“Being handed over to my destructive decisions leads me on a course that organically is connected to a whole life trajectory that leads to death. That’s Romans 1. To say that you’re saved from God’s wrath is to be taken off a set of train tracks and put on a different set of train tracks that leads to life. This is what Paul means when he says we need to be saved from God’s anger. It’s not just a post-mortem event at the end of your life––God’s wrath is something that begins now. It’s something I need to be rescued from right now.”
In part one (0:00–13:15), the team evaluates the common misconception that God regularly gets angry at humans and kills people when he doesn’t approve of their actions. Their conclusion? God’s anger is more nuanced, infrequent, and revealing of his love than we might think.
Just as we tend to get the most frustrated with the people we are most invested in, God’s anger occurs most often with those he’s calling to represent him, including Moses, kings, prophets, and the nation of Israel.
Typically, when God gets angry with Israel, he hands them over to influences that are destructive and ruinous, including enemy nations. Time and time again, when Israel experiences God’s wrath, we see that their fate is ultimately because of their own choices.
When Jesus appears on the scene, he comes as both a prophet who perfectly represents God and as the covenant God of Israel pursuing his people yet again. Jesus warns Israel that if they don’t follow his ways, they will be subjected again to God’s anger. At the same time, Jesus knows he has come to drink the cup of God’s anger himself. He goes to his death on behalf of all guilty people, submitting himself to the instruments of God’s judgment—Rome and the corrupt religious leaders of Israel. And he confronts the satan and demons that had hijacked the kingdoms of the world to become instruments of injustice, rather than conveyors of justice.
Jesus fulfills and reveals the true nature of God’s anger. At the cross, God’s anger and God’s love meet together to rescue humans and provide them life on the other side of death.
In part two (13:15–28:30), Tim walks the team through the most elaborate description of God’s anger in the epistles, Paul’s letter to the Romans.
For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.” For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of people who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and they exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible humans and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.
Here, Paul references the story of Israel worshiping the golden calf (Exodus 32) to describe all of humanity. In Exodus 32, the Israelites weren’t creating a new god, but they were seeking to turn Yahweh into something they could visualize and control. God gets angry when we create and give ourselves over to a god of our own making instead of recognizing we are made in the image of God. The rest of Romans 1 gives us another glimpse of what God’s anger looks like.
Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them… For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions… And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a senseless mind, to do those things which are not right, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful. And although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.
God’s anger appears here in his “giving over,” of the people to their “degrading passions” and “senseless minds,” the type of self-destruction humans naturally reap when left to their own devices.
In part three (28:30–35:00), Tim begins with a quote from scholar N.T. Wright.
“The great evils of the twentieth century have reminded us that unless God remains implacably opposed to the evil that distorts and defaces creation, not least humanity, God is not good. Paul’s whole theology is grounded in the robust, scripturally rooted view that the Creator is neither a tyrant nor an absentee landlord, but rather the Creator and Lover of the world… The result is God’s ‘wrath’ –– not just an attitude of hostility toward idolatry and immorality, but also actions that follow from that attitude. The content of God’s wrath involves the process of God’s ‘giving people over’ to the result of their own folly, but also more. Those consequences are also an anticipation of a final judgment, the ‘death’ spoken of in Romans 1:32… The two are organically connected: moral degradation in the present anticipates the ultimate degrading of humanness itself, in death.” –– N.T. Wright, Romans (New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary), p. 431
This flips our understanding of death and eternal life on its head. So instead of thinking, “I’m bad, and God is holy, so he has to kill me unless I believe in Jesus,” we look at it this way: If we continue in sin instead of accepting the gift of grace and eternal life offered freely to all through Jesus, God hands us over to the self-destructive path that ultimately ends in death. But our fate is something we ultimately choose ourselves.
In part four (35:00–45:00), Tim looks at the focus of Paul's theology of the cross. Paul has set up a problem in Romans 1 (God’s wrath against humanity’s unrighteousness), which he spends the rest of the epistle addressing by zeroing in on Jesus’ sacrifice.
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
When Paul speaks of the cross of Jesus, he in no way places God’s anger at the forefront. Although Jesus took God’s wrath for humanity, the cross is a demonstration of God’s love.
If God’s wrath occurs when humanity gives their hearts and minds over to self-destruction and corruption, then to be saved from God’s wrath is to get on a whole new set of train tracks. Through the life and death of Jesus, we are invited into the new humanity, one that participates in the very love and life of God. Our life trajectory now leads not to death but to everlasting life.
In part five (45:00–end), Tim, Jon, and Carissa conclude that a good God has to get angry at injustice, which is why God’s slowness to anger is at the heart of his attributes in Exodus 34:6-7. But it’s not his anger that’s highlighted––it’s his slowness to anger.
Carissa points out that humans have more opportunities to step up into our intended role as God’s partners because God is slow to anger.
In theory, Tim says, if human beings were really doing their jobs well as agents of God’s justice, there would be less for God to be angry at in the first place. God’s slowness to anger is also his intentional allowance of time for more humans to come to salvation in Jesus.
And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things. But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you think lightly of the riches of his kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?
It’s easy to find ourselves agreeing with God’s anger toward those who we think ought to be judged. But when we find ourselves complicit somehow, our hope is that God will be patient and slow to anger with us. The Bible shows us that’s exactly who God is.
Taking the time to examine what we may have previously considered the more “unpleasant” aspects of God’s character (like his anger) actually provides us a broader vantage point to see the depths of his love for humanity.
Show produced by Dan Gummel and Camden McAfee.
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