“Who is a God like You, pardoning iniquity… because He delights in mercy… You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.” – Micah 7:18-19
John G. Lake once said, “If there was one gift I could give to the world, it would be hunger for God.” For any individual who begins to hunger after the true knowledge of God, and decides to take the incredible journey of discovery into His heart, they will inevitably and undoubtedly encounter one of the great enigmas and seeming contradictions in all of salvation history – How can a God of love also be a God of wrath? This tension that we discover in His character should be one that draws us to Him in sincere inquisition, not away from Him in hopeless despair. For it is in asking, seeking, and knocking that God unveils Himself to us in a way that produces worship rather than the bitterness that plagues so many related to this tension they find in His character.
In order to reconcile the mercy of God with the wrath of God we must first understand His justice. In order for God to be perfectly holy He must also be perfectly just. It would not be merciful for a judge to let an unrepentant, convicted murderer go free – it would be criminal. For a judge to be just he must execute the requirements of the law without compromise. The penalty for wrongful doing must be paid by the one convicted. Only then is the judge expediting justice, and thus preserving the peace and equity of a society.
In a similar way we can understand the justice of God by the way He holds individuals accountable for their actions in life. He alone will stand as judge at the end of the age as He renders decisions over every person concerning their eternal destiny. God is Holy and transcendent. For Him to allow a person who is guilty of violating the moral requirement of His righteous law into His kingdom would be equal to endorsing that which is opposed to His very nature. It would not be just. It would be criminal.
Understanding this context then leads us to ponder how a holy God can extend mercy to sinful human beings, while at the same time maintaining His justice? The answer, simply put, is the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The cross is the greatest expression of God’s desire to give mercy to humanity rather than justice. It is also the basis upon which all mercy is extended to humans. In Jesus, God satisfied His justice concerning sin when He poured out His wrath on His own Son.
The wrath of God is His righteous indignation against that which is in opposition to His holy character. The penalty for all sin is the wrath of God. Jesus, having fulfilled all the righteous requirements of God’s holy law, was the only human being to ever live a complete life of sinless perfection. As such He is the only One worthy to be offered up as a sacrifice on behalf of man’s sin. In other words, while sin entered the world through one man, Adam, all sin was atoned for through one Man, Jesus Christ. Therefore, while all inherit death through the sin of Adam, all may inherit life through the righteousness of Christ.
Only at Calvary was the justice of God satisfied. It is there that He executed judgment against sin on behalf of all mankind as He poured out His wrath (penalty for sin) on Jesus Christ. The most severe judgment God ever administered was upon Jesus at the cross.
The chief motive for all that God does is love, for He is love (1 John 4:9-10). In Isaiah 53:10 it says that it “pleased” God the Father to “crush” His own Son. This passage is a reference to the crucifixion of Christ. How could Father God be “pleased” with pouring out His wrath on His only begotten Son? The bible teaches that the reason is because at the cross “mercy triumphed over judgment” and provided a context for God to fully express His desire for all mankind to be saved. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)” When God extends mercy to a person He does so out of love revealed through the cross. When He executes judgment upon on an individual He does so out of love revealed through His justice.
It has been said that sin committed in secret on earth is open scandal in heaven. The cross is the place where the outrage of man’s sin collides with the magnificent holiness of God. It is at the cross where we can reconcile God’s love with His wrath. Therefore, the question is not how a God of love could also be a God of wrath, but how couldn’t a God of love be a God of wrath?
Let me give an illustration to solidify this point. God has blessed my wife and I with two beautiful children – a son and a daughter. I can tell you with confidence that if ever someone broke into our house to harm my family in any way they would see a different side of my character than folks see when I’m attending a worship service. I consider myself to be a loving person, nevertheless, the individual breaking into my house would experience that love manifested in an entirely different way.
In the same way our Father in Heaven will not compromise His holiness, nor violate the love that He has for His children by allowing unrepentant sinners to enter His kingdom. He is extending mercy out of love to all who will accept His offer of forgiveness through Christ, but He will not force anyone to receive it.
Refusing the free gift of God’s mercy necessitates that one receive His justice without mercy. This refusal is paramount to choosing to bear one’s own punishment for sin. The message of the gospel (the good news of eternal salvation through Christ) confronts each individual with a decision whether they will accept God’s sacrifice for sin, in which His wrath was taken for them, or forsake this provision, in which case His wrath will be unleashed upon them – forever.
In either case God will not violate His justice. Neither will He suspend one attribute of His character to exercise another; He will fully embody love, justice, and mercy as one reality within His being as He dispenses judgment on all who refused His offer of mercy and forgiveness. Everyone who goes to hell will have done so over God’s dead body.
I recently had an opportunity to share this message with a young man who did not know God. Towards the end of our conversation I asked Him, based on all that I had shared, if he was willing to go to heaven. He answered yes. I informed him that he needed only to receive God’s mercy by surrendering His life to Christ, and turning away from his sins. After leading him in a short prayer he lifted his head with a smile that stretched from ear to ear. That smile was the evidence of a man who had just been forgiven of every wrong thing he had ever done.
If you are reading this and have never made the decision to accept God’s mercy into your life, I would encourage you that If you will open your heart to Jesus in humble repentance, and choose to live your life for Him now, God promises through His word, that you will inherit eternal life in the age to come. Beloved, we were created for eternity, this life is but a vapor, may we live our life for God now that we might experience His life forever!