Wrath is a touchy subject in modern society. For instance, most people have a hard time reconciling a loving God with a wrathful God. How does a God who loves human beings also ask Israel to destroy the Canaanites? And how can a loving God prepare hell where he will burn unbelievers eternally? These are just some of the questions that come up when the issue of wrath is discussed. For the most part, these questions reveal a lack of understanding of how the Bible perceives the concept of wrath.
The Meaning of Wrath in the Bible
The Bible uses the term wrath and anger interchangeably. For instance, in Proverbs 15:1, scripture says a gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. We can therefore infer that wrath is another name for anger.
Wrath is however often more serious than anger – because it is vengeful anger. It is anger that inspires you to take action. Let us take a closer look at some of the important things the Bible says about wrath to help us understand it better.
God’s Wrath is Righteous
But because of your hard and impenitent heart, you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. Romans 2:5
As we started by noting, scripture often portrays God as wrathful. But the context of such passages reveals why. See, God is longsuffering and slow to anger. However, the holy nature of God cannot tolerate sin forever. Every time moral evil increases, God’s wrath is often revealed. Unlike what most people may think, this is not a display of evil but a display of righteousness.
Even in the physical world, strict judgment is passed on vile offenders. Some regions even practice capital punishment for some offenders. When a guilty person is convicted as prescribed by the law, society generally celebrates because “justice has been served.” Similarly, God is a righteous judge. Due to his everlasting love, God will delay judgment to give offenders enough time to amend their ways. However, judgment eventually unfolds.
We see a good illustration of God’s righteousness in wrath in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. The Bible says the outcry and sin in the two cities were grave (Genesis 18:20) and the righteous judge pronounced judgment. However, Abraham intercepted God and interceded for the cities by pleading for God’s mercy for the sake of the righteous people therein. Interestingly, God agreed to preserve the cities if righteous people were found there. Unfortunately, the threshold was not met and the judgment proceeded as scheduled.
God’s Wrath is Revealed in Both Old and New Testaments
There is a common misconception that God’s wrath is only seen in the Old Testament. This is based on the understanding that the grace of God was revealed through Jesus Christ who came to establish the New Covenant. However, we must remember that God is immutable and the same things that made him angry in the Old Testament still make him mad in the New Testament. It is not accurate to state that God’s wrath is withheld from his people in the New Testament.
Granted, the way God deals with his people may not be the same in the two covenants. For instance, capital punishment was prescribed in the law of Moses for some of the transgressors of some of the laws. That said, God’s wrath is still released from time to time in the New Covenant. A classical example is the story of Ananias and Saphira in the Book of Acts. The two conspired to lie to God about the money they had pledged to give to God and this attracted God’s wrath. The result was both died (Acts 5:1-11).
Another example of God’s wrath in the New Testament is the story of Pharaog in Acts 12. The pharaoh in question was praised openly by men and instead of giving glory to God, he readily took God’s place. Immediately, an angel of God struck him and he was eaten by worms. One may argue that this was a harsher judgment than what Nebucadenesaer went through in the Old Testament for a similar offense. This serves to show that God can still display his wrath today.
Wrath Could Lead You to Sin
In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry. Ephesians 4:26
In Ephesians, Paul admonishes the church at Ephesus to be careful not to be driven by anger into sin. It is human to get angry but in moments of anger, we must learn to exercise self-control. One cannot be driven by anger and the Holy Spirit at the same time. When you get angry, it is easy to make stupid and rash decisions that you could end up regretting. It is said that wise men do not make permanent decisions based on temporary situations. Unfortunately, so many people make decisions that are not wise just because of anger. Because the devil knows how easy it is to sin when angry, he will attempt to make you angry every chance he gets. This is why Paul advises us not to give him a foothold.
Interestingly, the scripture above doesn’t tell us not to get angry. That’s because it is almost humanly impossible. There are things that happen around you and to you all day that will always make you mad. Sometimes, anger is divine. For instance, it is holy anger that caused Jesus to turn tables in the temple and flush the money changers and business people from God’s temple. Strictly speaking, getting angry is not so bad – the problem is how you deal with the anger and whether or not you allow the anger to control you.
In summary, wrath is often used in the Bible as a synonym for anger. However, it may denote a deeper form of anger that results in vengeful action. For instance, God’s wrath is typically illustrated through judgment.