Wrath, Judgment, and Love

John Wesley said that the only requirement to join the Methodist Societies – the movement was not yet a “church” at that time – was a “desire to flee from the wrath to come, and to be saved from their sins.” Our problem isn’t that people today lack a desire to be “saved from their sins.” Most church people readily admit to wanting to be saved. It’s the other part of Wesley’s criteria that causes us to pause. Modern Methodists are not excited to believe there is such a thing as “the wrath to come,” let alone that we should desire to “flee” from it. We have a long habit of saying “God is love” – which is, of course, a thoroughly biblical and Wesleyan thing to say – and assuming that because God is love, there can be no such thing as wrath. If God is love, we think, why would God ever be angry? It’s those other people who are consumed with belief in an angry God who delights in judging people and throwing them in hell. Those other people will believe that the angry God toys with sinners in his hands, torturing them, seeking to destroy them. Because those other people reject the truth of God’s love, they hold on to an angry, spiteful God who is on the lookout to catch anyone anywhere who might be having just a small bit of harmless pleasure.

I want to be biblical in my thinking, preaching, and way of living. I also value our Wesleyan heritage. I am thus constrained to reject both an account of God as angry and vindictive, only loving the select few, AND an account of God as defined by a sort of love that is never bothered by sin or evil but is only relentlessly nice and harmless.

When I read scripture, I cannot dismiss the reality of wrath and judgment. The message is clear that we will all come before God’s judgment seat. The message is clear that God’s anger is exercised toward those who fail to obey the Great Commandment – to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Can we see the evil in the world, whether now or throughout history, and imagine God is happy with it all? I know I am a sinner, deserving of judgment. I know my sin hurts people and dishonors God. I need God’s forgiveness and deliverance. I also see that God’s judgment begins with his own people, so my being a Methodist, my being a Christian, means I am more susceptible to God’s judgment than other people.

When I read scripture, I also cannot dismiss the reality and depth of God’s love. In both the Old and New Testaments, we see God’s love displayed. We see God’s love for his people, Israel. We see God’s plan for his people to be the means by which all nations would be reconciled to him and experience life. We see the cry of God’s broken heart for rebellious sinners in places like Ezekiel 33:11. And we see Jesus. We see Jesus, the Word become flesh, God become one of us. Jesus put himself in our place, not as an invincible, invulnerable, Superman, but as one who would take our sin upon himself and die for us. Paul tells us that God demonstrated his love – there’s that word! – God demonstrated his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. He invites us to receive this gift of love and life. His love will not compel us to receive this gift, but his love will relentlessly pursue us, seeking our response to the redemption he offers in Christ.

God has given us the awesome gift of Jesus that we might have life. That we will face judgment is a certainty. It is also a certainty that if we had to stand in the judgment alone, we could not stand. The greater certainty, however, is that the Bible says that Jesus stands with us as an advocate who speaks in our defense. Because we belong to Jesus, we approach the throne of God not with terror, but with joy and confidence, knowing there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ.

This entry was posted in Assurance, Atonement, Jesus, John Wesley, Love, Salvation, United Methodism and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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