What If It Was Never About Wrath?

Author:  Rachelle Rieke
On my way home from bible study last week, as I was contemplating more on the ‘wrath of God’ subject, I had the thought: what if it was never about wrath? Could it be that man has perceived God wrongly ever since the Garden of Eden, an error that has permeated and perhaps distorted history ever since? Think about it. The first thing Adam and Eve did after they partook of the fruit was to attempt to cover themselves and hide from God. Their first response was fear:

“And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid…” Genesis 3:8-10 (emphasis mine).

I suppose more importantly though, would be to examine God’s response to them. Was their fear warranted? When I read the passage, I witness God calling out to them, giving them a chance to come out and answer for themselves (He is
God– of course He knew exactly where they were and what had happened). He could have smote them right then and there for their rebellion, but instead we see Him covering their shame and clothing them with the skins of animals – a foreshadowing of Christ and act of compassion if I ever saw (or read) one.
Okay, but what about the curses that God spoke of in verses 16-19? Could it be possible that He was prognosticating what was going to happen to them because the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23) and not because it was His will or His own sovereign act? Could it be that Adam and Eve’s sin gave Satan legal access to touch them and kill them since it is he that holds the power of death (Hebrews 2:14)? Is it possible that sin has its own natural consequences that have nothing to do with God – that we are not punished for our sin but by our sin? Could it be that ever since that day in the garden, Satan has been accusing man to God and God to man, but all God has relentlessly tried to do is cover us like He first did for Adam and Eve? What if it was never about wrath?
Considering this further, we must begin and finish with the person of Jesus. He is radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature (Hebrews 1:3). Seems to me that Jesus is the demonstrated will of God in flesh, and that, as Tyler Johnson puts it, “any belief about God not substantiated by the life of Jesus is wrong.” So how do we look at Old Testament scripture? It must be through the lens of Jesus. As Randall Worley puts it, “the Old Testament is the New Testament concealed and the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed.”
Throughout Jesus’ life we observe Him as a giver of life and a man without judgment. In John 12:45 Jesus declares that
whoever sees him (Jesus) sees him who sent [him] – God! They are one and the same. And so two verses later when Jesus says, “If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world,” it is the same as Father God saying it. Perhaps that seems obvious, but it means that sentiment must then also be applied to how Old Testament scripture is read because God is the same forever (Hebrews 13:8).
In his book, How to Raise the Dead, Tyler Johnson puts it this way:
Either God killed in the past, kills today, and will kill forever, or He doesn’t and never did. I would suggest that because the Lord says in Revelation 21:4 that there will be no death in heaven and that God isn’t destroying people in paradise, He never did because He is the same yesterday, today, and forever…Despite what our understanding of scripture tells us, whether pertaining to Old Testament verses or New, God does not kill. Ending life is outside of the character of God. It contradicts God’s nature to kill.
Can it really be that simple? It seems we are still in a quandary about the Old Testament when we read about the earth being wiped out in Noah’s day, or the annihilation of Sodom and Gomorrah, or “the anger of the Lord burned against them” this, or “the Lord’s wrath” that. But perhaps, as we saw in the garden, fear was misplaced (especially since there is no fear in perfect love [1 John 4:18] – whom God is [1 John 4:8]), and perhaps the credit for destruction and devastation was misappropriated then and largely still is now.
Tyler Johnson sheds some light on this in regards to the Hebraic culture and paradigm. He describes how in biblical days, the delegation of authority and the manner in which a messenger of a king was received was as if the messenger was the king himself. This could be a game-changer in understanding Old Testament events. Johnson writes:
Hebrews viewed God and His angels in the same way. If God sent an angel, sometimes it is referred to in scripture as the Angel of the Lord, and sometimes it is simply referred to as The Lord. There is no line drawn between the angel and God, because the angel was carrying out God’s bidding, acting in His authority, and thus was, in essence, The Lord. This view was an assumed cultural norm in those days, and the scriptures are written in light of it.
                The problematic aspect of this is that at one time, satan and his angels were servants of God. They were Angels of the Lord. But long ago they chose to rebel against God and serve their own evil desires. The problem with the Hebraic view is that it didn’t fully acknowledge that satan rebelled against God. Instead of recognizing that satan was in total opposition to God and an enemy to God, the Hebrews believed that the enemy was still a tool in the hand of God.  Because of their distorted view of God’s sovereignty (that many have today), they believed that everything that happened must be God’s doing. They concluded that God would make use of satan when He had something distasteful to deal out to humanity like judgments, punishments, wrath, and death. They figured that when Satan did something, it was ultimately God’s doing anyways because God was sovereign over all. In reality, the enemy was no longer a messenger of God’s will, nor a friend of God, but the Hebraic mindset still encompassed satan’s acts as God’s.
In the midst of every circumstance, I think we must ask ourselves, “Does what I am going through fall under the job description of Satan – killing, stealing, and destroying – or the job description of God – giving life and life abundant (John 10:10)?” What if God’s goodness is extravagantly, scandalously, infinitely better than we could ever imagine? What if it was never about wrath?
Image taken from: http://www.crossfellowship380.com/blog/post/the-lion-and-the-lamb