Study Guide: The “Wrath of God”

Sunday August 21, 2022 | Greg Boyd

Focus Scripture:

Brief Summary:

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.

Extended Summary:

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…

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.

Reflection Questions: