Recently I listened to a sermon that answered the question, “Why is God so angry?” The preacher basically answered, “He isn’t!” He argued that American Christianity has been disproportionately (and negatively) impacted by Jonathan Edwards and his famous sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. According to this preacher, we’ve wrongly concluded that God’s primary disposition toward the world is anger. Instead, God’s disposition is that of a father whose arms are wide open waiting to welcome us back. What would God say to this idea that we are sinners in his angry hands? This preacher said, “God says, ‘No, my orientation is always with my arms wide open.’"
To make matters murkier, this preacher insisted God’s disposition toward Christians is one of anger. You read that right, God’s arms are open to the world, but he is angry at Christians. Supposedly, Edwards’ sermon should have been titled, Christians in the Hands of an Angry God.
While I may understand what the preacher might have been trying to get at, that God hates religious hypocrisy, such a careless statement reveals a breathtaking lack of clear thinking. Worse yet, it inverts the gospel message. If God’s wrath doesn’t hang over sinners, then what are we being saved from? Moreover, why become a Christian if that invites God’s wrath, especially if before becoming a Christian God wasn’t angry at us at all? This type of cloudy preaching surely left many in the audience with a warped view of the gospel.
What this misguided sermon demonstrates is the importance of careful theological thinking, and how far afield we get when our teachers lack it. To this incorrect assertion that God isn’t angry, I offer this sampling of verses:
“God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day. If a man does not repent, God will whet his sword; he has bent and readied his bow; he has prepared for him his deadly weapons, making his arrows fiery shafts” (Psalm 7:11-13).
“The Lord tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence. Let him rain coals on the wicked; fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup” (Psalm 11:5-6).
“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36).
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Rom. 1:18)
“Among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Eph. 2:3).
“Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 5:6).
“From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty” (Rev. 19:15).
This is just a few texts from both the Old and New Testaments, which clearly teach that God is angry and his wrath remains on everyone who does not repent. Now it is at this point, it is right to stress that God also offers escape from his wrath through his Son to all who repent and believe. God simultaneously stands in opposition to the world, AND he offers forgiveness. Both are true, and both are necessary for Christians to believe.
Repentance is the key. If we do not repent, then the wrath of God remains on us. In our natural state, we are objects of God’s anger. Because so many are not repenting, God feels indignation (intense anger) every day. Despite all of this, God in his mercy has offered forgiveness and new life through the death and resurrection of Christ. Jesus took the wrath due for his people and extinguished it. So yes, God is angry and rightfully so! Our wickedness is nothing short of cosmic treason against the infinitely good Creator of the universe. God looks at our sin, and his wrath burns against it every day, and it is good and right that it is so.
God also shows mercy to those who repent and believe. He extends his hand to everyone who would acknowledge their sin before him and turn in faith to Jesus Christ. Christians must hold to both the anger and the love of God. Both are true, and both are necessary. Moreover, both are good as they reveal the wonder of God’s character—his holy-love.
As a fellow preacher, I understand our words will be judged with more strictness. In other words, it is important that we truthfully and carefully teach God’s word. I would not be as concerned if it were possible that the preacher merely misspoke, I have done that many times, but this was the main point of his message and he repeated in different ways throughout the entire message.
It is unspeakably false to say that God is not angry with the world. It would be equally incorrect to say that God isn’t merciful to the world. How a preacher of the gospel says that God’s anger remains on Christians, but not on the world is truly astonishing, and it shows an utter lack of biblical thinking. Christ has paid the debt of all who believe. There is no wrath left for them. This is the heart of the gospel, the penalty due for your sin can be placed on Christ if you repent and believe. If not, God’s wrath remains on you.
Christians must hold these two truths in tension: God hates sinners and God loves sinners. God’s wrath is dangling over us, and God offers a way of escape through Christ. I will leave you with this truth from Romans 9:22-23, “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory.” Both his wrath and his mercy reflect the glory of his perfect character, and the church must proclaim both truths to a world which sits under the wrath of God because there is only one way to escape that wrath and his name is Jesus Christ.
Levi J. Secord