There are times in life when various “threads” seem to converge – times where I have been thinking about a few things and suddenly they all just come together. Yesterday I was thinking and writing about whether God loves everyone, believer and unbeliever alike. Tuesday evenings I lead a Bible study and this topic came up and created some interesting discussion. When I got home there was an email from the Reformed Baptist mailing list where a person wrote about an article written by Rick Warren where he indicated that God loves everyone alike. And then this morning I continued in my reading of The God Who Justifies by James White and the very first section I read was entitled “The Wrath of God and Propitiation” and it dealt, in part, with this same topic. So really, I don’t see that I have any choice but to write about this today!
The sentiment that “Jesus loves you” has become standard evangelistic fare in the Evangelical church. The speaker assures the listeners that Jesus loves them to such an extent that He died for them. He assures the audience that Jesus is just waiting for them to turn to Him and to reciprocate the love He already has for them. Some people go even further in their claims to unbelievers. In an article in the most recent edition of Ladies Home Journal, Rick Warren has an article entitled “Learn to Love Yourself!” in which he writes the following: “God accepts us unconditionally, and in His view we are all precious and priceless.” The article closes with these words: “You can believe what others say about you, or you can believe in yourself as God does, who says you are truly acceptable, lovable, valuable and capable.” Nowhere does he qualify these statements. Instead they are offered as blanket statements, encompassing all of humanity.
Is this how the Bible portrays God’s feelings towards those who do not believe? Let’s examine just a few of the many passages that speak of God’s feelings towards the unregenerate.
Psalm 5:5 says that “The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers.” The NIV translates this as “you hate all who do wrong.” Psalm 11:5 tells us that “The LORD tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.” And turning to the New Testament, John 3:36 reads “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” The Bible clearly portrays God as One whose wrath burns against both sin and the sinner. His righteous anger burns against all unrighteousness, and against all who are unrighteous.
In The God Who Justifies, James White writes the following. “Theologians should be those enraptured by the beauty of the unchanging object of their study: the eternal, immutable God. But theologians are people, and they are influenced, to greater or lesser extents, by the society and era in which they live. The cultural decay of modern times has inspired many a theological denial of biblical truth, most often when that biblical truth speaks to something that is unfashionable. One such issue…is the oft-repeated biblical phrase ‘the wrath of God.’” White goes on to say that while we most often associate God’s wrath with the Old Testament, where He commanded the Israelites to utterly destroy the pagan nations, in reality His wrath is most clearly shown in the New Testament. Were you to ask me where we see God’s wrath most clearly, I would have to point to Jesus’ final hours, from the Garden of Gethsemane to his death on the cross. After all, what but the need for satisfaction of God’s wrath, could compell the Father to send His Son to such a horrible, painful, death – a death that was far more painful and horrible than what any sinner will experience in an eternity in hell.
Readers Digest has a monthly column entitled “That’s Outrageous” where readers can submit stories about the miscarriage of justice. These stories often feature criminals who have committed horrible crimes, yet have found either a corrupt judge or a loophole in the system and have escaped justice. When we read this, do we react with adulation towards the judge who let the person escape justice, or do we react with an exclamation of “that’s outrageous!”? Of course we react with shock and outrage, and that is natural, for we expect and demand justice for all who violate the law. Yet when it comes to God, we seem to want him to be something just a little less than human. We expect God to look upon human evil and wink His eye or turn His back, loving the one who has blatantly, purposely violated His rules and flaunted this sin before Him.
There are some words we use all the time, but we can never expect to hear from God. Among them are “we can’t blame him…” and “it’s not his fault…” When a young man commits a terrible crime, we are quick to excuse his actions because of a tough past or abusive parents, but God never excuses sin. When a woman deserts her husband and children, we may look to her past and find all sorts of reasons that she should not be held accountable, but God does not do this. He holds each of us accountable for every one of our actions. There is never an excuse for violating his law. God cannot and will not turn His back on even the tiniest sin.
But assume for a minute that God does love every human being He has ever created. If God loves every person, there is no need for a Savior. Would God be just if He condemned to hell those whom He loves? No! God will condemn to hell those who are the objects of His wrath. In Romans 9:3 Paul, when writing about the Father’s sovereign, electing love, says of God “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” God loved Jacob, whom He chose before the foundation of the world to be His child, but He did not love Esau who was always an object of His Divine wrath.
Perhaps part of the problem is that we have misunderstood God’s love. Perhaps we have interpreted God’s perfect love, through our imperfect, changing, emotional, sentimental, untrustworthy love. To paraphrase Leon Morris in The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross, when the Bible speaks of God’s love, it does not refer to a warm, fuzzy sentimentality, but a love that is so jealous for the good of the one who is loved that it blazes out in wrath against all evil. The writers of the New Testament had no concept of a love that did not react in the strongest fashion against all sin. He writes “Perhaps the difficulty arises because we are making a false antithesis between the divine wrath and the divine love. We are handicapped by the fact that we must necessarily use terms properly applicable to human affairs, and for us it is very difficult to be simultaneously wrathful and loving.” But God is able to be both perfectly loving and wrathful. Unlike us, He is not given to outbursts of emotion or to irrationality. His wrath is as perfectly and completely manifested as His love.
So now we must ask why this matters. What does it matter if we believe God loves everybody? The problem is that a diminished view of the wrath of God indicates a diminished view of human depravity. A person who believes God’s wrath does not abide on the sinner, must also believe that God does not hate his sin. This will inevitably lead to a diminished view of justification. What use is justification if sin is not really that important? It is no wonder that the doctrines of grace begin with Total Depravity. Only when we understand the desperation of man’s condition can we understand the love and wrath of God. John Wesley said, “Before I preach love, mercy and grace, I must preach sin, Law and judgment.” Later he said to a friend, “Preach 90 percent Law and 10 percent grace.” It may seem to us, that it is easier and more effective to preach a gospel of universal love – a gospel where God loves and accepts us just as we are – but this is not the Gospel of the Bible. Until we know the Law, we cannot know our sin. Until we know our sin and God’s wrath against it, we cannot know love. Until we know love, we cannot know the Savior.
As I was researching Bible passages for this article, I cross-referenced The Message. I was amazed at how this perVersion of the Bible does away with God’s wrath. Compare the ESV with The Message:
ESV – “The Lord will swallow them [his enemies] up in his wrath, and fire will consume them.”
MSG – Now the furnace swallows them whole, the fire eats them alive!
ESV – The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers.
MSG – Hot-Air-Boaster collapses in front of you; you shake your head over Mischief-Maker.
ESV – The Lord tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.
MSG – He tests the good and the bad alike; if anyone cheats, God’s outraged.
ESV – Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.
MSG – That is why whoever accepts and trusts the Son gets in on everything, life complete and forever! And that is also why the person who avoids and distrusts the Son is in the dark and doesn’t see life. All he experiences of God is darkness, and an angry darkness at that.
ESV – Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.
MSG – Later that was turned into a stark epigram: ‘I loved Jacob; I hated Esau.’ (An epigram is a “whitty poem”).