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 us 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 be, 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)
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.
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.