I recently attended a FIRE Conference in Indiana and the theme of the conference was the Wrath of God. It is not a topic that we really like to talk about much in our culture, so it is a bit shocking that an organization would commit so much time to it. However, I was struck by the fact that there are so many passages that not only talk about the wrath of God, but encourage us to consider it. One such verse that hit me as particularly clear was:
Romans 11:22 Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off.
The passage falls in a section describing how God had cut off Israel in order to graft in the Gentiles. And he wants us to consider both sides of this transaction. He dealt severely with Israel in the same action that he showed kindness to the Gentiles. Paul calls us in Romans 11 to “note then the kindness and the severity of God.” That is, to think about and allow it to affect the way that we live. It is this very act of “noting” that will prevent us from being “cut off.” Through the years in many ways God has dealt severely with Israel. Because of their rebellion in the wilderness, an entire generation was not allowed to enter the Promised Land. Due to their rebellion in the Promised Land, Assyria and Babylon took them into exile. And the rejection and murder of Jesus has left many of those who have been set apart to worship God spending eternity apart from Him. God is severe, he is wrathful, he is angry with sin every day. And he will by no means allow the guilty to go free. We are called here to note God’s severity. But it is not just his severity that we are called to note.
In one session, Phil Johnson taught from Jonah 4. This is a part of the story that never seems to make it into the kid’s books. Before this chapter, Jonah had already rebelled, been pursued by God, deposited by a fish on the shores of Nineveh, preached the message of God’s coming wrath, and then seen what was probably history’s largest revival. The whole city was saved! And in chapter four we read of Jonah’s reaction:
Jonah 4:1-3 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the LORD and said, “O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
Wow!Not really what you would expect from a man who just lead the world’s largest revival meeting.Phil Johnson said that Jonah’s response was based on a deficient and imbalanced theology.He was not noting both God’s kindness AND his severity.In Jonah’s case he wanted only God’s wrath upon the Ninevites.They were a wicked people that had plagued Israel for years.And all he wanted was their destruction.He was angry with God for sparing them.He wanted God to hate them as much as he did.When God instead showed kindness to them, Jonah rejected God’s plan, pouted, and said he wished he were dead.Phil Johnson reminded us that many people believed in Hell on the day that Osama bin Laden was killed.Many rejoiced that day, and rightly so.God is Just and he deals severely with sin and sin always deserves severity.And yet, the God that we serve is also a kind God, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and relenting of disaster.He even relents at times when we want is flaming wrath.And he does not always tell us why he deals severely with Osama bin Laden and kindly with Nineveh.Jonah was not looking good at the end of the book.God kindly confronted him in his misunderstanding and misapplication of wrath, but we never know for sure if he repented.
I wonder if these verses should confront us today as well. More times than not, we are not longing for the blood of our neighbors and angry if God saves them. But what about the opposite? When we read that God has chosen to condemn those who reject him to eternal fire (Matthew 25:41), do we pout then? Would we rather die than believe in a God who would damn people? Do we fail to note both the severity and the kindness of God? I ask these questions not because I am excited by the wrath of God. No, I am terrified of it. But according to Paul, it is only when we note both his severity and kindness that we avoid being cut off like Israel. In truth we serve a God who is wrathful, angry, and severe. But he is also a gentle, kind, forgiving God. But it is God that determines when to respond as a lion or as a lamb. And it is for these very reasons that he is God and we are not. And even when we don’t understand (perhaps especially then) we out to fall on our faces and worship…
Romans 11:33-34 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?”