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The “Wrath of God”

• Greg Boyd

What does it mean to trust God as the ultimate judge? This is an important question if we are going to live in love and forego judgment of others.

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To live in love, we must trust God to be the judge. This leads us to ask why God is a trustworthy judge and what the meaning of the “wrath of God” is. Is God’s character worthy of trust when it comes to bringing judgment?

When it comes to thinking about God as judge, many imagine a God who is arbitrarily smiting people with disaster. Since Jesus is the full revelation of God, we know that God never kills or otherwise smites anyone! This view also assumes God judges people by imposing sentences on them the way a judge in a court of law does.

Yet, God does judge. However, how he judges is important to understand. There are two kinds of judgments. The first is judicial, where if you break a rule there is an arbitrary penalty if you are caught. The second is organic in nature.  This occurs when people suffer the natural consequences of their choices. The punishment is built into the crime.

We must anchor all of our thinking about God in the crucified Christ. Whatever we believe about God must always been consistent with what we learn about Jesus on the cross. On the cross Jesus bore our sin and the judgment that we deserved. The cross manifests “the wrath of God” against sin, and Jesus experiences this wrath on the cross. Yet, God was not angry at Jesus. The only action ascribed to God as it concerns Jesus’ crucifixion was that God gave up or delivered over his Son. Paul wrote in Romans 8:32: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” The Father, with a depth of grief we can scarcely imagine, delivered his Son over to wicked violent men to be crucified.

Jesus “became our sin” and our curse. The curse is simply the natural consequences that result from sin. These are not arbitrary fines that are assigned to sin. They are the organic outcomes that arise from living in a state of separation from God.

Romans 1 is the classic text on this matter. This passage presupposes God had been patiently holding onto these people up to this point, trying to influence them to not go down this path of self-destruction. There comes a point where he has to let them go so they descend further and further into self-destructive sin. This is what the “wrath of God” looks like. God is not imposing arbitrary sentences on the people. Rather, with a grieving heart, he turns people over to experience the consequences of their sin.

God only needs to let go to bring about a divine judgment because throughout Scripture we find that sin is inherently self-destructive. To embrace sin is to embrace the natural consequences of that sin. God’s judgment occurs when he lets us descend down a road of the self-destructive and self-punishing nature of sin. We see this in Psalm 7:

Those who are pregnant with evil
Conceive trouble and give birth to disillusionment.
Those who dig a hole and scoop it out
Fall into the pit they have made.
The trouble they cause recoils on them;
Their violence comes down on their own heads. —Psalm 7:14-16

God’s wrath looks like…

  • God allowing the punishment that sin is pregnant with to give birth
  • God allowing people to fall into the pit they dug for others
  • God allowing violence to recoil on their own heads of the perpetrators
  • God allowing people to suffer the death consequences of their own sin

Therefore, when you think of God as a judge, ask yourself what you are imagining when you do so. Set your imagination about God on the image of the revelation of God in Jesus. This is why we can trust that God is the righteous faithful judge whom we can trust, so that we do not have to judge others.

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Topics: Judgment, Love

Sermon Series: Sermon on the Mount, Cross Examination


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The MuseCast: August 23


Focus Scripture:

  • Romans 8:32

    He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

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2 thoughts on “The “Wrath of God”

  1. Jerry says:

    Perfect! And the extended outline is excellent.

    I piece this sermon into two parts.

    Brian McLaren summarizes part 1 well: “There are plenty of gods spoken of in Scripture, but it’s only the God revealed in Christ that does NOT need to be appeased”.

    For part 2:

    AL and Greg’s Theo-synergistic Neuro-Transformation course theme (complicated answer):

    The brain is bombarded by 100 million bits of information per second. If we did not have a way to eliminate this enormous amount of info we would live in total, mental chaos.

    The reticular activating system deletes 98% of this information.

    Two million bits of information get into the nervous system and the mind acts on them.

    This information is deleted, distorted, generalized, and organized into 5-9 chunks of meaning.

    Meaning is determined by the beliefs that are installed. The subconscious mind, what the Bible calls the heart, acts on data up to 1/3000th of a second. The conscious mind operates, and acts on data, at 1/30th of a second. The subconscious mind is 100 times faster than the conscious mind.

    The subconscious mind acts on this vast amount of info automatically, Robo-pathetically, like a machine Proverbs 23:7.

    This is the reason the bible says to watch your, Proverbs 4:23, innermost thoughts, pictures, and words.

    Jonathan Haidt: (From Greg’s series on a rider on an elephant) Reason and emotion must both work together to create intelligent behavior but emotion, a major part of the elephant, does most of the work. The neocortex made the rider, controlled processes, possible but it also made the elephant, automatic processes, much smarter (100 times) faster.

    Rupert Sheldrake: “We are creatures of subconscious habit (98%) with some degree of consciousness (2%) some of the time. (Dumbs in down)”

    Again from Brian McLaren: “We are biological creatures—wild animals—in which spiritual experience happens.” (I like this best)

    In the ongoing cosmic dance back and forth between what will endure and what will need to be left at the gate, (wisdom versus folly), wild animals work well to define the natural consequences when we choose NOT to follow Jesus.

    Wisdom serves as a guide and (guardrail protecting mental, emotional, and physical safety) to filling the decision-making gaps when we don’t know what to do versus the folly of trading what you want most for what you want at the moment caused by the fear of being wrong overriding the fear of admitting you are wrong.

    As water follows the path of least resistance so does Wisdom as a path of humility, the recognition and receptivity that I don’t know everything I need to know – I don’t have it all together, which is in contrast to folly – a proud resistance.

    I believe Dan Kent wrote a book about humility.

    Setting your imagination about God on the image of the revelation of God in Jesus is the wise thing to do in light of past experience, current circumstances, and future hopes and dreams.

    Serenity I just loved your comment. I’ve re-read it numerous times.

    This really struck me: “At some later point of the soul school, God closes the gate on this old earth’s possibilities and, Jesus taught, the apocalyptic end brings a new beginning but only for those who choose wisely by thought and action.”

    Matthew 7:13-14 Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life and only a few find it. (It appears that this new beginning is for a minority)

    Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

    Revelation 22:14-15 “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. (Teachers?) Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. (Students?)

    The old earth soul school has ended with the “still together on the way” possibilities of Matt 5:25.

    Also: consider the Intermediate state Luke 16:19-31 those who choose wisely resting in Abraham’s bosom in contrast with those not resting well at all, in torment, and in need of water with none available.

    17 he Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come, and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.

    Greg has some thoughts: see the podcast “Where Do We Go Right When We Die?” and the Sermon “Going to Hell in a Nutshell”.

    Might there now be a new school with both the Spirit and those who choose wisely teaching? In this school water is freely available and, as Serenity said “persecutors’ free-willed behavior hurts us despite our prayers”, will no longer be an option allowed in this classroom.

    I’m a hopeful Universalist in that none will fail this class however consider C.S. Lewis’s “The Great Divorce”.

    Consider the dwarf in chapter 12: The narrator claims to have never seen anything more awful than Frank’s, the dwarf ghost, struggle against joy. The Tragedian accuses Sarah of not wanting them and of driving them back to Hell. Sarah explains that no one would drive them back, but that everything here bids them stay. But even as she speaks, Frank is growing smaller. The Tragedian berates her, and she begs Frank to make the Tragedian stop. The Tragedian goes on and on, pointing out all of her supposed flaws as the dwarf ghost shrinks until he’s no bigger than a kitten. She explains that she asked him to get the Tragedian to stop NOT because he was hurting her feelings but because acting does no good here. The Tragedian is killing the dwarf. He is now so small that he’s indistinguishable from the chain. It appears at this point there is no longer any hope for him and God, in his mercy, annihilates him.

  2. Serenity says:

    Thank you, Jerry, for the thoughtful, many-stranded comment that I re-read multiple times as well! And for your kind words and thoughtful spiritual insights.
    You’ve commented: ‘[For what occurs after earthly death] In this school water is freely available and, as Serenity said “persecutors’ free-willed behavior [that] hurts us despite our prayers”, will no longer be an option allowed in this classroom.’ Really appreciated that, and hope so.

    Since none of us no matter how well schooled can know with 100% certitude what awaits us beyond this life, I trust the higher knowledge of our loving God, the One who need not be appeased yet requires our conscious contact (with the friendship Jesus modeled) if we’re to receive and give true love and spiritual comfort during earthly life. When we’ve experienced this love and comfort, faith becomes part of the air we breathe. Existential fear then drops away in the space we occupy, our Creator’s heart.

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