By Clay Holland:
Have you ever heard someone discredit Christianity after hearing of some accounts of God’s wrath? Have you personally ever struggled when it came to places in the Bible where God was active in destroying people and even nations? On the one hand this should be upsetting, as Andrew said on Sunday these are actual people not just exaggerated statistics. On the other hand we must realize that God is good, loving and true and these actions he takes against his enemies must be for a reason. The picture that the Bible paints of the nature of the human heart reveals mankind as being enemies of God and being hostile towards God in both thoughts and deeds. It isn’t extreme to think that an application of man’s sinfulness would lead us to claim moral high ground over God.
Everything in the Bible is in the Bible for a distinct purpose. Whether it is to tell us something about God, point to Jesus, or instruct man on the proper response to the Gospel it all stands for a purpose. 2 Timothy 3:16 (ESV) states, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” With that in mind we can draw the logical conclusion that even the most gruesome accounts of God’s wrath displayed in the Old Testament are in the Bible for a purpose.
The Bible is a historical recorded account of history that teaches the readers theology. When we read of God acting upon his wrath in the Bible such as we see in Esther, Joshua, Judges, and a number of other places every instance is meant to teach us something about God. In the instances of Holy war in the Bible and Gods active will in destruction we see that God displaying his holiness.
The Old Testament word for holiness means “to cut” or “to separate.” In other words, holiness is a cutting off or separation from the unclean, and consecration of that which is pure. In Romans 1, 3, 5, and 6 we read that man is inherently sinful and bent towards rebellion against God. It is understandable as to how this creates some tension and some uneasiness for those of us on the sinful side of the equation. If God is infinitely holy, powerful, and just and man is set in opposition against him then judgment should be assumed. So when we open our Bibles and see God reigning fire down on the nations and raising up warriors should we really be all that surprised? With all of this in mind the only way that anyone could claim God’s righteous judgment in the OT as unfair is if that judgment was undeserved. When a judge finds a defendant guilty for a crime they committed they are just doing their job. When it comes to God judging the nations why do we assume that it should be any different?
God’s judgment of the nations in the Old Testament is a sign that points to the coming judgment for mankind. The Day of Judgment will come for everyone where God will judge impartially and render to every man according to his works (1 Peter 1:17). What in us says that this judgment is going to be delayed? Every day that we wake up we experience the graciousness of God. Through committing the cosmic treason of sin we have rendered every breath we take and every heartbeat we have undeserved. These Old Testament stories point to a God who will ultimately judge the nations and a God that will separate the Holy from the unclean. R.C. Sproul in his book The Holiness of God says, “God’s grace is not infinite. God is infinite, and God is gracious. We experience the grace of an infinite God, but grace is not infinite. God sets limits to His patience and forbearance. He warns us over and over again that someday the ax will fall and His judgment will be poured out.”
We may look back at the Old Testament and stand in fisticuffs at what we perceive as an unloving God that destroys people both directly and indirectly. Before we attempt to claim our moral high ground and jump to this conclusion we must recognize that the most violent display of God’s wrath in the Bible is in the slaughtering of His only son on the cross. On the cross we see the wrath that sinful man deserves poured out on Jesus Christ. Through this gracious and merciful act of God we see his judgment not eradicated and forgotten but fully absorbed by Jesus. Through faith in His sacrifice on our behalf Jesus takes on the judgment that was meant for sinful men. When this becomes our reality our bondage to sin is broken and our eternal decree of separation is eradicated.
For further reading we have compiled a list of a few resources that would be helpful in learning more of God’s holy judgment:
Old Testament Reading Plan
Holy War in the Bible: Christian Morality and an Old Testament Problem – Heath Thomas, Jeremy Evans, & Paul Copan
The Problem of Pain – C.S. Lewis
Divine Wrath: Consequence or Curse – Article by Kevin DeYoung
The Innocence of God: Does God Ordain Evil? – Udo Middlemann