I remember reading Johnathan Edward’s notorious sermon “Sinner’s in the hand of an Angry God” in English class my sophomore year in high school. Interestingly, it was a required reading for that public school classroom credit. I don’t recall, but maybe we were studying early colonial Puritan literature (IMO Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress” would have been a better portrayal).
As a young shallow cultural Christian with very little grasp of grace that reading was a harrowing experience for me.
Now I can’t breakdown the literary merits of Edward’s sermon. I do know he wrote/spoke exponentially more about heaven than hell. But the theological content of his most famous sermon is, for some, a microcosm of everything that is wrong about modern strands of evangelical/fundamental/reformed/etc Christianity.
So it may be said: A massive God that can be angry at the tiny people He created is too petty to be worthy of worship. OR A God that hates is in direct contradiction with the God who “is love.” OR In the NT Jesus revealed a loving heavenly father, not a ticked off tyrant. And so on and so forth…
To which I say respectfully: Let’s pump our breaks a minute.
As a pretty rotten sinner who finds unique ways to stumble every day, of course I want God to be a merciful Father/Abba, full of invincible grace and unwavering love for me. And amazingly He is that, through His precious Son, Jesus.
But I don’t think a significant point should be lost here: In order to love, you must have some capacity to hate.
For example: Let’s say I were to tell you in conversation that I love the Jewish people and wish the best for them. Yet, in the very next sentence, I said I was emotionally neutral about the subject of the Holocaust. “No!” you may say, “If you love the Jewish people, you must hate what the Holocaust did to them!” And surely you’d be right.
To love some things, is to hate other things.
If I love children I will hate child abuse.
If I love my wife I will hate committing adultery against her.
Human emotion is wrapped around a fallen nature, so even our most righteous anger has remnants of jealousy, pride, greed and general sinfulness. But we mustn’t project those fallen attributes to a perfect God’s righteous anger. God’s love and anger, unlike ours, is rooted in His fundamental holiness. Unfortunately, we usually interpret words like wrath/hatred/anger and even love through the grimy lens of our own limited human experience and hurts.
But the perfect man, Jesus, was angry with people at times, spoke of wrath much, and I’m sure felt something of hatred when confronting the hypocrisy of the hyper-religious Pharisees.
Jesus was angry at the money collectors who tarnished His father’s temple. Real, visceral, vein popping, table-turning, righteous rage. It’s not a stretch to say he genuinely hated what they were doing.
And yes, Christ graciously dinnered up and fellowshipped with the prostitutes and tax collectors. Yet He also sternly promised millstones and gnashing of teeth to the prideful and scoffers.
For God to really love a bride, He must hate what separates His bride from Him. God’s hatred is not a petty “flying off the handle” explosion of unstable men, it’s a holy rational hatred of the sin that is killing His image(s).
“For I, the Lord, love justice; I hate robbery and iniquity” (Isaiah 61:8)
and conversely His bride must hate what separates Him from her:
“Let those who love the Lord, hate evil (Psalms 97:10)
What is most harrowing/heart-rending is that such holy hatred/anger/wrath was necessarily poured out on the perfect Son, Jesus, at the cross. The Son became “sin” for us, so that we could become sons and daughter like Him (2 Cor 5:21) Jesus took the proverbial bullet of wrath on our behalf, absorbed it fully, and even rose to show it would never…ever…touch us in this life or the next.
So God’s love and wrath doesn’t have to be torn asunder by our uneasy conjectures (1 John 4:10). And charges of cosmic child abuse do not have to be leveled against a heavenly Father who is wholly unique in His holiness.
The bare minimum fundamentals of the cross are too great a mystery to explain: In wrath, it pleased the Father to crush Christ for our transgressions (Isaiah 53:10), so that His love could be displayed in healing us of all guilt and sin(Isaiah 53:6) I’m sure I haven’t grasped a kindergarten level understanding of such grace.
Maybe that’s what old Johnny Edwards was getting at after all.