But God's wrath exists because he is love. His holiness, justice, goodness, and truth require wrath against all that is contrary to his nature.
We can understand this because we are made in the image of God. We have all encountered evil powerful enough to make us hate it, to wish it to be destroyed.
A month or two ago, an archaeological dig near a beach in Peru found remains of over 200 pre-adolescent children who had been ritually sacrificed altogether, by an ancient Peruvian Indian civilization. As I looked at the pictures of the small bones riddled with blade marks, I was filled with fury. I knew at once and without a doubt that a civilization that could do such a thing deserved to be destroyed.
Perhaps you would not have been so angry, or perhaps you would judge me for my anger. But is there nothing that angers you to the degree that you would wish for judgment? I see angry people in the news all the time, pushing for judgment upon things they do not like. They rejoice when bakers are shut down for not baking a cake or when churches are sued for not renting their property according to their standard of righteousness.
We may not all agree on the issues that raised these occasions of wrath. But surely there are evils that we can all agree upon--evils that raise our ire and cause us together to desire judgment, and maybe even destruction. You have seen physical abuse of children and women, cold-hearted murder, rape, molestation. Perhaps you are one of the few who have not seen one or more of these face to face, but you have seen it in the news. Do you feel nothing? Are you okay with it?
Is their anything out there happening in the world that makes you want to take up a placard and march? What are you marching for? Perhaps you would not yourself march, but you have taken a side. You have agreed in your heart with the actions of others who are fighting for what you believe to be a just cause. Why have you taken a side? What wrongs are you wanting to see righted? What convictions are you willing to fight for? Is there no evil anywhere that you would not want to see eradicated? Of course there is.
Now let me ask, who among us would really want a God that does not at least hate the things we hate? Who would choose to do nothing about evil? Who would let molesters and rapists and murderers, or whatever else we believe to be evil suffer no consequences?
Our capacity to hate evil, even the evils that we make up, are a broken reflection of the image of God. Humans have a real capacity to desire justice in this world for themselves and others. We would like to believe that the reason we hate what we believe to be evil is because we ourselves are good. It is our crippled capacity to understand, to know what we believe to be goodness that provides a standard by which we would dare stand up against anything we believe to be wrong. If we would not, then we are either cowards or we are ourselves the evil.
Why would we begrudge God the right to be angry at what he believes to be evil? Why would we hate him for doing what we do all the time? Are we better than God?
And so we see that our problem is not really that we do not think there should be a God who has wrath. Our problem is that we do not agree with God for what he is angry about. But in this we have reached the limits of our reflection of God. Our hatred of God's wrath evidences how horribly broken is our image-bearing capacity. And those who hate God for his wrath would rather have a God made in their image than be reflectors of God's image. In hating God for his wrath, and reserving for ourselves only the privilege of wrath against evil, we put ourselves in the place of God, and pour out our wrath upon God himself as a violator of what we have decided is right.
How dare we make ourselves the standard! This world is so messed up with things that we are angry at, how can we dare to trust that we ourselves should be the standard. And everyone of us knows that we have each messed up and violated what we believe to be right. It is fundamental to depravity to believe something to be right and to violate it anyway. We know this because every last one of us has experienced it. How can we make ourselves the standard?
God's wrath is right because he is love. There is no shadow of turning with him. He is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, goodness and truth. Even with our pitiful inconsistencies by comparison, we ourselves know that love demands wrath against evil. We know that something must be done about evil. And we know that we ourselves are an inadequate standard.
God's wrath is absolutely consistent with his love.