Sunday, November 21, 2010

How can God be both Loving and Wrathful?

John 3:16 is often called the "end zone verse" because of its ubiquitous appearance on football game posters. "God so love the world that he gave his only begotten Son." God does love us, and the depth of his love surpasses all knowledge (Eph. 3:19). It is higher than the Heavens (Ps 103:11).
However, John 3:16 needs to always be held in tension with another important verse, Rom. 1:18. "For the wrath of God is being revealed from Heaven against all the ungodliness and wickedness of men."
When these two verses collide, as they eventually do with all sober, thinking Christians, they present us with a problem. How can they both be true? Do we just ignore the wrath of God and cling to his love? Or, do we honestly attempt to find a solution? Does God love man and hate man at the same time? If so, can we reconcile these seemingly contrary ideas?

They reconcile at the cross. There God's love and God's wrath meet and shake hands. They become friends. That is because the cross of Christ is simultaneously a display of God's wrath towards sinners and his love for sinners. Jesus stands in our place and God pours out his intense anger on his Son in our place. God the Father does this so that he can lavish his divine love on us. Martin Luther summed it all up with the idea that we see God's love through his wrath.
For these reasons and others noted New Testamen scholar, D. A. Carson, wrote, “The Bible can simultaneously affirm God’s wrath toward people and his love for them: it does not intimate that God’s love and his judicial “hatred” are necessarily mutually exclusive. So why should love and hatred be exclusive in us? (Love in Hard Places, pg 42)

Have you grappled with this idea? Would love to hear your solutions.


  1. I'm not sure I understand. Is this question regarding our ability to understand God as both wrathful and loving, or our ability to both love and hate someone at the same time (and both righteously)?

    With regard to the second possibility (loving and hating simultaneously), it appears that it really is the only way of appropriately handling certain situations. For example, when dealing with Jehovah's witnesses (or other claiming "Christians" who preach a false gospel) the correct response is both hatred (as they are misrepresenting and incorrectly presenting God and his gospel) and love (as we too were lost in sin and shown mercy from our heavenly Father).
    Responding in only one way or the other belittles either the seriousness of the sin, or the deepness of the love of God.

    Another question is: what are appropriate ways to hate someone? Praying against their outreach efforts (for Jehovah's Witnesses)? Calling them out for their sin?
    What would be inappropriate?

  2. I'm also having difficulty understanding the last question, "Why should love and hatred be exclusive in us?" Certainly I don't think the question implies that we are to love some and hate others? Maybe it does! I agree with Chris, though, that loving and hating simultaneously (and with all the mixture of motives fueling that love/hatred) is fairly common, human and sometimes even the best we can do at that moment.
    To make more headway on this question, we'd have to define love and hatred more exactly. We can think comparatively. In comparison to our love for God, our love for all others will appear as "hate"..Luke 14, right? But only the love of God enables us to love others in truth at all, in any measure or degree. I used to believe that the opposite of love wasn't hatred, but indifference. But maybe indifference is just a lazy, undeveloped form of hatred and not really an entity. Certainly in eternity there will be no indifference. Still, to think of hatred as not the irreconcilable opposite of love (as good is to evil) has helped make the whole idea a little easier to grasp, just a little.

  3. If you want to read a short book that will stretch your mind on this topic, I would recommend, "The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God," by D. A. Carson. It was based on a series of lectures he delivered at Dallas Theological Seminary some time ago. God's love is truly amazing ... and all the more amazing when you see more clearly the brilliance of his holiness and the catastrophic sinfulness of our sin.