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December 22, 2008

On Saturday night, Aileen and I joined some friends to take in a performance of Handel’s Messiah. And what a performance it was. It featured the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. It was, in a word, sublime. Conductor Noel Edison clearly understood the piece (I guess I should say “the oratorio”) and wonderfully separated gravitas from joy. As the piece moved from prophecy, to the life of Christ, to his death and to his impending return, the music rose and fell, swelled and crept back in all the right places. If the world has ever seen a more powerful piece of music than Messiah, I don’t know what it would be.

As much as I love the “Hallelujah” chorus, it is merely the beginning of Messiah’s most beautiful part. It is in the third part that the soprano declares “I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth.” It is here that the chorus and the soloists combine to share the gospel message. “Since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” It is here that we hear the promise of new life to those who are found in Christ. “Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.” And it is here that Handel puts to music the words of the elders and the living creatures and the angels as they sing “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” It is here that we, those who have been redeemed by Jesus, look to the future with hope, waiting anxiously for the day when Christ returns.

The year 2008 is drawing to a close. Last week the Boston Globe’s feature “The Big Picture” told the story of the year 2008 in photos (Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. Warning: some of the more violent photos are quite graphic). With three galleries each containing 40 photos, they pointed back to the year’s most important moments. And what a year it was. As with every year since Adam and Eve disobeyed God, it was a year of both triumph and terror. Looking at the Globe’s photos, it seems that terror has prevailed. In one photo a boy and girl, a brother and sister hug one another at the funeral of their father, a police officer who was gunned down in the line of duty; in another, the foot of a suicide bomber lies close to the camera, with carnage in the background; in another still, a young Kenyan boy screams as a baton-wielding police officer approaches his ramshackle home, seeking his father. While some photos share moments of joy, far more share moments of pain and death.

It was not always this way. It will not always be this way. On Saturday night we partook in the strange cultural experience of hearing the gospel proclaimed far outside the walls of the church. We heard the message that assures us, even as we see such evidence of sin, that better times are coming. Indeed, better times must come. Death has been defeated. It will not be long now before the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. And, oh, don’t we look forward to that day.

December 19, 2008

The name Ryan Ferguson may be familiar to some of the readers of this site. Ryan has appeared at a couple of conferences where he has recited long passages of Scripture. I first saw him at WorshipGod ‘06 where he dramatically recited all of Hebrews 9 and 10 (though he had memorized the entire book). I recently got ahold of Ryan and asked if he would answer a few questions about memorizing Scripture. I trust this brief interview will serve to encourage you either to begin memorizing passages from the Bible or to press on in your conviction that you ought to.

Why did you decide to memorize large passages of Scripture?
It began when I saw a man named Tom Key recite the book of Revelation. He is a professional actor out of Atlanta, Georgia. I was blown away. At about the same time my church had just studied Ecclesiastes so I started memorizing and asked our teaching pastor if I could recite it for the church.

What are some of the passages you’ve committed to memory?
I have memorized the books of Ecclesiastes and Hebrews. I have memorized various Psalms, Genesis 1, and various other smaller sections.

How do you decide which passages you will memorize?
It depends. When I did Hebrews that was a specific choice to serve the people at my church. I memorized it while our church studied for one year. Some of the Psalms I did specifically for the WorshipGod08 conference this summer that centered on the Psalms. Ecclesiastes was a work that God was doing in my heart. I memorized it in response to a time in my life when like Solomon I was asking a lot of questions.

You are known for reciting passages “dramatically.” Is there benefit in memorizing Scripture with dramatic recitation in mind?
Yes, but answering yes doesn’t mean you have to be an “actor.” In a sense we are all actors. Many people will tell a story to kids and do character voices; most of us have played make believe or pretend; any time we make a joke we are acting, that is, we are using text (or words) to make point or get a reaction. If we think of Scripture as more than just recorded words, but specific words written in a specific time to specific people to make a specific point we can understand more than just the denotative nature of the words. We can see the heart behind the words. Everyone does this in one way or another, for example, a wife reads a note from a husband on Valentine’s Day and experiences joy beyond the mere words on the page. She knows those words communicate so much more than just “I love you.” Whenever we receive emails, we don’t just read them we interpret them; we try to figure out what the person is saying, and that, in a sense, is acting. Actors take words on pages and interpret them. So when we approach the memorization of Scripture, it will help to think dramatically; it will help us to think of more than just the written words. Think like an actor; think about what you are trying to communicate with those words.

What are some of the blessings you’ve experienced in memorizing Scripture?
I have heard it said that joy comes through obedience. I would say that I have experienced joy in memorizing Scripture because God has asked me to hide his Word in my heart so I don’t forget him. There is a joy in knowing God’s Word. In a different way, I have been blessed to be able to use the Scripture that I have in my head in specific instances to encourage or exhort a brother or sister in Christ.

What benefit is there in memorizing entire books of the Bible?
If we value Scripture as God’s inspired Word, then I would suggest that the benefit of memorizing entire books is that we get to experience everything God wanted to say through that author at that particular point. For instance if you memorize Ephesians, you get to experience how the Spirit inspired Paul to write the first three chapters declaring truth after wonderful truth about God, and then you would experience the practical power of Scripture in chapters four through six as we have multiple commands given to us about our living. When we have whole books in our minds, we can experience the entire story of that book.

I have also thought that the benefit of having entire books memorized will be revealed if we ever have to endure persecution. If the printed Scriptures are removed from our lives how much will we be able to recreate from the passages we have diligently put into our minds.

Do you have any warnings or exhortations you’d want to extend to people who are seeking to memorize Scripture?
Yes, and I believe this is key to memorizing. Don’t memorize data!! Our minds while often compared to computers are not computers. We need more than just letters, words, and sentences to be able to connect our minds and hearts to the text. We need to know what it says, why it was written, and what the text is trying communicate. It is very difficult to just sit down and memorize a sequence of words that has no connection or story. For instance, it would be much more difficult to memorize the genealogies in Chronicles than it would be to memorize a narrative section in the book of Genesis. Why? Because we communicate ideas with our words; we don’t communicate words with our words. Many of us could tell a fairy tale to a child that we have not memorized because we know the story; we know the idea. The same is true with Scripture. Memorization is knowing the story and then choosing to use the specific words of any piece of text to tell that story. I hope this makes sense…

What are some longer passages you would suggest for beginners?
Prior to giving specifics, let me first suggest that whatever longer passage you choose, make it a passage of Scripture that God has used in your life and heart. This connection will assist you in your memory work, because it will be connecting God’s powerful Word to your thinking and living. I would suggest the following: Psalm 1, 46, 139, 150, Genesis 1, John 1, I John 1, any chapter in Ephesians, James 1. I would also suggest (and would like to do this) II and III John and Jude because they are short books, but you would still be encouraged by having memorized an entire book.

Describe the methodology you’ve used to file away large passages of Scripture.
I have been asked this in almost every church to which I have traveled. I work in a very specific way, and it may not work for everyone. When I memorize a book, I first put it into a Word document and remove all the verse numbers but leave the chapter numbers. I then break up the book into paragraph form so that it looks and reads more like what I am used to reading. I then memorize one paragraph at a time. When I have one memorized, I add the next paragraph and do them together. I do this process until I have memorized the desired section.

This particular way of memorizing has some inherent problems that people have raised that are valid. I do not have verse recall. I can’t just jump in and tell you Hebrews 7:6. For some people they would rather have the chapter and verse reference, especially those who are counselors. I understand this, but for me it is the way it works. I also believe that sometimes communicating the Word of God to people doesn’t have to be referenced…this is purely my opinion. I believe that God through his Spirit can quicken our mind and bring particular Scripture to mind when needed. It is interesting that in the book of Hebrews the author quotes this way, he uses the phrase “as it says also in another place…” when referencing the Old Testament. He doesn’t even say who wrote it or in what book.

Can you share any final tips and tricks that may be useful?
I am not sure if this is a tip or trick, perhaps it is more of an encouragement. I often hear people say, “I just can’t memorize.” In some instances that statement may be true, but I have started asking people questions to show them how well they do memorize. I will ask questions like the this, “How many lines from movies can you quote?” or “Tell me every phone number you know” or “Tell me the names of every sports team you know” This list of questions could go on and on. We all can memorize. Much of memorizing depends on where you put your attention. I love mountain biking; I study it; I read about it; I look online at blogs about it. I could tell you a lot about mountain biking other than my experience. I have memorized a lot about the topic I love. Developing our memories takes work, time, and discipline. Don’t be disappointed if it takes you a while to memorize Scripture. God has not set up a Bible quiz to determine if you have all your verses memorized this week. God desires that you love his Word. Psalm 19 uses very specific language, language of desire when referring to God’s Word. Love God’s Word, spend the time with God’s Word to hide it in your heart.


Here is Ryan reciting Psalm 22:

And here he is reciting Hebrews 9 and 10:

December 18, 2008

Today we arrive at our third week of reading through Mere Christianity. The first week we read the Introductory bits while last week we read the first book, “Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe.” This week we read the second book, “What Christians Believe.”

Discussion

In Mere Christianity Lewis attempts only to teach only the very foundations of the faith. Hence his look at “what Christians believe” touches only on the most basic but foundational beliefs. In this section we see, I think, Lewis at his best and his worst; we see his amazing brilliance at times but also see where some of his beliefs seem borderline unbiblical.

Lewis begins this book by looking to rival conceptions of God and does a fantastic job of showing the intellectual dishonesty of atheism. When he was an atheist, he says, “my argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line.” Atheism turns out to be too simple, too dishonest. “If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be a word without meaning.”

In the second chapter, “The Invasion,” he deals with the entrance of evil into the world. He says here that one of the reasons he believe Christianity is that it is a religion you could not have guessed. There is an “otherness” about Christianity; this proves that it could not be the invention of men. As he introduces evil he says “wickedness, when you examine it, turns out to be the pursuit of some good in the wrong way. … Goodness is, so to speak, itself: badness is only spoiled goodness. And there must be something good first before it can be spoiled.” This is a theme that we see in The Chronicles of Narnia as well. Badness and goodness are not equal forces; badness is simply goodness gone wrong.

In “The Shocking Alternative” he discusses free will and man’s response to God. He says “free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.” Though I understand why people hold to this (it is, after all, a very common belief), I am not convinced that we can easily prove it from Scripture. I am not convinced that God gave us free will because the alternative would be robotic, automated worship. This may be the case, but I don’t think Scripture tells us as much. Lewis also treads on dangerous ground by introducing “risk” in connection to free will, saying that God “thought it was worth the risk” to give people free will. The niwhole idea of risk seems to contradict God’s omniscience and omnipotence. It may be that Lewis sees risk as mere anthropomorphism. If so, I can see some validity in such a statement. However, I do think we are on potentially dangerous ground here. Much of the rest of this chapter is fantastic. Lewis says, for example, that “God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.” He begins to introduce Jesus, asking the reader to deal properly with Jesus’ claims and not allowing the reader to see Jesus as merely a good or kind man. He concludes with his well-known “liar, lunatic or Lord” grid.

“The Perfect Penitent” deals with the atonement. Here we see a vague outline of Lewis’ thoughts on the atonement; and what we see is not necessarily orthodox (think: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe). He warns, rightly I think, that theories of the atonement are not themselves the thing you are asked to accept. But this must not let us off as we attempt to understand it and to understand it rightly. While Lewis has the basics right (“We are told that Christ was killed for us, that His death has washed out our sins, and that by dying He disabled death itself. That is the formula. That is Christianity.”) from what I can see, he gets the details wrong.

He concludes this book with “The Practical Conclusion.” Here he admits just how strange this whole thing is—how strange the Christian claims are. He draws an analogy to sex saying, “He [God] did not consult us when He invented sex: He has not consulted us either when He invented this.” As odd as the Christian claims may be, we are not asked by God to do anything less than accept them and to trust in him. This final chapter is a call for the reader to simply believe and obey. Unfortunately, while Lewis affirms “that no man can be saved expect through Christ” he leaves a door wide open, saying “we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him.”

As I said, in these few pages we have seen Lewis at his brilliant best. But we have also seen how some of his beliefs were simply not biblical. I suspect we will see more of this as we continue through the book.

Next Week

Next Thursday is Christmas. The Thursday after that is New Years Day. These are about the lowest-traffic days of the year for the Internet and I know not too many of us will be thinking about C.S. Lewis. So why don’t we reconvene on January 8. We’ll read the first six chapters of Book III. That’s about 35 or 40 pages in three weeks; shouldn’t be too hard!

Your Turn

The purpose of this program is to read these classics together. So if there is something you’d like to share about what you read, please feel free to do so. You can leave a comment or a link to your blog and we’ll make this a collaborative effort.

December 15, 2008

The fifth chapter of John presents us with a pitiful scene. It is the Sabbath day and in Jerusalem, gathered around a pool by the Sheep Gate, is a great multitude of men and women. Some of them are lying on the ground, stricken with sores. Others are paralyzed or have shriveled limbs. Still others are blind or lame. All of these people are waiting by the edge of this little pool, for they believe that every now and again an angel stirs the water and immediately afterward the first person to step into the pool receives instant healing. History does not tell us if there is some foundation to this practice or if it is mere rumor. Either way, many wretched souls wait day after day by the edge of this pool, desperate for healing.

Jesus enters the city on this day and surveys the scene before Him. Moved with compassion, he approaches a certain man—just one man in a sea of faces—a man who has been an invalid for thirty-eight long years. We do not know why he chooses this one person out of the crowd. What we do know is that Jesus asks him a simple question; an obvious question and one which is answered by the man’s mere presence. Jesus asks “Do you want to be made well?” The man, who is sick and nearly immobile, answers that of course he wanted to be made well! He would not be spending his days waiting by the edge of this pool if he were not holding out hope that he could be made well. The problem, of course, is that he is helpless, and whenever the waters stir and he has the opportunity to be healed, another person with greater mobility beats him in. He is unable to help himself; he must be bitter, depressed. While others are claiming their healing, this man lays helplessly, missing chance after chance.

The Lord has pity on Him. To this one man he says “Rise, take up your bed and walk.” And in that very instant the man is healed. His legs, useless for thirty-eight years, are suddenly and completely strengthened and healed. He rises up, takes his bed with him and walks away. In this brief instant, Jesus performs one of the thousands of miracles designed to prove that he is the very Son of God.

Is Jesus unjust to heal this man? Is it wrong for Him to do so? Of course not! It is an act of great mercy. Jesus has pity on a poor, helpless man and takes away his infirmity. He turns to a man who has no hope and gives him exactly what he needed. He gives him a new chance at life!

Is Jesus unjust to heal only this man? Is it wrong for him to heal that one person and leave the others still waiting for their miracle? No! Jesus is able to choose the person to whom he will extend an act of such grace. No one can say it is unjust for Jesus to heal just one man. He has mercy on whom he chooses to have mercy.

There is a beautiful parallel between this story and the Father’s work in choosing some for eternal life. In the same way that Jesus was able to choose those whom he would heal, God is able to choose the ones whom he will forgive. He is not unjust to choose one and not another. All are equally helpless before him. God tells us “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.” And for some reason his mercy extends to me—He has picked my face out of this crowd of sick, desperate people who are looking everywhere but at him and has given me new life. I thank God that his compassion extends even to a sinner like me.

December 14, 2008

As I’ve said before, the bulk of the Memorizing Scripture Together effort is happening via email, but I do want to provide the occasional update on the blog. Because we are beginning a new passage today, it seemed like an appropriate time to mention it here.

Those of us participating in the program have just completed memorizing Psalm 8. I want to focus on at least one more Psalm, and another one that can be used as a prayer. And so I think Psalm 103 is an excellent choice. It is a beautiful Psalm of adoration and one you can memorize and then pray back to God. We will give this one four weeks. I might have considered trying three weeks except that the holidays are upon us and I’m sure we will all be quite distracted in the days to come. This Psalm has four stanzas and you’ve got four weeks; let’s shoot for January 11.

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

The Lord works righteousness
and justice for all who are oppressed.
He made known his ways to Moses,
his acts to the people of Israel.
The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust.

As for man, his days are like grass;
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.
But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him,
and his righteousness to children’s children,
to those who keep his covenant
and remember to do his commandments.
The Lord has established his throne in the heavens,
and his kingdom rules over all.

Bless the Lord, O you his angels,
you mighty ones who do his word,
obeying the voice of his word!
Bless the Lord, all his hosts,
his ministers, who do his will!
Bless the Lord, all his works,
in all places of his dominion.
Bless the Lord, O my soul!
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Join the Fun

I send out weekly emails (every Sunday) to remind you of the commitment and to tell you about the new verse. If you’d like to participate in the program, I ask as well that you sign up for these emails (though you certainly do not have to if you don’t want to).





December 12, 2008

There’s always an element of frustration when I read the gospels. I read of these men who traveled with Jesus, who followed him month after month, who drank in nearly every word of his earthly ministry. And yet somehow they just did not get it. Somehow the full reality of who he was and what he would do escaped them. It was only in hindsight, only after all was unmistakably clear, only in the book of Acts, that they finally understood.

I’ve been reading Richard Ganz’s recent book Take Charge of Your Life and he offers a good perspective on this. Why did they not get it? Quite simply because they couldn’t! Here is what Rich says:

We look back at the disciples, and we wonder, “What in the world was wrong with them? How could they not get it?” The reality is quite the opposite. We should ask instead, “How could they get it?” It is impossible. It is beyond comprehension. The Old Covenant sacrifices, as powerful a pointer as they were, had a limited purpose. Their purpose was simply to show us how even the most rational and beautiful picture of grace—a blood sacrifice for sin—falls flat in front of what Jesus actually did.

Jesus trained men who, because of their background, should have been ready for the great blood sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. They weren’t. They were still utterly incapable of “getting it” just from the facts. This is understandable. The ultimate fact is that it is absolutely impossible to come to an understanding of God’s grace just from an assessment of the facts.

There is nothing in human experience alone that can awaken a person to the full reality of God’s grace. What Jesus did for us, the grace that His life and death is for us, is eternally impossible to fully comprehend. The fact that people like us will live with God FOREVER is purely His gracious gift to us. Sadly, even though we know so much about grace, we continue to make obeying rules the high watermark of our lives, rather than grace.

The disciples did not catch on because the disciples could not catch on. Though they had so often seen the Old Covenant sacrifices, these were a mere shadow of what Christ accomplished. Though the sacrifices pointed to Jesus, they did so in a dim way. The simple facts were not enough to make the connection. It took a supernatural work for the disciples to understand.

This should be an encouragement to us as we seek to tell others about what Jesus has done. Though the facts are important—crucial even—they are not enough. For anyone to come to Jesus, to understand who he is and what he has done, requires a supernatural act of God. This was true of the disciples and it is true of all who believe.

December 10, 2008

I’m not quite sure how many books I read this year, but it is probably in the neighborhood of 80-100. I recently combed through the list, looking for the books I read in 2008 that were also published in 2008. And as I did that, I built a list of my favorites. Now do note that these are my favorite books. This is different than attempting to say in some objective manner that these are the best books published in 2008. No. Instead, this is simply a list of the books that, for one reason or another, I most enjoyed.

So here they are. The top 8 of ‘08. In each case I’ve linked to my review of the title. With the exception of the final title, they are in no particular order.

Don’t Stop Believing by Michael Wittmer looks at rigid conservatism and loose postmodernism, attempting to find a third way that cuts through the middle, holding fast to sound Christian theology while also emphasizing love and action.

Crazy Love by Francis Chan, though targeted primarily at a younger audience, is a powerful challenge to those “who are bored with what American Christianity offers. It is for those who don’t want to plateau, who would rather die before their convictions do.” It is a call to emphasize obedience far higher than comfort.

The Reason for God by Tim Keller is Keller’s long-awaited major release—one of two this year. It is written specifically to challenge postmodern skeptics. It carefully and patiently answers the objections of their skeptical friends and does so with grace and in a way consistent with the Bible.

Christless Christianity by Michael Horton shows that much of what passes for Christianity today is really anything but; it is Christianity without Christ. This book is a call for the church to return to its biblical foundations and to remain true to those convictions. It is a clarion call and one that Christians would do well to heed.

Unpacking Forgiveness by Chris Brauns deals with a tough subject and one which we all have opportunity to practice. He eschews the easy, pat answers and looks to the Bible to provide God’s wisdom on how and when we are to forgive. Relying on his experience as a pastor and on his deep knowledge of Scripture, he provides what is a logical, well-illustrated book on the subject.

Love or Die by Alexander Strauch focuses on Revelation 2:2-6, verses where Christ praises the church at Ephesus for their love and discernment but exhorts them to be marked by love. Strauch turns these verses on the reader, encouraging Christians to view love as a distinguishing mark of the Christian. Had Carson not written his book (below) this would have been my top pick.

And here is my favorite book of the year:

Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor by D.A. Carson is D.A. Carson’s tribute to his father, a pastor who labored for many years in relative obscurity. Tom Carson was an ordinary pastor, a man who struggled with depression and who saw his ministry bear visible little fruit, but he was a man who remained faithful and who served the Lord with all his heart. This is a must-read book for anyone in ministry.

Honorable mentions: The Courage To Be Protestant, Do Hard Things, A Tale of Two Sons, Why We’re Not Emergent, He Is Not Silent, and Touching History.

Finally, I want to make special mention of the ESV Study Bible. The more I use it, the more I come to love it.

Related: here are my Top 7 Books of 2007.

December 08, 2008

Read an outside view on Calvinists or Calvinism, and you are sure to read something about God’s wrath. The God of Calvinism is a wrathful, vengeful God, boiling over in anger against any part of creation that has turned against him. He is no God of love, this. Sure, he may have some love for his elect, but to the rest of the world he is this angry, brooding presence eagerly awaiting the day of judgment in which he will cast the rest of humanity into the flames of hell.

I suppose Calvinists have sometimes given others reason to think that this is what we believe to be true of God. Perhaps Calvinists have at times erred by over-emphasizing God’s wrath and have done so at the expense of his love. But this angry, vengeful God is not the true God of the Calvinist.

It is good and useful, though, to consider the relationship of God’s love to his wrath. Are they equal characteristics or is one greater than the other? How can God both love and hate? Just recently I read a powerful response. It came from the pen (or more likely, the keyboard) of Michael Wittmer, professor of systematic and historical theology at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. Do not let the title intimidate you. His new book Don’t Stop Believing (his previous book is Heaven Is a Place on Earth—anyone else noticing a pattern here?) is a very good, popular-level look at some of the hard questions facing Christians today. One of those questions concerns the cross and whether, as some have suggested, a traditional Christian understanding of the cross is tantamount to cosmic child abuse.

In this chapter Wittmer explains how we can (and must) reconcile God’s wrath with his love. “Scripture says that God is love and that he has wrath. This means that love lies deeper than wrath in the character of God. Love is his essential perfection, without which he would not be who he is. Wrath is love’s response to sin. It is God’s voluntary gag reflex at anything that destroys his good creation. God is against sin because he is for us, and he will vent his fury on everything that damages us.”

Love is at God’s very core. 1 John 4:8 says, “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” Through all of eternity, God has been love; he has existed in a state of love of Father to Son, Son to Spirit, Spirit to Father. There has never been a time that God has not been expressing love; nor will there ever be. But God’s wrath is far different. God has not always been wrathful. He has not always had to express anger. His anger is a reaction to a lack of love—a lack of love for him or a lack of love to others. Wrath is a response to sin. Thus wrath did not exist until sin existed. And as sin came to be, God had to respond to it in a way befitting his holy character. God’s response to sin is wrath. How could it be otherwise? Sin is cosmic treason against the Creator of the universe. He must respond.

At the cross, God’s love met God’s wrath. Wittmer says, “Jesus endured God’s wrath when he bore the curse of sin, but he also experienced God’s love, for the cross was a necessary step in crowning Jesus as Redeemer and Ruler of the world, the Lord whose exalted name forces every knee to the ground. Similarly, though we receive unmerited grace from Jesus’ passion, our old self of sin must die in order to rise to his new life of love.” And so wrath is closely tied to love. If God did not love, God would not be wrathful. It is because of his love that God has to feel and express his wrath. We cannot neatly separate the two. “Every act of God flows from his love, even—and especially—those that demonstrate his wrath.”

Is he a God of love or of wrath? God expresses both love and wrath, but where wrath is demonstrated, love is personified. God is love.