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The Judgment Boomerang

• Greg Boyd

The wrath of God is a misunderstood topic. In this sermon, Greg shows how sin has natural consequences that boomerang back to us. While God’s wrath has serious consequences for us, we need to understand how God uses his wrath.

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The topic of the wrath of God has been misunderstood for a long time. Greg remembered a time when he was a kid and a priest taught him about the wrath of God and hell. This led to nightmares about being cast into a pit of lava by the Devil. Many of us have had similar fears about God being angry with us and fears of hell have been pervasive throughout Christian culture. A monstrous picture of God, best described in Edward’s sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”, is not an accurate picture of God’s wrath. The opposite is true as well—those that abandon the idea of God’s wrath, and adopt a picture of a friendly Grandpa who doesn’t have wrath—have an equally inaccurate picture of God’s wrath.

God’s wrath is best described as a judgment boomerang. When someone throws a boomerang, it comes back to them. Last week, we learned that when we act outside of God’s intentions for our lives, we encounter decay and suffering through the natural consequences of our actions. When we sin, it acts like a boomerang that will eventually come back and hit us in the face. If we commit affairs, it will break up marriages. If we hurt others, hurt will come back to us.

God does not personally rage against us when we sin. We see this when we look at Jesus. Jesus never raged against his enemies, and God wasn’t raging against Jesus on the cross. God never lifted a finger against Jesus. Rather, God withdrew his protection and handed Jesus over to those who acted violently against Jesus. Standing in our place as sinners, Jesus experienced the God-forsaken quality of wrath. God withdrew his protection and let evil run its course. In the same way, we experience God’s wrath when evil is allowed to run its course. Instead of stopping the boomerang from coming back, God allows it to smack us in the face, and this is how God’s judgment works.

Sin functions to separate us from God. Every act of sin is us pushing away from God. And the Bible tells us that our sin causes destruction in our lives. God, in his mercy, works to protect us from the consequences of our sin. God’s judgment and wrath is not an external consequence like a judge throwing someone into prison. Rather, God’s judgment and wrath is a natural, intrinsic consequence of our sin. It is the same as a when a liver fails because someone drank every day for 30 years. Sin and evil carry the seeds of their own punishment.

Throughout the Old Testament, we see pictures of a God who promises his wrath and destruction on people that don’t follow his way of life for them. While it looks like God is doing all of this on the surface, we see that other forces are doing the actions of wrath. Other nations take over Israel. This was because there are other forces at work in the lives of humans. Evil, supernatural authorities and powers are at work in this world. When God’s judgment and wrath were given in the Old Testament, we see that these evil powers are simply allowed to do what they do. God withdrew his protection, and it resulted in evil things happening.

We need to understand that God’s wrath is a very real thing, but it has been often misunderstood. God doesn’t act violently, and he weeps over his people when he is forced to withdraw his protection. It is never his intention that we are hurt. God loves you, and his anger is not directed towards you, but rather towards the effects of our sin that boomerang back to us.

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Topics: Free Will, Judgment, Sin

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Focus Scripture:

  • Colossians 3:5-7

    Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived.

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13 thoughts on “The Judgment Boomerang

  1. Joann says:

    After listening to this sermon, I couldn’t help but to think of my mother-in-law. Her mother died when she was about 7-8 yrs. old. The pastor told her that her mother was going to hell because she was not baptized. My mother-in-law never forgot this. And because of this one man who scare her so bad, she swore off any type of religion. And so has all her children (including my husband) turn away from any type of religion. I don’t know what she was thinking when she died, but being that Jesus is a God of love, I am hoping he received her in spite of what anyone said to her. My husband knows what I feel and I pray for him and his siblings every day. It is so sad that there are people telling false stories about our wonderful Lord.

  2. kevin says:

    God most certainly did personally commit violence; it was against the animal He skinned in order to make clothes for adam and eve. if that is only an allegory, it sure is a gory one.

  3. brian says:

    Kevin you are making an assumption that isn’t supported by a direct reference in scripture. Genesis tells us he made a covering from animal skins, but it never indicates where or how the skins were obtained.

  4. Jill says:

    I’m glad you love animals and speak of that often, I love them too. They are special beings put on this earth by God and they have no voice, so we need to be their voice. I saw the article in ReKnew regarding the book review “Every twelve Seconds” and it’s so heartbreaking.Thanks for speaking up for animals!

  5. Brian says:

    Deuteronomy 28:22 NIV
    The LORD will strike you with wasting disease, with fever and inflammation, with scorching heat and drought, with blight and mildew, which will plague you until you perish.

    This is just one example of judgment directly credited to Jehovah. The LORD says “I will do this and I will do that” I, I, I.

    I recognize there are Psalms and Proverbs for example, that suggest that consequences and judgment are built in to the natural and spiritual order. But I don’t know how to read these ‘boomerang’ texts as controlling texts over passages that clearly attribute wrath, judgment, plagues, sickness, conquest, death, etc etc etc CLEARLY to Yahweh.

    47:45 above, Boyd says that authors thought Yahweh did these acts of judgment, and that Paul clarifies in Corinthians that a ‘destroying angel’ did these things. I would like to agree with Paul and read the Hebrew Scriptures christologically, but in order to do so I wonder if there is an essential component missing from Boyd’s teaching- one that evangelicals need in order to take this sermon seriously. Namely, that the Old Testament judgment passages imperfectly represent the nature of God.

    I don’t feel I can say honestly, what i’d really like to say (and what Body clearly says) that actually if we read the OT stories more carefully we find that Yahweh is not the actor in these judgments passage, because the incredible plentitude of passages that say the opposite.

    One question I would ask Boyd is that he seems to speak out of both sides of his mouth. First he says that Yahweh is not the direct source of judgments in the OT, and this is discerned by a careful reading. Passages like Korah’s judgment don’t really site Yahweh as the actor, and God uses other nations to enact judgment. He goes on to suggest that the Jews erroneously attributed judgment to God himself but now we know better than that. How do we know about the Jew’s flawed thinking on the wrath of God? Is it not from the Torah and the Prophets?! What we are saying then is that we disagree with some of the theology presented by some of the OT writers.

  6. Tim G says:

    Some good thoughts Brian.

    I wonder if having the first born of every household (not covered with blood over the door) killed felt like violence to the Egyptians?

  7. Matt says:

    I’m really beginning to adapt to this view of how God’s wrath is being revealed. Especially in reference to the cross, and on the last day. There is one nagging image that comes to mind that I can’t fully synch with the view of God simply withholding protection, though I perceive it’s obvious He does, but I can’t rationally see Him as not also the author of such judgements, as seen in:

    Genesis 19:24-26 (ESV)
    24 Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven. 25 And he overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground. 26 But Lot’s wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.

    It’s hard to conclude that raining sulfur and fire is not a deliberate act of divine power, however, I see it as even more difficult to grasp the transformation into a pillar of salt, as an act not designed specifically by God.

    Any clarification on these would be helpful, and even if it cannot be explained, I still agree that God’s wrath is being played out almost entirely in the way you have explained it Greg, and thank you for relaying this to us all.

  8. Brian says:


    Personally I don’t know where I’m at with all this (as is the case with many things) but I suppose I am leaning in the direction of neo-orthodoxy and biblical theology as a way to read scripture christologically. I am really a novice to this approach, so I don’t know how theologians have dealt with problems in the text. I was basically taught to read the bible as a fundamentalist, which seems to take every verse as the literal oracle of God for individuals today (sheer chaos). This approach necessitates the need to homogenize the entire bible and explain away any apparent discrepancy or ‘error’.

    My point is that, as far as my meager wits can tell, if you want to read the bible as Boyd is suggesting here, you have to get comfortable with conflict in scripture, and that is a big problem for evangelicals who believe that the bible can only be authoritative if it is free from ALL error.

    The clear teaching that God himself intervened in the natural order with a judgment such as turning a sinner into a pillar of salt cannot be ignored. Perhaps the inerrantist can do something unprecedented to maintain their position; allowance for the possibility of a non-historic reading of Genesis might alleviate some of the difficulty.

    Personally I have a high view of scripture (IMO), God works holiness in my life, and am striving to build up the church and seek His kingdom. I open the bible to hear God’s voice. I labor in prayer. But I don’t think the bible is without error. I (a separate note) don’t think Genesis stories are necessarily historic in the way that we might like them to be.

  9. Scott Schneider says:

    Brian I hear you. I love what Greg is teaching and I believe the heart of what is taught here is spot on. What I have been dealing with over the past 15 years is how to handle things of, not only the Bible but, God. Tony Campolo said something years ago that helps me to continue to unpack theology. He said that with God we must be comfortable with loose ends. Where, in my opinion, Christianity(Western) fails is that we try to take our doctrines and take them to ‘logical’ conclusions. When we do this seems to be the place where much of the funky theologies come from. Tony stated that one of his professors in college opened his mind to it. One class Tony was offering some “wisdom” and said, “if you take this to its logical conclusion”, at which the professor immediately replied, “Only a fool would.” I try to rest in getting to know God as I would my parents or my wife or…and yet realize I cant explain or know everything about that person while still knowing the “heart” of that person. So I try to get better at this everyday. His ways or not our own runs through my mind daily. Tying up “loose ends’ seems to be where I get into trouble.

  10. Hey, I thought Greg had a good message with good insight on God’s wrath. However, I thought also Greg was forcing to limit God’s wrath to just the natural, negative outworking of sin.

    Like miracles, which God makes a unique and explicit intervention into lives of people, I do think Scripture shows a dimension of God’s wrath to be similar. The motivation for this intervention is to hold people accountable for sin and treat them as they want to be treated. (Paul mentions this in Romans 2. I suppose this treatment can be viewed as just punishment.) This is what God did when he confronted and held Adam, Eve and the Serpent accountable for their own sin in Genesis 3. He did this with Cain after killing Abel in Genesis 4. Likewise, He did this with Miriam when she objected to his leadership in Numbers 12. One can also say Jesus demonstrated a glimpse of that wrathful behaviour when he drove the money lenders out of the temple in John 2. Therefore, I would define the wrath of God to have three dimensions. The first two Greg mentioned in his sermon where the last one I propose:

    1. God withdraws his hand of protection like with Job and especially with Jesus as seen on the cross.

    2. God releases his grip on the sinner who passionately wants to do evil as described in Genesis 6 and Romans 1. A significant outcome from this was the abuse and crucifixion of the Lord.

    3. God confronts directly sinners in a face-to-face encounter to mete out fair treatment for the sinner as in Genesis 3, Numbers 12, Matthew 24 and other New Testament parables. These are times when God himself distributes levels of retribution (i.e. separation from God), which is known as the “day of God’s wrath” in Romans 2. Romans 1, on the other hand, speak about the God’s wrath more self inflicting.

    By the way, I do not think eternal punishment is as Jonathan Edward as depicted. The nether world will have elements of God’s wrath as illustrated above. God does not torture his creation for he loves enemies in the broadest sense of the word. (This love, described in Matthew 5, includes Satan for he still wills his existence and relative autonomy.) However, he allows his creation to rebel and torment itself as just punishment.

  11. Rick says:

    Did I hear Greg say at 30:38 that Kingdom people should be vegeterian, or did I mis-interpret his comment?

  12. Grace says:

    Rick, I agree with your question. What happened to ‘not judge’ when discussing eating meat? Abuse and destruction of animals, e.g. shark fins, cannot be argued -but it is not a comparison to eating meat.

  13. kevin says:

    i need help understanding the nature of the death of annanias and saphira.

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