What does "the wrath of God" mean?By Scot McKnight
What comes to mind when you hear the expression “the wrath of God”? More often than not, this expression evokes emotional outrage, narcissistic rage or a kind of bloodthirsty fit of vengeance. It is unquestionably accurate that some preachers create that sense for the expression. It seems everyone wants to put this behind us.
But this means one has to define what “wrath of God” means in the Bible, and I think here of the classic passage in Rom. 1:18-32.
What does “wrath of God” mean? How would you explain this expression?
Tony Thiselton, in Life after Death, examines this expression. Here are his principal findings:
Love is permanent; wrath is not permanent. It is not eternal and does not reach beyond time. It is not a permanent quality of God like righteousness.
The opposite of love is not wrath but indifference. Wrath is not indifference.
A bewildering variety of terms in the Bible feeds into our expression, but one thing is clear: They are often emotive terms. “The word clearly implies emotion in God” (160).
What generates the wrath of God in the Bible most often is idolatry. This contributes to the meaning of “Jealous God.”
C.H. Dodd famously contended “wrath of God” was an “inevitable process of cause and effect in a moral universe,” and his point was to distance God from a vindicative rage. He overdid it, and as scholars like Stephen Travis have often pointed out, if God made the world of cause and effect, God remains personally involved in the wrath process.
Often wrath is remedial and restorative, but not every instance can be explained that way.
But what about unbelievers in the postmortem state? [It appears to me that Thiselton is asking about eternal conscious experience of the wrath of God.] Again, Thiselton is not sure that we can know from the Bible. We know believers are justified; we know wrath is often remedial; we know wrath is not permanent. But, again, he argues we are to leave these things in the hands of God.
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