any redemptive purpose, they must present God’s nature as being divided. They must say that, while God is love, He is at the same time wrath, and that this love/wrath duality in the divine nature will endure throughout all eternity. Rather than God’s wrath against wickedness resulting in just judgments and corrective punishments with a view to the restoration of the objects of His love, they must present God’s love and mercy as forever ending in a heartbeat for the majority of mankind for whom Christ died. Some Calvinists, and even Martin Luther himself, actually have taught that God’s essential nature is divided, and that all things occur according to His either having eternally loved or eternally hated individuals. Luther said:
“The love and hate of God towards men are immutable and eternal, existing, not merely before there was any merit or work of ‘free-will,’ but before the world was made; [so] all things take place in us of necessity, according as He has from eternity loved or not loved... Faith and unbelief come to us by no work of our own, but through the love and hatred of God” 
However, the Scriptures indicate that it is God’s love and mercy that is eternal and never comes to an end, not His hatred and wrath:
“Love never ends…” (1Cor 13:8 ESV)
“Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good!
For His mercy endures forever.” (1Chron 16:34, cf. Psa 118, etc.)
“For the Lord will not cast off forever. 32 Though He causes grief, yet He will show compassion according to the multitude of His mercies. 33 For He does not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men.” (Lam 3:31-33)
“For I will not contend forever, nor will I always be angry; For the spirit would fail before Me, and the souls which I have made.” (Isa 57:16)
Have you ever heard someone speak of God’s “eternal wrath?” Did you know that such a concept never appears in the Bible? On the contrary, it is His love and mercy which are unending, not His wrath. God here says that He will not always be angry, lest the spirit and souls of those whom He made should fail before Him. It is inconceivable that a loving omniscient God would bring souls into existence, knowing from the very beginning that they would become the objects of His unending vindictive wrath – It is impossible that an all-wise benevolent Creator should create beings, knowing from the very beginning that He would be angry with them forever!
Rightly understood, wrath is a temporal contingent attribute of God’s essential nature, which is love. That is why, in His wrath He remembers mercy (Hab 3:2). Once Christ has subdued all His enemies and every knee has bowed, and every tongue confessed Him as Lord, there will be no more sin or lawlessness in all of God’s new creation. At that time, God will be all in all, and there will no longer exist an environment which would give occasion to His wrath (Php 2:10-11; 1Cor 15:28).
At the other end of the pendulum, while Progressive Christians often rightly point out that the wrath of God is a contingent attribute of His essential nature which is love, they often present His love as if it were a form of all-affirming permissiveness which disallows any anger for sin or punishment of evildoers, as we normally understand the word wrath. In order to do this, they must ignore the obvious meaning of the words for wrath as used in Scripture and seek to redefine wrath in a manner that excludes any real anger on God’s part. The following quote from Steve McVey illustrates this tendency. He said the following:
“We think of wrath in a human sense of some sort of retributive anger that is being poured out on somebody for something wrong that they have done. But the word doesn’t mean that at all when it comes to the wrath of God. One of the words for wrath in the original language of Scripture is the word orgē, and the word orgē is the same word from which we get the word orgy or orgasm. And the word doesn’t have to mean anger, the word can also mean an intense passion. In fact, the etymology of the word is that it means reaching out and grasping with a quivering hand – that kind of intensity. So, when we talk about the wrath of God, there are words that can be translated as anger, but when we talk about the wrath of God, if we have the idea that God is a punitive, judicial deity who is there to punish us for wrongdoing, then when we come across the word wrath, obviously we’re going to think that it refers to some sort of anger. But if we have this underlying belief that God is pure love, and He is, and that God is good, then when we come to the word wrath, we’ll understand that there is another way to see that word. It’s not changing the Scriptures, it’s just looking at the word in a historical sense in which we see it not as anger but as a passionate love for us that will stop at nothing to win us over.” 
As another Progressive author puts it: “I prefer to say that God loves with such intensity that it is wrath to those who are fighting against it.” So, instead of God actually being angered by our sin and rebellion, they depict Him as being more like an all-consenting parent that smothers their unwilling adolescent child with hugs and kisses, rather than showing anger and administering corrective discipline, as we would normally do as loving parents.
The etymology of a word, in and of itself, is not that which determines the actual meaning of a word. Rather than contriving a definition from a derivative of one of the several words used in Scripture for wrath, one must determine a word’s meaning primarily by examining the contexts in which the word is used. While undeniably God’s wrath is ultimately rooted in His love, it is certainly not something comparable to a father’s embrace. When Paul says that Jesus delivers us from the coming wrath, he clearly does not mean to say that He delivers us from the Father’s loving embrace!
Contrary to what Steve McVey says, the historical sense of orge is not passionate love. The actual meaning of orge in the secular literature of that day is set forth in Kittle’s 10 volume lexicon. It states:
“In secular literature orge takes on the sense of anger as the most striking manifestation of powerful inner passion, thumos. ‘orge…becomes in the political life of the following period the characteristic and legitimate attitude of the ruler who has to avenge injustice.’ ‘orge relates, not to the verdict (Aristot. Rhet., I, 1, p. 1354 a, 16 ff.) but only to the sentence. In virtue of this orge itself acquired the meaning of ‘punishment.’ Apart from the moral wrath which protects against evil and which is sometimes expressly called dikaia orge (righteous indignation) (Demosth. Or., 16, 19; Dio C., 40, 51, 2; Ditt. Syll.3, 780, 22), orge in Gk. came under a predominantly negative judgment.” 
So, it is not true that the word orge in the culture of that time expressed a non-punitive passionate love. Looking at the passages in Scripture where God’s wrath is mentioned, we see that the meaning is essentially the same throughout as in the secular literature of that time. The short-term results of His wrath are seen to be just but clearly negative, often resulting in lives being cut short in judgment (Ex 15:5; 22:24; Num 11:33; Deut 29:23-28; Isa 13:9; Ezek 21:31; Nah 1:2-3,5, etc.).
Seeing that God’s wrath in Scripture clearly results in punitive action and often even death, Progressives reject those Scriptures which portray God as actively punishing the wicked in His wrath, saying that, in those instances, the human authors projected their own erroneous concepts of pagan deities upon God.
They correctly say that Jesus is the lens through which we must see Scripture. However, the Jesus they use as a lens is an edited version of the actual Jesus of the Bible. According to them, any portrayal of God in Scripture which they deem to be non-Christlike, or more specifically, any that does not present God in a passive, nonviolent cruciform manner, is to be rejected. However, there are many problems with using this approach to Scripture.
In the first place, Jesus Himself said that the Scriptures are the word of God which came through the human authors, and for that reason they cannot be broken (Jn 10:35). He said that God’s word as such is truth, and that not one jot nor tittle can pass from it without being fulfilled (Jn 17:17, cf. Psa 119:160; Matt 5:18). Paul further said of the Holy Scriptures that every part of them was breathed out from God (2Tim 3:15-16). I consider this subject in more detail in my four-part series of blogs on inerrancy.
In the second place, Jesus Himself is presented in Scripture as coming a second time in wrath to execute justice and deliver His people:
“And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, 16 and said to the mountains and rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! 17 For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” (Rev 6:15-17)
“Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.” (Rev 19:15)
Here in the book of Revelation, Christ Himself is seen to be executing wrath against the nations when He comes again to reign. The reference to “the great day of His wrath” alludes to the day of eschatological wrath, or the “day of the Lord” prophesied in numerous Old Testament passages:
“Behold, the day of the Lord comes, cruel, with both wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate; and He will destroy its sinners from it. Therefore I will shake the heavens, and the earth will move out of her place, in the wrath of the Lord of hosts and in the day of His fierce anger.” (Isa 13:9,13; cf. Zeph 1:14-18; Joel 3:12-16; etc.)
How do Progressives get around these passages which undeniably present Christ as acting in a non-cruciform manner against the wicked among the nations when He returns? Some seek to eliminate the book of Revelation from the Bible altogether. Those who accept Revelation as canonical apply a spiritual/allegorical meaning according to their own particular theological persuasion. Preterists try to argue that these references to Christ’s wrath speaks of the 70AD destruction of Jerusalem. However, the judgment of His Second Coming described here is said to be “against the nations” and “the kings of the earth,” not against the nation of Israel. When Christ comes a second time, it will be to deliver Israel, not to destroy her (Rom 11:25-29). I find it inconsistent that many Preterists who deny that God’s wrath is in any way punitive, have no problem viewing the Jews as having been the recipients of God’s punitive wrath in 70AD.
Finally, Jesus affirmed God’s acts of judgment in wrath in the Old Testament and He warns of the eschatological wrath yet to come. In Deuteronomy 29:23 it says that the Lord overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah “in His anger and His wrath.” Jesus not only affirmed that God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, but He also compared His Second Coming to Sodom’s sudden destruction in the days of Lot (Luke 17:28-30). And while we see in Ezekiel 16 that God will finally restore those destroyed in Sodom (Ezek 16:53-55 NIV), Jesus indicated that they will still nevertheless have to give an account in the day of judgment (Mark 6:11).
Therefore, using Jesus as He is presented to us in the Bible as the lens by which to see Scripture, doesn’t enable one to remove from Scripture those passages which speak of the wrath of God. In fact, Jesus doesn’t allow us to remove even one jot or tittle from the Law and the prophets (Matt 5:17-18; Luke 24:44).
Paul and the Wrath of God
In spite of the fact that Paul is known as the Apostle of grace, he had more to say about the wrath of God than any other New Testament author. He spoke of both God’s wrath against wickedness in the present, and also the eschatological wrath which is being reserved for the judgment of the “day of wrath.”
“The wrath of God is being revealed (present tense) from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.” (Rom 1:18 NIV)
“But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unjust who inflicts wrath (orge)? (I speak as a man.) 6 Certainly not! For then how will God judge the world?” (Rom 3:5-6)
While God, in His patience, is holding off His just judgment against the unrepentant, giving them space to repent, He is angered by the wickedness and injustices being committed by mankind. Psalms 7:11 says, “God is a just judge, and God is angry with the wicked every day.” Paul indicates that, to a degree, the wrath of God is presently being revealed against the ungodly.
In what manner can God be said to be presently inflicting wrath? We can see God’s intervention throughout history, bringing judgments against the obstinately unrepentant. Some notable examples are the flood in the days of Noah and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. In the New Testament we see the judgment against Ananias and Sapphira when they were struck dead for lying to the Holy Spirit and against Herod for accepting worship as a god (Acts 5:1-11; 12:22-23).
We can also see from history that God’s judgments have come against nations who turn from Him, practicing wickedness and persecuting His people. The Psalmist said: “The wicked shall be turned into Sheol, and all the nations that forget God” (Ps 9:17; cf. Isa 41:11-13). The same fate that befell the Roman Empire and the Soviet Union will inevitably come upon the United States, or any other nation, if they turn from God and practice wickedness.
On an individual level, we see that the wrath of God is often executed indirectly through the ruling authorities. Paul explains:
“Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. 4 For he is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger (ἔκδικος, ‘an executor of justice’) to execute wrath on him who practices evil. 5 Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience' sake.” (Rom 13:3-6)
So, we see that God’s wrath or punishment is often indirectly carried out through His ministers, the established authorities.
Also, wrath, in the sense of punishment or negative consequences, is experienced in this life by those who persist in a life of fleshly indulgence. Paul speaks of God’s wrath in this sense saying:
“Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience.” (Col 3:5-6)
“For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7 Therefore do not be partakers with them.” (Eph 5:5-7)
The sinful lifestyles Paul here mentions have negative consequences, not only in the future for the unrepentant by not being granted entrance into the kingdom, but also in the present, negatively affecting one’s spiritual, emotional and physical wellbeing, often even resulting in premature death. God will not be mocked: whatever a man sows, sooner or later he will reap (Gal 6:7-8).
Paul, after saying that one can despise the goodness of God by failing to see that His patience and goodness are intended to lead one to repentance, warns that those who obstinately remain unrepentant are storing up wrath for the day of wrath. He said:
“Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance? 5 But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, 6 who will render to each one according to his deeds.” (Rom 2:4-6)
The day of the Great White Throne Judgment is here referred to as the day of wrath because at that time just and measured punishments will be determined for the unrepentant. Those whose names are not found written in the book of life on that day will be judged according to their deeds, receiving their part in the Lake of Fire, being hurt by the second death (Rev 20:11-15; 2:11).
It must be kept in mind that even God’s wrath is paternal and rooted in His essential nature which is love. That being so, in His wrath He remembers mercy, and even His most severe judgments in wrath are corrective in nature, ending in restoration. This can be seen in His dealings with His people Israel in wrath when they persist in their evil ways. Note the language of fire and wrath which God uses against Israel:
“The word of the Lord came to me, saying, 18 ‘Son of man, the house of Israel has become dross to Me; they are all bronze, tin, iron, and lead, in the midst of a furnace; they have become dross from silver. 19 Therefore thus says the Lord God: ‘Because you have all become dross, therefore behold, I will gather you into the midst of Jerusalem. 20 As men gather silver, bronze, iron, lead, and tin into the midst of a furnace, to blow fire on it, to melt it; so I will gather you in My anger and in My fury, and I will leave you there and melt you. 21 Yes, I will gather you and blow on you with the fire of My wrath, and you shall be melted in its midst. 22 As silver is melted in the midst of a furnace, so shall you be melted in its midst; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have poured out My fury on you… Therefore I have poured out My indignation on them; I have consumed them with the fire of My wrath; and I have recompensed their deeds on their own heads,’ says the Lord God.” (Ezek 22:17-23,31)
Here we see that God’s wrath against His beloved Israel is in the form of the purifying fires of affliction. God sets Himself against His people and throws them into the fire as silver, bronze or lead. But the furnace of fire is in order to separate the dross or scum from their lives. The end result is that they come forth from the furnace pure and separate from sin. Just as is the case with a loving father disciplining his son, His wrath is actually His love acting against the sin in their lives. The end result is the peaceable fruit of righteousness, as we can see further along in Ezekiel 36:
“For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land. 25 Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezek 36:24-26)
The end result of God’s wrath against Israel is that they become cleansed of all their filthiness and are given a new heart. The same could be said concerning His affliction of any of the children of men whom He has created. He does not willingly afflict nor grieve the children of men. What He does, He does only for their own benefit and the greater good. Therefore, we can see that God’s wrath, correctly understood, refers to His corrective punishment of His wayward, rebellious children, and is in no way incompatible with love.
Jesus delivers us from the Wrath to Come
“and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” (1Thess 1:10)
“For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1Thess 5:9)
“Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.” (Rom 5:9)
When we believe the gospel of salvation by grace, we are justified or declared righteous before God (Rom 5:1). As justified saints in Christ, there is now no condemnation (Rom 8:1). Having been justified through faith in Christ’s redemption from our sins by His blood, we have once-and-for-all been delivered from the wrath to come (Heb 9:12).
That is not to say that God isn’t angered, relationally speaking, when we as believers willfully sin, just as any good father would be angered by the willful disobedience of his children. Paul said that when we fail to judge sin in our own lives, God must intervene in judgment, at times even cutting our lives short, in order that we should not be condemned with the world (1Cor 11:30-32; 1Jn 5:16-17). Paul warns believers who would live in sexual immorality saying:
“For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, 5 not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God; 6 that no one should take advantage of and defraud his brother in this matter, because the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also forewarned you and testified.” (1Thess 4:3-6)
Also, in Romans 13 Paul is warning believers, rather than nonbelievers, against disobeying the civil authorities when he says:
“For he is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. 5 Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience' sake.” (Rom 13:4-5)
The Law brings about Wrath
“because the law brings about wrath; for where there is no law there is no transgression.” (Rom 4:15)
Paul says that the Law brings about wrath. Here orge is used primarily in the sense of penalty, rather than the emotion of anger, much as the wrath we experience from the civil authorities speaks of the penalty for the infraction, rather than those in authority literally becoming angry with the offender. If there is no 25-mile speed limit sign, you will not be penalized for going 35 miles per hour. But once the law is established, there will be a penalty and speeders will experience the wrath of the law.
It is the same with the Law God gave to the children of Israel. Once the Law was enacted, they began to experience the wrath or penalty for breaking it. It is significant that God is never seen to have shown wrath towards His people until Sinai. The wrath of God isn’t even mentioned in the Bible until we get to Exodus. But after the Law was given, His wrath is referred to either directly or indirectly nearly 500 times, and most often it is seen to be directed towards His own covenant people for having broken the Law.
There is a marked contrast between the Old Covenant of the Law and the New Covenant of grace. When the Law was inaugurated at Sinai, 3,000 people died in one day. In contrast, when the New Covenant was inaugurated on the day of Pentecost, 3,000 people were saved in one day. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, becoming a curse for us (Gal 3:10-14). While God may be angered by sin and rebellion in the lives of His children, resulting in discipline, as reborn sons we have been delivered from the Law with it’s resulting wrath and condemnation, and we now serve in the newness of the Spirit, not in the oldness of the letter of the Law (Rom 7:6; Gal 3:24-26).
In conclusion, I believe that an unbiased understanding of the entirety of the revelation of Scripture concerning the wrath of God disallows both the extreme of the Traditional Augustinian doctrine of “eternal wrath,” and also the Progressive’s attempt to so redefine the word wrath so as to deny that it involves any indignation against the evil and injustice of the wicked, claiming that His wrath is not a punishing wrath, but simply an intense emotion of love.
While God loves us with a love that never ends and therefore will not always be angry, His wrath against all ungodliness and wickedness of evil men is real and brings negative consequences. Understanding this to be so, I believe that it is actually unloving on our part to tell the unrepentant sinner that God’s wrath is nothing more than His passionate love for them.
Although there is an element of truth to that statement, it is deceptive, since it fails to warn them that as long as they continue in their unrepentant state, they are storing up wrath for the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to each one according to their deeds (Rom 2:4-6). Rather than giving the unrepentant a false assurance, we need to speak the truth in love so that they will repent. As James says, “he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:20; cf. Luke 3:7-9).
 Martin Luther: The Bondage of the Will, pp. 226, 228-229.
 Steve McVey, Love Unrelenting, youtube,1:05min.
 Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Copyright © 1972-1989 By Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., NT:3709