Tag Archives: mercy

The law of love

Here is a snippet from a comment series on a previous post that I thought was worth highlighting:

Incest was necessary given the nature of God’s creation of human lineage. And polygamy and concubines run rampant in the Old Testament among those deemed righteous.

Incest is not unnatural in the biological sense. One could, and rightly so, argue that it is a very bad idea today given the degree of genetic mutations. However such genetic factors are not a guarantee nor is our present revulsion at the notion a negation of the biological reality of procreation.

You are correct that polygamy and concubines run rampant in the OT. And many who participated in the practice were considered righteous. However none of them were considered righteous for their polygamy or marital indiscretions. In fact, it is abundantly clear that these men were deeply flawed individuals and only considered righteous through grace on God’s part. So to assume their righteousness incorporated all of their deeds is to commit the basic fallacy of assuming salvation or favor with God is merited through works and not through grace.

Share/Bookmark

Is God a “God of wrath”? Several reasons why He isn’t.

A rather interesting discussion on Facebook began when a friend of mine posted the following:

The Prince of Peace also is the holy, righteous, and just God of wrath.

Justice is the reason for wrath

Justice, not wrath. In order for God to be a “God of wrath” there would need to be something for God to display his wrath to for eternity, making sin a necessity, which would entail dualism.

Peace and wrath are incompatible as eternal states of being. Wrath may be displayed in order to bring about peace, but in that case it is merely a means to an end, namely a just or peaceful state of affairs.

Further, wrath, like hatred, is nowhere stated as being a part of God’s character. Presumably because before God chose to create, when there was naught but the trinity in a state of complete perfection, there was no need for God to hate or display his wrath to bring about a just state of peace.

But doesn’t the Bible say that God is also wrathful?

Hebrews 1:9 says, “You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness.” God’s attributes are perfectly balanced in His divine perfection. The wrath of God is always perfect just as is His love, always. Man has a hard time understanding this because man’s wrath is almost always compromised by the presence of sin, therefore they cannot place that attribute upon God. The word says, and I believe it.

This is not something you can make an appeal to mystery for and then just walk away and pretend as if you’ve avoided the issue. The fact remains that if wrath is a part of God’s character as opposed to merely something God employed in time in regards to finite beings, there would need to be a timeless, infinite object of God’s wrath. That would raise such an object of wrath to a position of sharing other attributes God alone possesses. Namely being a necessary as opposed to contingent being.

So just as wickedness is not eternal, neither is the need to punish it. Justice, and love, however, are.

Let’s approach this from another angle: If wrath is a part of God’s character, who was God displaying wrath to for eternity past? Sinners? Are we willing to say that men and angles are uncreated eternal beings?

There is a difference between God’s actions in time vs. character traits that are a part of God’s nature. So no, God is not jealous in that He was jealous before time began since that would also require there to be something God is jealous of.

I suppose a point of difficulty for us1 is our notion of time and God’s relation to it. I would maintain that God is not immutable in the sense that most reformed people view Him as (which would also make it impossible for God to think, act, speak, etc.) but that God entered into time when He decided to create so that there are some tensed truths we can say of God now that have not always been and will not always be true. Being wrathful is one of those truths, as is being jealous.

And as fine a point as it may be2, I believe it is important to make a distinction between the means and the ends. God’s wrath is not an end in itself but rather a means to an end. The same goes for God’s jealousy.

Isn’t wrath an integral part of justice? Who did God display justice to before man was created?

Wes, your first response to the “God of wrath” statement was, “Justice, not wrath. In order for God to be a “God of wrath” there would need to be something for God to display his wrath to for eternity, making sin a necessity, which would entail dualism.”

Under your hypothesis, Wes, how could He be a God of justice, because as you later stated, “Let’s approach this from another angle: If wrath is a part of God’s character, who was God displaying wrath to for eternity past? Sinners?”

Let’s approach it from your angle, Wes. If you deny the God of wrath because there were no sinners in eternity past for His wrath to be displayed upon, why can you freely accept the God of justice prior to the need for justice under the same conditions? Who would He need to display justice to? (emphasis mine)

Himself.

Justice is indeed needed, but there can be a just state of affairs without the need for anything to be done to maintain that state of affairs.

God is wholly just and therefore complete in Himself. The question of God’s character including wrath has a direct bearing on His aseity or completeness within Himself.

The key here in my estimation is to remove man from the equation completely lest we get sidetracked by immaterial issues when discussing what constitutes the character of God.

So in the case of wrath, we should ask how that character trait was expressed before man was ever created. When we talk to others about God being a God of love, for example, we gain a distinct advantage over those who also claim God is love but do not accept the trinity (Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims, etc.). In this case we can say that God was, in eternity past, in a loving relationship in the trinity so that love and community itself become necessary character traits of God and not merely derived character traits that only come into existence after other agents were created.

Conclusion

I’ve found that people who are intent on portraying God as a “God of wrath” are bad philosophers who are often unaware of the problems, the mental time bombs, they create for others. Many times I’ve found people who adopt a view of wrath being a part of God’s character are, themselves, quite bitter and otherwise unpleasant people. In those cases it appears that the attribution of wrath to God is little more than a projection of themselves.

However we must, if we are serious about maturing and become approved workmen in the Kingdom of God, examine this issue carefully. We must pay close attention to the implications of our assertions.

God does display his wrath to sinners. But that wrath is not an end in itself. Wrath is something God uses in relation to the justice and holiness that make up God’s character.

  1. By “us”, I mean those who prefer to picture God as being eternally wrathful. []
  2. At this point, some were whining about this being a pointless argument. A tactic that is taken by those who wish not to think too deeply about an issue. []

Thou shalt not judge

The problem

Josh McDowell has stated that in our day, Matthew 7:1 “Do not judge…” has replaced John 3:16 “For God so loved the world…” as the most widely recognized and quoted verse.

I believe this to be the case and I think the primary reason for it, at least in our culture, is the postmodern attitude our culture has taken when it comes to truth in general and moral truth in particular1. As alarming as this is, though, what I find more alarming is how this shift in focus has affected most professing believers and how this shift has made us largely ineffective in changing the culture around us.

Origins

To begin with this topic, however, we must first understand what man was created to do. In Genesis 2:15-23 we see several things including:

  • Adam was placed into the garden to work and keep it
  • Adam was given free reign over the garden to “eat of every tree in the garden”
  • Adam was told not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil
  • it was not good for Adam to be alone
  • Adam was given the authority to name the animals God had made
  • upon creating Eve, the first thing Adam did was name her

In order to do the things the man was responsible for he required the ability to judge a variety of things Good, evil, what to eat, where to work, what to name, etc. In short, the man was created with a sense of judgement which was also required for him to accomplish the work he was given.

All humans since Adam have been given (to greater or lesser extent) the ability and responsibility to judge the world around them. Not merely amoral2 things but immoral things as well. In fact, the whole of Scripture calls us to account for our lapses in judgement.

In light of being created as judging creatures we can return to the original question of judging as raised by contemporary Christians.

Is it wrong to judge?

Matthew 7:1 would seem to indicate it is at first blush, but a more careful examination will reveal that the judgement being cautioned against here is not merely the distinction of right and wrong, it is the practice of condemnation. As 20th century readers, we forget that our own justice system is divided into at least two parts3 when it comes to courtroom trials. There’s the initial portion of the trial in which guilt or innocence is established and, if guilty, there is the sentencing portion where the judge (or jury in some cases) decides what the guilty party ought to pay in order to make up for their crime.

It’s the second portion that we are told in Matthew not to presume to take up and to proceed with caution when we go to judge a person’s actions as right or wrong lest we apply a harsher standard to them than we would want applied to us. Interestingly enough, the rest of Matthew 7 is often either ignored or overlooked but it is precisely the rest of Matthew 7 that puts the “do not judge” from Matthew 7:1 into perspective.

What about forgiveness?

Unfortunately, many people think that judgement excludes forgiveness. What many fail to realize is that forgiveness entails judgement, something the Pharisees understood all too well in Mk 2:7 and Lk 5:21. When we forgive we make several assumptions, including:

  • An offence or moral wrongdoing has occurred which requires judgement
  • We are in the position of judgement
  • We have the ability to sentence the offender in some capacity

Without these premises being true, our forgiveness is as meaningless as the rantings of a madman. However, this also means that even the act of forgiveness is an act of judgement. It is merely an act of judgement wherein we rescind the sentence or penalty.

In other words, we see an offence, we deem it to be wrong, and if we are the party that was offended, we release the person from their punishment as far as we have authority.

In this view of judgement being combined with forgiveness we neither sacrifice moral responsibility or a loving and forgiving attitude towards others. Both of which we are commanded to do at the same time.

Conclusion

We should not be afraid to judge and even admit to others that this is what we are doing when we deem an action right or wrong.

As long as we remember our place when it comes to the scope of our authority, namely that we do not posess the power to condemn anyone to eternal hellfire. And if we remember the commands of Christ to freely forgive as we have been freely forgiven. We will be able to truly love eachother in truth and love without sacrificing or softening either one in the process.

Justice and forgiveness are not mutually exclusive, they go hand in hand.

  1. A condition known as moral relativism. []
  2. non-moral, things that have no moral significance []
  3. There are more or less depending on the laws and specific case, but these two portions of the establishment of guilt and the establishment of the penalty are common to most courts in most countries. []