It was the most poignant picture of wrath I’ve witnessed. I had taken my family camping in the Sierra Nevada mountains to escape the heat of the valley floor and to soak in some rest and relaxation. I was hunkered down in a lounge chair deeply engrossed in a novel. My wife, Sara, was coming to join me when suddenly we heard screams of pain from our two-year-old son, Andy.(Image: “Opposition” by rich5370 at flickr; CC copyright Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs)
He’d been playing in the dirt not far from our campsite. As I looked up he was stomping his feet and waving his hands wildly. Swirling around him were flying insects, backlit by the sun, Sara immediately recognized them as bees. Somehow he had stumbled into their nest in the ground and they were attacking him relentlessly.
Before I could extricate myself from the reclining chair, Sara had already rushed to the sounds of his screams. Even though she is allergic to bee stings and got stung for her efforts, she angrily swatted at the bees as she scooped up her son to run with him to safety. When I got to them she was stroking his head with comfort while still panting form the overload of adrenaline still coursing through her veins. Soon she reacted to the venom and we took her to the hospital for treatment.
If you want a picture of God’s wrath, I can think of none better. She was as angry as I’ve ever seen her, but the anger wasn’t directed at Andy nor did it seek retribution. She simply risked herself to rescue someone she loved so deeply.
That’s what God’s wrath is like. He sees the evil that mars his creation and destroys people he loves and he must be rid of it. His wrath consumes evil and wickedness and as such does not exist as the opposite of his love, but as an expression of that love. It must protect and set free the object of his affection.
I’m sure when my son first saw his mom running at him eyes blazing with anger, he thought he was in trouble. Even though he didn’t know what he’d done wrong, he was already recoiling from her as she approached. Only after she had swept him to safety did he realize he was not in trouble.
I think our shame-consciousness toward God does the same thing. Whenever we see God acting to consume sin, we internalize the anger against ourselves. But that isn’t where the wrath is primarily directed. “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men . . .” (Rom. 1:18).
It’s not people that God seeks to destroy but the sin that destroys his people. In that sense God’s wrath is far more curative than it is punitive. Its primary purpose is not to hurt us, but to heal and redeem us.
So Paul took his stand in the open space at the Areopagus and laid it out for them: "I'm here to introduce you to this God.... He doesn't play hide-and-seek with us. He's not remote; he's near. We live and move in him, can't get away from him!" ~Acts 17