We return to our series in Romans
Meditations in Romans : 15 : The Wrath of God
Rom 1:18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness
Mostly we associate ‘wrath’ or anger with unrestrained outbursts of extremely hostile emotions witnessed by words and even deeds. Because we are so often unclear on the characteristics of God we think of God’s wrath or anger in these terms but an examination of Scripture indicates that this is not so. The wrath of God is a cool, calm, purposeful bringing of judgment that is deserved. It is a bringing of justice. Yes God is upset by our foolish godlessness and unrighteousness and yes He does rise up to take action against such attitudes and behaviour, but God’s anger is never out of control.
Anger, a dictionary of pastoral ethics suggests, is… ‘a response to wrong doing… may be negative or positive, unloving or loving…. redemptive or destructive… a neutral emotion.’ Wrath it seems in Scripture refers to anger in action. It is right to feel emotional about wrong doing and anger is an emotion that says ‘this should not have been’ or ‘this should not have happened’. Anger shows an absence of complacency about such wrongdoing, and God is never complacent. Wrath is anger that has determined that action should be taken against this wrong-doing. It is anger moving into retribution or judgment or correction. God doesn’t get angry over our stumbling attempts as His children to get it right when we make mistakes.
From what Paul says in our verse today God’s ‘anger-in-action’ is directed at godlessness and wickedness. Wickedness is wrong that is done with evil intent. The intent of the person is to positively do evil, wrong, harm etc. It is righteous to be angry at wilful, positive-intent evil! God has made us with a wonderful world and with immense individual potential – specifically to be and do good, in the image of our Creator. To purposefully go in the opposite direction to cause hurt, harm or damage in a purposefully destructive manner whether it simply involves words or, more likely, specific acts or hurt or harm, is a cause for negative emotions of indignation and displeasure and these are the expression we call anger. God is right to show this indignation and displeasure when He observes this wilful godlessness and unrighteousness that we call evil.
Now we mustn’t confuse the outworking of God’s anger with the emotion of His anger. Anger is the emotion and the emotion, in some situations, is closely linked with His calculated decision to take remedial action. We do need to note in passing that when God brings discipline or judgement, it is a form of remedial action. It is either to stop permanently a course of action by removing the person who God sees will not change whatever He says or does, or it is corrective in the way it stops a person following the course they are following so that they follow a new path that is not hurtful, harming or destructive. Now we are going to see in the verses ahead that God takes action (wrath = anger-in-action) and the form of what we would call judgment is clearly corrective, i.e. designed to bring change of behaviour.
Thus we should see that although God’s wrath is obvious, it isn’t necessarily destructive, it isn’t designed to kill or destroy people. We will see that soon in the verses ahead. So, we shouldn’t misunderstand God’s ‘wrath’ and see it as a vindictive or spiteful act, which is what it so often is in human beings. God’s wrath is thus seen to be His anger or indignant displeasure that is of such a magnitude, because of the nature of the sin, that it results in action by God against those committing the sin.
Perhaps a final thing we should emphasise is that so often men’s wickedness is both an expression of and an outworking of men suppressing the truth. First of all they suppress the truth by denying it, denying God and denying the way He has designed the world to work best, and they then proclaim and live a lie. Second, in the way that they do evil and wickedness, they prevent truth, the truth of God’s design being lived out as He wants it to be. They stop goodness prevailing, and they stop love prevailing.
This is the truth of how God has designed us to live and they stop that happening. It is a wilful, self-centred, pride thing and it is something human beings do purposefully. We don’t accidentally fall into it. It may happen gradually as we take one small step after another into a life of utter godless self-centredness, but each step involves an act of will. It is not just one step but many steps, many times when we make these acts of will in rebellion against God and rebellion against the truth. It is a downward spiral away from the truth and into a life of deception that is destructive in every way. If we live like this then let us not make any foolish talk about God’s harshness. It is right to be angry against such lifestyles and it is right of God to take action against such things to protect His world.