I’ve been thinking about God’s judgment and wrath lately. Maybe I’ve been thinking about this because I’ve been watching a documentary on Netflix called “The Keepers.” It’s a gruesome story about startling acts of injustice surrounding the murder of a nun back in the 60’s. It’s a case in which the perpetrators of both murder and sexual abuse were not brought to justice.
A belief in God’s judgment and wrath is one of those beliefs that all Christians everywhere have always believed. Besides being one of the most basic assertions of the Bible, this belief appears in the Apostles’ Creed: “He will come again to judge the living and the dead.” In fact, I don’t just believe in God’s judgment and wrath, I rejoice in it. Why? I’m glad you asked. Here’s why…
I rejoice in it because judgment and justice go together. Christians talk a lot about justice these days, but very little about God’s judgment. We all desire justice. Life isn’t fair, but for some reason, we think it should be fair. Though life isn’t fair now, Scripture still points to a day when wrongs will be righted and justice will be served. That’s why the idea of God’s judgment brings comfort. To those who suffer at the hands of the unjust, it is comforting to hold on to the promise that one day all will be made right. This upside-down, evil world will not go on like this forever. God will execute justice. He will put an end to all that is wrong with the world, including terrorism, famine, disease, human trafficking, and so on. Psalm 96:13 declares, “Let all creation rejoice before the Lord, for he comes, he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in his faithfulness.” The psalmist clearly celebrates judgment as good news. Take away the idea of judgment, and you rob Christianity of any hope of satisfying our longing for justice, a longing built into us by God.
Judgment also demonstrates God’s love. God is not bipolar—part wrathful and part loving. Love is his essential attribute, but this love is not like the sentimental love we think of today. God’s love is holy and even jealous. The wrath of God is based on his love. When we do away with the notion of God as Judge, we’re left with a sappy, sanitized deity whom we can easily manage. But the evil of our world is much too serious for us to view God as a kind grandpa. The Bible’s picture of God is much more satisfying. He is angry because he is love. He looks at the world and sees the trafficking of innocent women and children, the destructive sale of drugs, the atrocities in Syria, and out of his love for us he is rightfully angry. The god who is truly scary is not the wrathful God of the Bible, but the god who shrugs his shoulders to evil, ignoring it in the name of “love.” What kind of love is this? A god who is never angered at sin and who lets evil go by unpunished is not worthy of worship. A judgment-less god isn’t too loving; he’s not loving enough.
Larry King used to ask Christians if they believed Jesus was the only way to God; he also asked them about the murderer who trusts Christ: Does he get off the hook? The idea that a criminal could go free is astounding, but God has acted in a way that upholds justice and bestows grace at the same time. There is hope for rebels who desire justice and yet don’t want to suffer. We see justice and mercy most clearly in the cross of Jesus Christ. The cross of Christ satisfied justice. His judgment against evil was poured out upon his only Son on the cross. Justice and mercy are not at war with one another; they meet at the cross. And we can find both judgment and mercy as good news once we recognize our guilt in light of God’s holiness, and then bask in forgiveness in light of God’s grace.
At a confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill this week Sen. Bernie Sanders pressed a Christian nominee for deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget about his beliefs on this subject. “Do you think that people who are not Christians are condemned?” Sanders kept asking. Sanders clearly believes that thinking like that has no place in a government official. But Bernie Sanders, and others like him, simply fail to understand that a god who does not judge is neither a god of justice or of love — both attributes that even Bernie would claim to be committed to.