How do we make sense of the wrath of a loving God?

Kevin Kinghorn is Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Asbury Theological Seminary. He has recently published But What About God’s Wrath? The compelling love story of divine anger with IVP in conjunction with Stephen Travis, and I asked him about the book and the subject.

Why is wrath a subject that needs further exploration? In what ways do you think Christians struggle with or misunderstand the notion of God’s wrath?

The title of the book comes from a repeated quote I have heard over the years from others when discussing God’s character. In various lectures or conversations I’d talk about the nature of benevolent love, which I think scripture reveals to lie at the heart of God’s character. Often times the reaction from Christians has been, “Well, that’s all fine as far as it goes. But what about God’s wrath?” The idea is that the biblical narrative offers a description of God’s love, but it also talks a good deal about God’s sternness or judgment or wrath. So, a ‘balanced’ view of God will need to take seriously both sides of God’s character.

Frankly, I don’t know any Christians who would want to deny that “God is love” (1 John 4:8). The problem is how to hold on to this affirmation and also take seriously the admittedly numerous passages in scripture that talk about God’s wrath. If we don’t want simply to ignore these darker passages, then I think what we usually end concluding is that there is unresolvable ‘tension’ between passages describing God’s love and passages describing God’s wrath. We may feel uneasy about this tension. We may do our best to put it out of mind when singing hymns on a Sunday morning like Love Divine All Loves Excelling. But the tension is still there somewhere in our hearts and minds. And because the tension is about the very character of God, this tension may be quite unhealthy for many people. The aim of the book is to show how this tension actually can be resolved.

In your book, you explore the qualities of God, and the difference between God’s ‘essential’ qualities and his ‘contingent’ qualities. Why is this important, and what does it tell us about God’s wrath?

The ‘essential’ qualities of God are of course the ones God has by nature and from all eternity. God would not be Godwithout these qualities (eternal, self-sustaining, triune, etc.) Contingent qualities are all those qualities or descriptions of God that are not essential. So, we describe God as having spoken to Moses on Mount Sinai. But this is a contingent matter: God would still be God if he had spoken to Moses on a different mountain or if he had spoken to Aaron instead of Moses.

Here’s why the reference to God’s essential qualities is so important. When God acts in wrath, he is obviously intending to accomplish some goal. The question is: what goal exactly? (His own glorification? The meting out of justice? The repentance of his people?) Whatever our final answer is to that question, it must be consistent with God’s essential qualities. That is, whatever God is seeking to achieve through acts of wrath, this goal must be consistent with what God is already seeking to achieve in virtue of his essential qualities.

So now a series of three questions can be asked: (1) What areGod’s essential qualities? (2) What do these qualities logically imply about how God will interact with us? (3) How do these findings connect to, and help shed further light on, the Biblical narratives about God’s wrath? Much of the outline of the book consists in answering these three questions.

I was interested that you give two chapters to exploring the nature of God’s love. In what ways have we misunderstood this, and what problems does this lead to?

Although the English word ‘love’ can notoriously mean different things to different people, I think the word ‘benevolence’ best captures the kind of love which God has for us and which exists within the members of the Trinity. Benevolence involves a commitment to the other’s well-being, a pursuit of the other’s flourishing. I find that most all Christians happily sign off on these points. Where the misunderstanding—or, at least, the controversy—arises is in how God’s benevolent love relates to other divine attributes. Specifically, how does God’s love relate to God’s justice or holiness? This is where the discussion gets potentially tricky. But it’s a discussion which is vital for Christians to think through.

Very often, the assumption is that God’s love and God’s justice are in tension with one another. I’ve heard countless sermons that included the following line about the seriousness with which God takes sin: “Could God really just forgive us without condition, overlooking our sin? God is a God of love, but he’s also a God of justice!” Or, sometimes the wording is: “Yes, God is a loving God, buthe’s also a holy God!” The assumption is that God’s commitment to justice or to holiness tends to come at the expense of his commitment to love. Yes, God is committed to the loving, benevolent end of our own well-being. ButGod is also committed to the cause of justice (or to the demands of holiness or perhaps to what brings him glory).

At this point we all face two options. And I think the necessity of choosing between these two options has been greatly underappreciated. There are huge implications that flow from one’s decision here; and there’s no way of opting out of making a decision between the two options. The first option is to say that God’s loving commitment to our well-being is incommensurable with his commitment to, e.g., justice. ‘Incommensurable’ simply means that there is no common scale on which to weigh the importance of love and the importance of justice, and then to say which of these goals God is more committed to pursuing. It’s analogous to the way we just can’t compare Usain Bolt to Bradley Wiggins or Lionel Messi and say who is the ‘greatest athlete’. We could measure explosive speed or endurance or dexterity. But these traits are incommensurable. The answer to the question of the greatest athlete is that there simply is no single answer. A variety of athletic traits exist, and there is no way to say which trait is ‘more athletic’ than another.

So that’s one option to take: that God’s love is incommensurable with God’s justice. God is committed to both of them, and there is no way to say which of these he is more committed to. But there are severe—and again often underappreciated—problems with taking this option. Harkening back to the sermon line that “God is a God of love, but also a God of justice,” the assumption is that love might recommend one course of action (perhaps unconditional forgiveness), with justice recommending an alternative course of action (perhaps punishing the guilty). Which course of action will God take? There is no way to say. If love and justice are truly incommensurable, then God might prioritize love on Monday and justice on Tuesday. This may seem a flippant way of making the point, but it presents quite serious problems to the stability of God’s character and commitments.

The second—and much preferable—option is to say that God’s love and God’s justice can be compared, with one commitment subsumed under the other. My argument, in brief, is that God’s justice is an expression of God’s love in certain contexts. (Likewise, God’s mercy and God’s discipline would be expressions of God’s love in certain contexts.) To describe God as ‘loving’ is to describe an essential attribute God has. To describe him as ‘just’ is to describe a contingent attribute. When God acts justly, his love is being expressed in a particular context that happens to arise in this world.

Back to your original question! The reason I spend two chapters on love is that I not only want to spell out the implications of God’s love. I also spend time comparing God’s attribute of love to his attributes of justice and holiness, and to his commitment to his own glory.

Perhaps you’re wondering what this long diversion has to do with God’s wrath? Well, God’s wrath is typically viewed as stemming from God’s commitment to justice or to holiness. But if God’s commitment to justice and holiness are derivative of his essential attribute of love, then God’s wrath must also (somehow!) be an expression of this essential attribute of love. So now the task is to explain how those acts which we associate with God’s wrath actually are expressions of the loving pursuit of our well-being. This is the task I set myself for the second half of the book.

You comment that Stephen Travis’ approach to the key biblical texts has been important in your thinking. What does Stephen bring to this discussion?

My original hope was that I might co-author the book with Stephen. Alas, the publisher had other ideas, wanting a single author to ensure consistency. So I sent Stephen an overview of the line of argument I was hoping to advance in the book, and then Stephen went through the entire Bible—book by book—and offered commentary on all the passages and themes relevant to my discussion. He ended up sending 150 pages of single-spaced notes: practically a book in itself! I then incorporated his notes and insights into a final version of the manuscript.

One happy surprise from Stephen’s notes was how devotionally uplifting they were. He has this amazing ability to unpack both the details and the broader context of passages that initially seem to paint a darker picture of God: Romans 9, the doomsday passages in Jeremiah, etc. And by the time you finish reading Stephen’s analysis of what’s actually going on, this incredibly attractive picture of God re-emerges.

Stephen helped me gain a much better grasp of the ‘shape’ of the biblical picture of God’s wrath: how it’s but one of many different responses of God to sin, how it’s always the last resort, how it’s never intended to be God’s final word. Above all, Stephen paints such a compelling picture of a God whose love is constant and intense, who will not sit idly by as we self-destruct, but who will instead take desperate measures, if needed, to prompt us to turn to him, our one source of true life.

In terms of the book, having Stephen on board with at least the broad conclusions of the book was really important to me. It is one thing for a philosopher to give an argument and then say, “Oh, and this conclusion is faithful to the biblical witness.” It’s an entirely other matter for a careful biblical scholar of Stephen’s caliber to make that statement!

You argue that God’s wrath is, in the end, compatible with understanding God as loving. How does that help in reading some of the difficult texts in Scripture—and what is the pastoral impact of your approach.

In terms of difficult texts, I think it’s helpful to see that God’s ultimate end, whenever he interacts with us, is always the loving pursuit of our long term well-being. An ultimate end is to be distinguished from an intermediate end. Each week I try to exercise, try to limit sugar intake, and try to drink my wife’s kale smoothies. I’d never do any of those things as ends in themselves! But they are intermediate goals I have, which hopefully will achieve the ultimate goal I have: namely, staying in good health to a ripe old age.

God’s acts of wrath are never ultimate goals. When a revenge-based movie ends with the sheriff gunning down the heinous outlaw, the ultimate goal has been achieved. Deserved punishment has been handed out; and movie viewers are invited to see this as a happy ending. But a God of love will never take joy in people being punished, as an ultimate end. His ultimate end for us is life, and “life to the full” (John 10:10). God may admittedly pursue any number of intermediate ends, as a way of seeking to bring about this ultimate end—including the intermediate end of acting in wrath. But within the biblical passages which describe God’s wrathful acts, there is always a loving ultimate goal lurking somewhere in the background. Once we embrace that framework, then we are prompted to connect these seemingly darker passages to larger plans we see God seeking to accomplish within the broader biblical narrative.

Pastorally, the picture of God that emerges is of one who loves us passionately and who pursues us relentlessly. Importantly, though, the kind of perfected relationship with God for which we were created cannot be based on anything other than the full truth about who God is and the truth about who we are (and how we have acted toward God and others). The process of God showing us the truth about ourselves can be painful, even as it is necessary for our sanctification. For those who continue to resist acknowledging painful truths about themselves, God’s continual prompting to do so will be experienced as wrath. In a nutshell, I understand God’s wrath in terms of God pressing upon us difficult truths about ourselves. To develop this core claim of the book takes several chapters! But pastorally, I would want to say that, while we can experience freedom from God’s wrath, we must never think we can be freed from having to come to grips with the truth about what we’ve done to God (and others) and what God has done for us.

If you enjoyed this, do share it on social media, possibly using the buttons on the left. Follow me on Twitter @psephizoLike my page on Facebook.

Much of my work is done on a freelance basis. If you have valued this post, would you consider donating £1.20 a month to support the production of this blog?

Signup to get email updates of new posts
We promise not to spam you. Unsubscribe at any time.
Invalid email address

If you enjoyed this, do share it on social media (Facebook or Twitter) using the buttons on the left. Follow me on Twitter @psephizo. Like my page on Facebook.

Much of my work is done on a freelance basis. If you have valued this post, you can make a single or repeat donation through PayPal:

For other ways to support this ministry, visit my Support page.

Comments policy: Do engage with the subject. Please don't turn this into a private discussion board. Do challenge others in the debate; please don't attack them personally. I no longer allow anonymous comments; if there are very good reasons, you may publish under a pseudonym; otherwise please include your full name, both first and surnames.

125 thoughts on “How do we make sense of the wrath of a loving God?”

  1. While I understand the idea of contingencies of wrath, justice as opposed to the essential of Love (pre-creation within the Trinity, I presume is the basis for this), they seem to be set out as responses.
    I’d suggest that it is Vested,(not Contingent), part of, in his character, that is, his Goodness, which will brook no evil (he can see the end from the inception, of thought, word, deed).
    In Christ, incarnation, life, death, resurrection, ascension and return, all of this is melded together, his fullness of his Goodness revealed. To coin a phrase for John Piper, “God saves us from God”.
    How good is that!

    • Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, when asked about God’s wrath, have an answer that makes total sense for me and matches what I’ve just read above. Instead of ‘wrath’ read ‘anguish’; in other words, whatever God does in terms of dealing with sin, justice and holiness, is out of a deep and passionate love for all: it is designed to be remedial.

      • “Instead of ‘wrath’ read ‘anguish’”

        Yes, instead of reading what the Bible says read whatever you want it to say.

        That’s just dishonest. You can dislike the Bible or disagree with it but changing it to suit you is plain shoddy.

        • I think that’s a bit too dismissive Oliver. Oliver Sacks is an orthodox Rabbi and what he is doing in that comment is interpreting a particular word – something entirely usual within Jewish tradition – and not changing something to suit his view.

          • Think it dismissive then. You haven’t put an argument just appealed to a person and a tradition. But he *is* “changing something ” — whether “to suit his view” or not I’ll leave others to speculate.

            “whatever God does in terms of dealing with sin, justice and holiness, is out of a deep and passionate love for all: it is designed to be remedial.”

            I agree. And anger can be remedial and restorative, at least as much as “anguish” (close in spelling and therefore probably in lexical root but not in meaning).

            Wrath? Anguish? What’s wrong with the plain text? “Anger” (and anger) is fine. Are we all too weak and scared to own it and say it and be it? There’s nothing wrong with anger, per se. Any more than with, say, sex or food or pleasure or pain or sleep. There’s a time and place for it.

            I suspect our experiences of anger — our own and other people’s — make us chary of the word. Tant pis. Jesus got angry: sinlessly, righteously angry. Deal with it. You might not like it (in fact, maybe you shouldn’t) but that’s your problem. Changing the word to fit your preferences is dishonest — to the text, to yourself and to God.

          • No – that is a misuse of the word ‘interpretation’ – such misuses are frequent and convenient.

            Interpretation means arguing on the basis of evidence (not preference) for one particular reading (or for different likelihoods among the range of possible meanings) in only those cases where more than one reading is possible.

          • No, it isn’t a misuse. Midrash is interpretation, as this extract explains well.

            Written by rabbis both steeped in Bible and absorbed by the Jewish questions of their time, works of midrash aggadah often occupy the meeting ground between reverence and love for the wording of the fixed text of the Torah, and theological creativity. Midrashic writings thus often yield religious insights that have made Torah directly applicable to later Jewish realities, especially the concerns of its authors. Some of what midrash aggadah yields is insight into the burning, sometimes time-bound questions of those who wrote it. Still, the interpretations produced often have more universal and timeless application to our, or any, generation.

          • But that disregards exegesis and the work on the coalface of the text, in favour of something less rigorous. One should promote greater rigour over lesser.

            The fact that something is traditional (obviously) does not make it rigorous, let alone superior to methods that are.

          • I don’t suppose that ‘let the one without sin cast the first stone’ was considered very ‘rigorous’, but it was certainly sound rabbinic interpretation.

          • But in that case you are using the word interpretation in 2 such wildly different ways that clarity demands that one cannot call *both* of them by the same word ‘interpretation’.

          • Well interpretation does mean a variety of things – a look in the dictionary will tell you that. But I am using it in only one way – the way the rabbis used, and the way in which Jonathan Sacks, as quoted, is using it : an interpretation of something is an opinion about what it means.

          • That’s not adequate for these reasons:
            (1) ‘what it means’ is not at all a clear idea – different things can mean different things to different people for different reasons, but the author’s intention is never going to go away.

            (2) The rabbis did not use an English term.

            (3) ‘Midrash’ does not translate as interpretation.

            (4) ‘Interpretation’ is too vague, wide and slippery a word anyway.

          • Not to worry then Christopher. I find Rabbi Jonathan Sacks interpretation helpful and you don’t. So be it.

          • “…., but the author’s intention is never going to go away.”

            Of course it isn’t. But in many cases we don’t totally know the author’s intention. Interpretations illuminate the author’s intentions from different angles and a number of different interpretations help us get a fuller picture. It’s rather like conductors interpreting particular musical works differently. I prefer, for example, Adrian Boults Vaughan Williams cycle over Andre Previns. But both are illuminating in different ways.

            Rabbis interpret, whether they used an English word for it or not. I find Jonathan Sacks interpretation helpful in illuminating the word anger as applied in this context and it links well with Ian’s interview.

          • But that is inadmissible in any school or university. Finding something helpful, quite obviously, does not make it a valid interpretation. It could be ‘helpful’ to think Jesus said ‘Drink ye all-of-this’ but it is quite certain that the texts mean ‘Drink, ye all, of this.’. Your ‘helpful’ therefore proven to be an invalid criterion for determining what something means. However, I would imagine that the rest of us already knew that.

            That does not mean that helpfulness is not important. It is important. It is not even remotely the same as accuracy. I cannot therefore believe that you would try to fudge the 2 together.

          • Your second comment is even more questionable:

            (1) In order to illuminate the author’s intention, one would first need to know what it was. In the majority of cases that is not true, because the composers are dead etc.. Therefore the conductors do not know whether or not they are illuminating the composer’s intentions or not.

            (2) Also you are ruling out the idea that there can ever be an incorrect interpretation. There could not be a more inaccurate position than that. 99.99999% of possible attempted interpretations are always going to be inaccurate, and that is even of the ones that are meaningful. it is easy to give examples and to demonstrate this. ‘To be or not to be’ does not mean ‘ham sandwich’, nor does it mean ‘Pinky and Perky’, nor… (and so on ad infinitum).

          • Christopher: if you can ‘accurately’ describe all of the attributes of God then you are a better person than any of us, or any person in history. As the early Church fathers said, ‘words are helpful to man rather than descriptive of God.’ That was true of the biblical authors – all of whom are dead, so how would we ‘accurately’ know their intentions?

            With composers, they often don’t fully know what their intentions are until they hear a piece interpreted by someone for the first time. So of poetry….so of art…so of some authorship…..

          • Because in music A-level one has to harmonise chorales in the style of Bach or minuets in the style of Mozart etc.. The more expertise a student or interpreter has then the higher marks they will rightly get. It is no good at all someone saying that harmonising Bach in the style of Scott Joplin was ‘helpful’ or ‘my interpretation’.

            ‘Interpretation’ has to be a clear word, because if it is not clear it becomes unusable. And its users (those who do not use it clearly, that is) thereby put themselves outside the ranks of the clear thinkers, who would always take care to communicate clearly.

          • I have a high grade music A level from 1977 thanks Christopher.
            I realise you don’t like the word ‘interpretation’, but I can’t change that.
            And as all descriptions of God’s anger are anthropomorhising, then interpretation is all we have. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks interpretation shines a light on this subject. If you don’t approve of it, then his e mail is surely very accessible.

          • You say ‘I have a high grade music A level etc’ and then paradoxically don’t address the point. You are as a music buff well equipped to deal with the point on harmonisation of Bach not being a subjective matter at all. So what would be your response to it?

            Secondly, you say again (a point I have already addressed before) that this is all to do with what people ‘like’. But what people ‘like’ is an emotional and aesthetic matter – nothing at all to do with the factual and rational issues I am speaking of. Rather than repeating this same point, it cd be digested now.

            You could address the points I raise about how ‘interpretation’ is used and whether it is (a) unacceptably vague, (b) unacceptably unrigorous (allowing a free for all); and if not, why not.

            As for anthropomorphising, it is a difficult area to be at all sure about if (a) humans bear the image of God in the first place, (b) an assured conviction that human-style experiences are not experienced by God is presented as somehow being agnosticism.

          • Christopher: I could do all of those things. But I see little use. I will just end by quoting from the really helpful interview that Ian relates above: “For those who continue to resist acknowledging painful truths about themselves, God’s continual prompting to do so will be experienced as wrath. In a nutshell, I understand God’s wrath in terms of God pressing upon us difficult truths about ourselves…” Helpful for us both I think. Rabbi Sacks interpretation shines light on the matter of God’s wrath – for me, and no doubt for many.

          • Suppose you look at this through an interlocutor’s eyes, what does it look like. Is it another exchange where the liberal unilaterally and imperiously assumes they have the right to call a halt, just as the weak spots are getting exposed? I have been observing these patterns for 20 years. Yet not to turn up for a debate is inferior to engaging one and losing.

            The ‘like’ was ‘I realise you don’t like the word ”interpretation”.’.

          • Christopher: I’m calling a halt here not because it’s getting difficult – it ain’t. What it’s getting is unproductive and boring off everyone else. You keep shifting the ground for discussion and that’s a ploy you have tried many times and it is not possible to debate with someone who does that. We keep ‘missing’ each other.

            I’d be delighted to meet face to face with you. Buy you lunch or coffee and proceed with a discussion that’s more constructive. Ian has my e mail and you are welcome to be in touch.

          • Oh and it’s quite true to say that you expressed your dislike of the word interpretation. But you will see that I consistently used the phrase ‘helpful’ in my appreciation of Ian’s interview and the interpretation of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. ‘Like’ has nothing to do with it.

          • Your most recent comment and a half is a good example of how even your briefest sayings are full of things which seem to me not to add up. These seem to appear at the very high rate of about one per line, a rate very far removed from what I remember finding elsewhere.

            (1) Unproductive? Quite the contrary, the type of debate that can really go places and occasion shifts and changes is the type where interlocutors disagree. Their perspectives are liable to be new to one another. They therefore may sometimes have a lot to teach each other. The unproductive debates are the ones where there is already much agreement. Little advance or movement will be made in such cases.

            (2) Boring to others? I don’t get that, because why would they have to read any of it in the first place?

            (3) ‘Keep shifting my ground’? As debate and thought progress I refine and develop my own thought, as more angles occur to me. What’s the alternative? I should have thought that all truth seekers do the same. That is rarely shifting to the extent that yeah-but-no-but would be shifting.

            (4) You say I have a ‘ploy’. A ploy is a tactic. Transparent people do not have tactics. I have however met people who assume that everyone in the world is being so devious as to employ tactics and be ideological, and both of them identified as liberals.

            (5) ‘We keep missing each other’. Yes – and that is what I keep saying. If there are two worldviews (or attitudes, for some things are imbibed rather than thought through) built on 2 different foundations, their basic language structure, and the structure of reality that they assume, will be different. Obviously, foundations should be checked for soundness, and that is what debate is. Possibly the foundations contain self-contradictions and need to be abandoned. That is what debate exposes.

            (6) To repeat: I don’t dislike the word interpretation, since like and dislike are aesthetic and emotional matters, whereas the matter in hand is factual and rational. I can merely see several flaws in it – its vagueness, its too-large and sprawling scope, the way it can be abused to let in illegitimate and clearly wrong theories (after all they too are interpretations, so what’s not to like? – that is the spurious thinking), the way that 2 different meanings of ‘interpretation’ can be fudged together, the implication that all interpretations are valid or authentic, the failure to realise that it is not remotely possible that more than a tiny fraction of possible interpretations can actually be right/authentic.

            (7) You repeated the word ‘helpful’? Yes, I know. That was not doubted.

            (8) You said it was a matter of like and dislike when you said ‘I realise you don’t *like* the word interpretation.’.

            (9) You spoke of use of ‘helpful’ and use of ‘like’ in parallel. However, what you said was ‘helpful’ was particular interpretations. When it came to the use of the word like, the issue was not any particular interpretations but the *word* or concept ‘interpretation’. Quite different. Separate my names with a. I am to be found at yippee (or something similar) in this realm.

      • Hello David,
        It seems as though your comment was a response to my comment, rather than a general comment, but that may be a quirk of the comments section.
        One main comment I’d make is that Sacks has no reference to the Trinity, or the New Testament and my understanding is that there is no acceptance of the Fall within Judaism (though I stand to be corrected) so I’m unsure of what he considers sin to be.
        Others below have entered into a debate, but anguish if a far different qualitative response to wrath or anger. Not sure how anguished “hand-wringing” by God would be a omnipotent answer to sin by a Sovereign God.
        I’d also have some points to make about Andrew Godsall comments on interpretion equates to opinion but I’m not sure I can summons the energy repond to his set -in- stone opinion, that bears no relation the logic of correspondence to definitions and what “is.” and plain meaning, trapped as he is in the absolute of relativism.
        An example from criminal law: opinion, generally, is not permitted as evidence. A further example is that Andrew could not be convicted of exceeding the speed limit (if indeed he drives a vehicle) on the opinon of a police officer as the opinion would have to be based on corresponding with fact, reality.
        And Anrew invariably, it seems, to avoid one crucial step, in interpretation that is, what the scripture says. and first of all what is the plain meaning, where it is plain. Not only that, but where does it fit in the the overall themes of Christian biblical theology.
        I also wonder which parts of the OT Rabbinic commentary and interpretation he’d reject out of hand, even if the scope were restricted to the Pentatuch, the law.

        • “…one crucial step, in interpretation that is, what the scripture says. and first of all what is the plain meaning, where it is plain.”

          Well that’s rather the point isn’t it. The meaning isn’t plain here else Kevin Kinghorn would not have written his book would he?

      • Thanks for this comment. Most of us Protestants have liberal ways of interpreting scripture which assumes there’s one intended meaning by the author that is excavated through a sort of scientific method.

        • I assume, Michael, you meant ‘illiberal’. I agree – but I’m not sure that anyone likes to have their ingrained interpretation challenged. I like what Sacks said because it takes the sting out of the mere use of anger which, generally, reflects a normal human approach to punishment. ‘Anguish’ implies that whatever punishment is given is designed to be restorative. I don’t like the use of ‘judge’ for the same reason; that suggests a cold response to any infringement of the law without any element of loving concern being involved. God, who is love in essence, loves the world with a passion and God’s desire is for reconciliation, always.

    • Hi Geoff,

      Yes, this is a good way of putting things, and it’s a good clarification.

      While the circumstances are contingent which would lead God to make particular commitments we associate with (various kinds of) justice, it is not as if any aspect of God’s character itself (from which these particular commitments follow) would be contingent. Good to clarify this–thank you!

      • Thanks Kevin,
        Your article, brought to mind concepts from my academic training in law (long gone), which included Jurisprudence, and former professional life as a lawyer in England. Maybe, there are too many in the church, though from what I see from some of the comments on this site from some in prominent positions, there may be too few? Not sure of the where, what, how or why of their theological or biblical training, though commentators beliefs, where they are not concerned to keep them from public view, come into focus through the composite, weight of evidence, revealed in their comments. Sub – Christian? Maybe, some. Sub Creedal? Yes, some.
        Anyway, my thoughts are vested in me, but maybe contigent. (Are God’s thoughts, per se, contingent, relative?) My thoughts may be invested in others, through words, through action, but contingent in recipients. (Likewise God’s thoughts? Yes, some Christian categories are opened up here.)
        Just a bit of a rambling aside- I’m not espousing or advocating deism, but mere
        I’m just an amateur, converted at47, with charismatic but largely reformed persuasions and largely USA influences and a convergence of systematic biblical theology. That said, in my studies for Methodist local Preachers validation, Josh McDowell’s New Evidence that Demands a Verdict, and Goldworthy were prominent influencers. For the last few years, I’ve found much benefit and balast and devotional worship, in biblical theoloy and hermenuetics , with Ed Clowney and Tim Keller (I found an online taught Doctoral Course of theirs, which I listened to, and found their printed cours notes) and others from across the Pond being influencers.
        It doesn’t seem to be so accepted over here, with some recent exceptions of Mike Reeves and Andrew Wilson coming to mind.
        Anyway, I’m too old and after a stroke some years ago have low energy and inconsistent thought and communications levels, to engage in formal study. And sometimes have insufficient patience with self and other commentators here. A fish out out water.
        Apologies for going on somewhat.

  2. I’d add – saves us for himself.
    Christ lived the life we should but couldn’t live, and died the death we should die.
    In Christ, the Covenants were fulfilled, as God and as human and the curse expunged and we are brought into union, fellowship of indwelling with him.
    How good is that? Ephesians 1&2 bear out the reality.

  3. I think for this discussion to be brought home it needs to include its implications for the doctrine of hell.

    Phrases like: ‘His ultimate end for us is life, and “life to the full” (John 10:10). God may admittedly pursue any number of intermediate ends, as a way of seeking to bring about this ultimate end—including the intermediate end of acting in wrath. But within the biblical passages which describe God’s wrathful acts, there is always a loving ultimate goal lurking somewhere in the background.’ – lead me to struggle to see how he’s going to avoid universalism.

    The underlying issue (as so often) is the relationship between a perfect God and an imperfect creation. God created a world that included the potential to contain evil and that potential became reality. He created it out of love and still loves it and wants the best for it. But what
    does he do with the parts that are bad? Out of love he tries to bring them round and make them good again – redeem them. But what about those parts which remain recalcitrant? And what about the evil that has been done in the ‘past’ – which is not past to God?

    To say there is a ‘tension’ between God’s love and justice/holiness/wrath is just to say that evil is part of the world but not part of God and God’s response to that includes the utter repudiation of it. This isn’t ‘subsumed’ under his love because it has a logically different object – evil rather than good – and a logically distinct relation – repudiation rather than embrace. They are compatible because to love good and repudiate evil are two sides of the same coin and logically require each other – a person who claims to love good but does not repudiate evil is committing a logical fallacy (and a moral error). But that doesn’t mean repudiation of evil is an ‘intermediate end’ to an ‘ultimate end’ of love. Rather it means that repudiation of evil is an outworking of the same basic character trait as love of good, namely a proper stance towards moral reality. This might I suppose also be understood as love, in the sense that to love something implies protecting it from all that harms it. But that doesn’t mean that the acts of destruction which achieve that protection can be understood as love towards the offending objects themselves.

    So if he means that wrathful acts can be understood as an outworking of God’s love for good and his loving purposes for his creation, then that would be fine I think. But if he means that God’s wrathful acts must be understood as loving towards the objects of his wrath then I think that is more problematic, as on some level his wrathful acts must be understood as being directed at evil, and God does not love evil, and his wrath is a manifestation of his hatred of evil, not his love for it. Anger may sometimes be directed to reformation of life, but wrath towards evil is not exhausted by discipline.

    • Will

      re ‘hell’ I tend not to any longer believe in the ‘traditional’ doctrine, if indeed that is what it is, ie eternal conscious torment/suffering, though I certainly do not accept universalism. Instead I would agree with John Stott that those who are not ‘saved’ are ultimately destroyed, body and soul. Though I think there may be an initial time of ‘wailing and gnashing of teeth’ when one realises what one has lost. Hence all evil will at some point disappear from existence. I’ve found the different articles on the ‘Rethinking Hell’ site persuasive in the whole.


      • Yes, I’m sympathetic to that form of annihilationism myself. But since they’re not saved and don’t have ‘life’ I don’t think that changes the basic point, that the eternal punishment God inflicts on the lost cannot be understood as loving towards them. It is loving towards the good and part of his loving purposes in creation. But he punishes and destroys people because they are evil and have remained unredeemed; it arises from his repudiation of evil, which is not merely an ‘intermediate end’ but part of the ‘ultimate end’ of the elimination of all evil.

        • Interesting discussion. Yes, annihilationist makes best sense of this viewpoint I think. But I struggle with PC1’s idea that God will first torture those so destined just so they know how dreadfully they have got it wrong. What is the point? But it can hardly be called ‘eternal punishment’ either since it is nothing at all. None being.
          My own feeling is that hell may be necessary but we may at least hope and pray that there is no-one there.
          I have ordered the book meanwhile.

          • I think eternal non-existence can certainly be understood as a form of eternal punishment – it is a punishment (nonexistence is something bad) and it goes on forever.

            The point of first punishing physically would be for the sake of justice – the same reason Jesus had to suffer and die. The argument that there’s no point punishing people if they’re going to be destroyed doesn’t work because the same logic would say there was no point in punishing people in life because one day they will die. Punishment is in itself an expression of the gravity of sin directed at the wrongdoer.

            My point wasn’t that annihilationism makes most sense of Kinghorn’s position. My point was the opposite: even an annihilationist view of hell appears to be ruled out by Kinghorn’s idea that wrath is only an ‘intermediate end’ to an ‘ultimate end’ of life. He seems to be unable to avoid universalism.

          • I think you may have misunderstood me. I said nothing about God torturing anyone. I said that the ‘traditional’ view has involved ‘eternal torturing/suffering’ and I reject that. But that does not mean that those who are unsaved will not stand in conscious judgement and realise what they have lost by rejecting Jesus, hence their (temporary) wailing and gnashing of teeth. That is not God torturing anyone, but it is people having a self-realisation.

            Judgement is never painless, whether on earth or heaven. Im not sure why you would expect otherwise.

            As for ‘eternal punishment’ it is not the punishment that is eternal, ie ongoing punishment on into eternity, but rather the consequences of the punishment is eternal – once you have been destroyed, you wont be coming back.


          • Hi Will
            Do you really think eternal non existence is punishment for those who deny the existence of God? This is a question, not an argument about annihilationism.
            Most of my friends/family who are atheists have no problem with the idea of ceasing to be after death. They certainly don’t see it as punishment.

          • Hi Penelope

            Existence is a good, the deprivation of it bad. If non-existence wasn’t a punishment then neither would be (painless) execution, which it clearly is. To be destroyed can be a form of punishment. The fact that that destruction is permanent makes it a permanent or everlasting punishment.

          • But, if the unbeliever sees annihilation as natural and inevitable, it’s not very punitive, is it?

          • (sorry this was posted by mistake)
            I find it difficult to understand why God would even go to all this trouble of making people horribly aware of what they have refused? Does he really need people to know? Why? What is the point? Whose interest is served? A God so concerned for his own honour that he must consciously punish people for ever? And if Rev 20 is your text for this Will, is it all to be read literally? White throne, lakes of fire, a book with names in?

        • Given that the 3rd Person of the Trinity is called the Holy Spirit, and His holiness is emphasised time and again, I think God’s holiness is also an essential attribute of God, not a derivative. Which tends to negate his whole argument.

          I would suggest the picture being painted here is not the same as that from the NT and especially Jesus’ own words. Here the implication is that people who suffer the wrath of God during their earthly lives are only doing so out of God’s love and ultimately they will be welcomed into His presence. But that is not what Jesus said. He didn’t even hint at it. Peter

    • I agree with your well-expressed comments. To characterise, for example, the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC (graphically portrayed in Lamentations) or the natural disasters that will cause people one day to beg to be crushed under rocks and hidden from the face of him who is on the throne as ‘expressions of the loving pursuit of our well-being’ is to theologise Buddha-like in a world detached from reality. If there is ‘a loving ultimate goal lurking somewhere in the background’, one would like to know what it is as regards the people affected.

  4. Does this not return, Will, to the wrath, justice of God being satisfied, in Christ, through which there would be no application of universalism of salvation?
    Hell, is in contrast to a new heaven and earth, in effect, a glorious reset, upgraded reboot, of creation,emanating from God’s Goodness, is it not?
    The contrast is always between those who believe God, (not just believe “in”) and his Goodness. Rejection, doubt and disbelief in God’s Goodness began in the Fall…but here we go again with this topic and your discourse with Phil Almond.
    Astutely, Tim Keller says this, in summary of the Fall and the outworking: “Sin always begins with the character assassination of God.” (“The Prodigal Prophet- Jonah and the mystery of God’s mercy”)

  5. The vast majority of the first world church has had little problem reconciling God’s justice with His love until the last couple of decades. I am angry that the question you tweeted to advertise the article implies that it’s reasonable to struggle. To struggle is to struggle to hate wrongdoing around us – apparently things haven’t yet got bad enough for us to consider it unreasonable not to feel anger. Hatred is the first ingredient of godly love (look at the cross) – to not hate is to be completely devoid of godly love. Godly love (the cross) is hatred of wrong doing (justice) leading to action that opens the door to restoration (mercy). Yet this subject is covered here more as a theological challenge covered in a rambling interview instead of an expression of total outrage and a brutally clear statement of the gospel. Followed by how those who are still spiritually alive need to respond to those who refuse to teach this gospel. It’s a reflection of the ambivalence being shown to the complete destruction of the gospel in the C of E and the dismantling of the worldwide Anglican Church.

    Are you planning to get to the heart of this grotesque sickness Ian? To speak of this issue as the terminal cancer it is? And how we must respond to it?

    You are blind to this issue partly due to your egalitarian sexual views. Egalitarianism supports mercy at the expense of justice. It’s to miss the character differences that together make up the image of God (Gen 1:27).

    See below

    Egalitarianism has to take responsibility for the fact that in acting as if women and men are functionally the same they’ve erased any argument that a child needs both a mother and a father. I would like you to defend egalitarianism in respect of this. And Gen 1:27.

    On Twitter you described my point (I presume the last part concerning sexuality) as arrant nonsense. Please don’t hold back in your criticism as long as it’s accompanied by reasons. And I hope you won’t say things like a child needs a mother so she can breast feed or similar.

    • Thanks for commenting Philip. I think it is going to be difficult to engage in meaningful discussion when you so aggressively dismiss those who disagree with you. To describe other views as ‘grotesque sickness’ and ‘terminal cancer’ doesn’t really help.

      And I don’t really have any idea why you think there is a link between the issue of the wrath of God, and noting that men and women in the biblical narrative are emphatically created equal. (Note that equality is not the same as interchangeability.)

  6. “God may admittedly pursue any number of intermediate ends, as a way of seeking to bring about this ultimate end—including the intermediate end of acting in wrath. But within the biblical passages which describe God’s wrathful acts, there is always a loving ultimate goal lurking somewhere in the background. Once we embrace that framework, then we are prompted to connect these seemingly darker passages to larger plans we see God seeking to accomplish within the broader biblical narrative.”

    This I find a really helpful way of expressing it. In other words, love wins.

  7. 1.) why the use of the archaic “wrath”? The Bible just uses the common word “anger”.

    2.) You can have anger without love but you can’t have love without (the possibility, at least) of anger. (Likewise you can have justice without mercy but you can’t have mercy without justice, because mercy is contingent upon justice.)

    • In fact, just considering the NT, there are two words:
      orge – commonly translated ‘wrath’, and
      thumos – originally meaning any strong emotion but in NT usage ‘passion’ in the sense of fury or anger.

      The two words mean much the same, are interchangeable, and are often used in combination to emphasise the intensity of God’s wrath (Rom 2:8, Rev 14:10, 16:9).

      • With respect, orge is (or should be ) commonly translated ‘anger’.

        No-one says “wrath” any more, if they ever did much.

        Anger is also a much more versatile word. It can be a verb or a noun. One can be angrier or angriest. And it can be (although often isn’t) good, righteous, justified (I won’t trot out the Aristotle quote.)

        Why the verbose construction “the wrath of God” when “God’s anger” is shorter, simpler and, in my opinion, scarier?

        • I prefer ‘wrath’. ‘Anger’ is an everyday word, almost always used to describe a sinfully destructive emotion. I see ‘anger’ as Describing things like road rage, throwing chairs around and shouting abuse at people. ‘Wrath’ (in my mind) puts God’s holy, settled, determined and principled opposition to sin in a category of its own – which it is.

          • Indeed John,
            My understanding, (I don’t have books to hand) is that your last sentence expresses an Evangelical view of wrath of God.

        • The ESV seems consistently to use ‘wrath’ for orge in relation to God, although it is a bit naughty, as with other translations, in adding “of God” or “God’s” in places in Romans where it is not present in the Greek.

          This leads to the point that sometimes ‘wrath’ seems to be used to describe a future event rather than an emotion displayed – ‘the wrath to come’. ‘The anger to come’ sounds odd.

          Then there is the conundrum about God and emotion. The god of classical theism is impassible. Is there a problem equating human anger, very much a responsive emotion, with an attitude of God?

          • “The ESV seems consistently to use ‘wrath’ for orge in relation to God”

            The Greek is just “anger’. Using an archaic word (“wrath”) simply because God’s anger is pure and just and holy is nonsense. It surrenders the term. Anger is not necessarily bad. The fact it usually is (and our own anger always, I would suggest, has some mixed motives and suboptimal expression) is not the point.

            “The ESV […] is a bit naughty, as with other translations, in adding “of God” or “God’s” in places in Romans where it is not present in the Greek.”

            God point. Sometimes it’s just “the anger” — impersonal, unattributed. Almost a cosmic consequence of sin, like when “the land vomited out its inhabitants” (Lev 18:25)

            I have own issues with the ESV (compare Luke 18:13 with Romans 3:25) but that’s for another day.

            “Then there is the conundrum about God and emotion. The god of classical theism is impassible. Is there a problem equating human anger, very much a responsive emotion, with an attitude of God?”

            The answer to this is . . . Jesus. He is God. He is not omnipresent, omniscient, nor impassable. He is loving, holy, just, merciful and powerful. Those are the attributes of God. (He is also, occasionally, angry.)

          • Go[o]d point. Sometimes it’s just “the anger” — impersonal, unattributed.

            I think you are making my point. No-one talks about “the anger”.

            This is perhaps the basic point. That the semantic range of orge and that of the English word ‘anger’ have some overlap but do not coincide.

          • One needs to be careful when making a point about ‘the wrath’ – Greek often employs the definite article before abstract nouns, e.g. Rom 3:5 (and there is no ‘on us’ in the Greek). John the Baptist does speak about the coming wrath (i.e. the destruction of Jerusalem).

            In Revelation ch 15-16 the word, perhaps surprisingly, is thumos, not orge.

  8. There is not a tension between wrath and love. They are proportionally related. The more (passionately) one loves, the more (passionately) one will be angry with anything that might hurt the beloved. In the days when tolerance (a very problematic concept, as I outline) was not the chief ‘virtue’, this would have been obvious.

    As to emotion, there is a spectrum from rational to emotional – e.g. adults are more towards the rational and and children more towards the emotional. That spectrum is quite different from the spectrum of appropriate emotion. Even the most rational people on the first spectrum may show spectacular controlled emotion as their way of communicating accurately the level of importance of the topic under discussion.

  9. I think a difficulty with annihilationism is the nature of time. Different times (or: what we call different times) coexist (as opposed to being simultaneous within the developmental process), both according to the nature of physics and according to the nature of God. Therefore if one wants to examine the universe from an eternal perspective to find the fate of person A it will still be as it panned out, and will still be indelibly imprinted on the inextricably entwined universe as a whole.

    • The reality is we know very little about the nature of time – indeed our understanding is limited by space. Therefore it does not pose a problem for annihilationism any more than continued existence poses a problem.

        • Oh sorry. Seems I was being paranoid!

          Time and space are interlinked, hence the space-time continuum. Space affects time, hence the weird experience of time near a black hole, where gravitational forces are extreme. Without space time would not exist, at least not as we understand it. Hence God is not affected by time because He is not affected by space, and hence His existence when the created universe of space-time did not exist.

          And then there’s quantum mechanics…lol

          • Most of that I knew and some I didn’t. However, given that even though (for physics and for God) there is such a thing as an eternal perspective, later times will always be later than earlier times, I would have thought that a person’s state upon death is (a) ineradicable for that reason, (b) will always remain unchangeable within the universe, as will its reverberations.

          • Christopher – I agree, there is an important sense in which there is a succession of events and those events once they happen are set. In this sense although God is outside of time in creating he submits himself to the logical constraints of time, and this needs to be factored in when thinking about these things.

          • OK so we seem to be on the same page there (Will). But in that case, annihilation would not resolve anything but rather leave the agonising irresolution eternally written over the universe. That would be bad enough if the universe were the size of our living room. Its awfulness increases trillions-fold because of the actual size of the universe – because of the size and importance of the stage and of the opportunity that has been blown.

            Annihilation in its effect is therefore not that different from eternal agony. Speculation about eternal and serious matters is trivialising at the best of times, and because this speculation is only between 2 outcomes which are both quite awful, the only answer is to flee both.
            Big-picture theology (the best and only sort) has good reason to agree with the Pannenberg school that eschatology is such a central thing, of the essence.

          • Sorry Christopher I’m unsure what you mean. Eternal torment means the suffering continues forever. Annihilation means it ceases at some point. How are these ‘not that different’?

          • That is indeed the crucial difference, but the main point is the eternal irresolution and reality that one will never have made peace with God and one’s source.

          • Not sure I get your point. My central point is that both scenarii are quite as bad as can possibly be, which means that time spent debating them is fruitless, all the more so because (a) we are speaking of cosmic realities which we can imperfectly grasp, (b) it is so serious and solemn a matter.

          • My point is that the lost enduring eternal torment is worse for them than the torment being only for a time before the relief of annihilation. If you don’t agree with that then we’ve reached an impasse I think!

          • Yes, that’s the obvious point on which no-one can but agree. It also makes an infinite difference. One’s eternal destiny is absolutely pivotal to the gospel message either way.

      • Does the the spot- on comments by Penelope, above not pose a problem for annihilationists?

        It certainly does not pose a problem for atheist, nor perhaps some supporters of euthanasia. The phrase often heard in relation the death is, “they are now at peace”, as if death brings peace to those who die, to be welcomed by some.

        But, there is a nagging, haunting, longing for immortality, “always will be alive in our thoughts ”

        Unsurprising really, when God “has placed (a longing for) eternity in our hearts”.

        • No it doesnt. It would be similar to being on death row, though for how long I do not know. Few people would think of a death-row inmate as being in a good position, or that when they die they are ‘at peace’. It is simply not viewed in that way.

          People who are not saved will undergo conscious judgement before God, suffer self-realisation of what they have lost due to themselves and conscious of impending final destruction, and subsequently destroyed. Unlike the death-row inmate who following death no longer exists in the physical world, the ‘unsaved’ will ultimately no longer exist at all.

        • Geoff, as I have replied above to Penelope:
          I’m sure God will make sure that those he punishes are aware that their fate is a penalty. I think that’s what Rev 20:11-15 is all about.

          • I find it difficult to understand why God would even go to all this trouble?Does he really need people to know? Why? What is the point? Whose interest is served? A God so concerned for his own honour that he must consciously punish people for ever? And if Rev 20 is your text for this Will is it all to be read literally? White throne, lakes of fire, a book with names in?

          • PC1 (Peter) and Will,
            Using Peter’s illustration of a criminal awaiting the death penalty, the jurisprudential concept of punishment as an element in sentencing, I’d perhaps take it a theological stage further (which many visiting this site will not accept): we are all “dead men walking.”
            It is a step too far to say all on death row would accept death as a punishment , for one, some may see it as injustice, maintain innocence.
            Even if someone is made aware by God, after death, that it is a penalty, so what? Would it be to late to repent? Any right of reply? (I don’t know what you believe.) If it is to late, God would be doing no more through annihilation- that is, death, than what an unbeliever expected and they certainly wouldn’t have a continued consciousness of being punished. It would be no more that a life lived without God and a death without God. God would be doing no more than they wanted or expected. (And they may even have an even heightened sense of injustice- is there any scripture familiarity here, a parable perhaps?).
            Woody Allen, I think it was, when asked what he’d say to God replied he’d ask for a second opinion! (A man after Andrew Godsall’s heart, perhaps, where opinion is relative, yet all carry the same weight. But maybe not all, where it is simply a question of personal preference or “likes”, or where opinions collectively, quantitatively, by shear number, are to be followed, except where higher opinion deems it to be political populism, or are opposed to the weight of orthodoxy by the opinions resulting in theological progressive expediency.

          • Sorry Geoff I don’t understand your point. Why would it be inconsequential to make someone aware they were to suffer a just penalty, inflict that penalty on them consciously, then complete the penalty by destroying them? Is that what you’re saying ‘so what’ to?

    • On one level all moments are simultaneously present to God. But that is not true for creation, where for us only one moment at a time is present (and others are remembered or anticipated). Time is also basic to creation because it is how there can be a succession of events with causality between them, and an indeterminate future (as quantum theory shows must exist). Time is what prevents everything happening at once. Relativity doesn’t overturn this, which is why nothing can travel faster than the speed of light as causality must be conserved for the universe to remain coherent (in relativity this is called a light cone). God accepts the constraints of time as part of choosing to create just as he accepts the other logical constraints and implications of creation. The incarnation of the Logos is tied up with this.

      Time, as the aspect of the universe which separates events and allows those separate events to occur with causality between them, is fundamental to creation. It is related to space, both physically (space-time) and in the fact that space is fundamental to creation because it is what enables objects to be separate and interact – space is what prevents everything happening in the same place.

  10. A previous post (by John) states that: “— anger is an everyday word— -” and that “wrath”(correctly in my estimation) is a more apt definition. But that raises an issue which, as far as I am aware, has not been addressed throughout this whole discussion ; namely that if “anger” is an everyday word then so is “love”, and a probable consequence of this throughout this whole exercise might be that we are in danger of projecting, consciously and/or unconsciously onto the Godhead our own deepest thoughts and prejudices concerning love rather than making divine revelation our starting point as to exactly what we mean by the term itself.

    To my knowledge, the first instance where God’s love is revealed explicitly to the Israelites is in Exodus 15:13 (“You have led in your steadfast love the people you have redeemed”)[ESV]. Steadfast (covenant) love is here described as redemptive; liberating the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt. However we should note that the previous verse (12) makes it abundantly clear as to the nature of this redeeming God: “Who is like you, O Lord, among the Gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?”

    Herein lies the very heart of divine love; a love that emanates from the One who is almighty, sovereign – and holy! All of which is reiterated in Deuteronomy(7:6 f):”For you are a people, holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you for his treasured possession —– It was not because you were more in number —-that the Lord set his love on you and chose you —- but it is because God loves you!”

    This is covenant love. It may not satisfy those who have philosophical and theological problems with, say, predestination or those desire the term to be couched in universalistic language or, for that matter,the growing band of brothers an sisters who for whatever reason have cultivated an antipathy towards the teaching of the OT.Nevertheless it resonates powerfully with New Testament teaching :”Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ —- even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world , that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us as sons through Jesus Christ according to the purpose of his will —-“(Ephesians 1:3 – 5).

    My final point is this: I have used the above texts primarily to highlight where I disagree with the general tenor of the original article. On several occasions, Kevin Kinghorn juxtaposes the terms “justice holiness and love”. However it would appear from this quote:”God’s committment to justice and holiness are derivative of his essential attribute of love —–” that love might be deemed to be the “supreme” attribute.But even if this is not the case, then I would still make following points:

    (1) As with “Love”, so it is with “holy”. How do we define these terms? Holy denotes Gods transcendence, his separateness and therefore his freedom and, it has to be said, specifically in relation to the salvation and restoration of the world. That he has chosen to reach out to save a fallen humanity serves to magnify the essence of his redemptive and restorative love. God’s love is grace; not a divine right! Is it merely by chance, therefore, that Moses encountered the holiness of Yahweh before he and the children of Israel encountered his covenant love?

    (2)Consequently, I am of the belief that it is holiness that defines and incarnates both God’s love and God’s justice and that both divine love and divine justice are supremely and seemlessly manifested in the sacrifical death of our Lord Jesus Christ.

  11. Will,
    1 My comment was drawn out, largely, from Peter illustration.
    2 It would be good to sees your explanation of the way the Revelation passage supports your position. It seems to be based, primarily, on a presumption that being thrown into the lake of fire, will amount to annihilation. In any event it would seem to support the “wrath” of God, of a different quality to anger. I’d concede that event described the passage would fill even an atheist with horror. (As an aside being burnt at the stake, while not being relished did nothing to deter Ridley and Latimer in their cause to spread scripture.)
    3 Do you see that passage as supporting salvation and righteousnesss by works?
    4.1 As relating to Peter’s illustration, (as my comment was mainly angled at that) the main point(s) of my “so what”, is contained in the rest of that particular paragraph.
    4.2 If death is seen and accepted as annihilation in any event, why should it be relevant, matter that God says it is punishment. Again, the concept of punishment will matter little to when there will be no consciousness of punishment, as they’ll be dead, a relatively short agonising punishment, death, no more or less than some causes of the first death.
    4.3 I’ve not put it particularly well, addressing primarily Peter’s point, rather than scripture. Again, it is conceded that it does not fit well to the Revelation passage, is not apt.
    4.4 If it’s not too late, repentance would avoid the (pronouncement?)an act of punishment of death by God.
    4.5 Another alternative could be an intermediate state, purgatory, chantries and indulgences.
    5 In relation to the passage from Revelation, and more, and as you raised the question of Hell, in the context of Wrath and the original post, here is a 39 page theological, scholar’s paper from (now) Dr Jonathan Gibson, which covers far more ground that can be in a comments section. It could be abstracted but, again, that is beyond the scope of comments.
    6 The PDF has many references and covers Annihilism and Eternal punishment.
    “Where the Fires are Not Quenched”:
    Biblical, Theological & Pastoral Perspectives on Hell”
    7 Maybe, just maybe, we ought to be more disturbed by all this, with more fire of the Good News of Jesus, within the Trinity, (perhaps the moto of the Salvation Army- “Fire and Blood” is apt here) in us, rather than more people in the fire…And LOVE wins.

  12. Will,
    In response, please give your considered response to the linked 39 page PDF. It deals with your contention. It needs to be read in full, as it considers other scripture text, more in the round, along with other writings. For a man of your calibre, it could be readily skimmed.
    And even if, you are not swayed, how do you avoid the wrath of God and Lake of fire.
    And unless I’ve missed it, I don’t think you’ve considered, reconciled? this wrath/hell with holiness, justice and Love of God, the subject of the post, your main point being that topic of wrath/love of God can not be properly considered without encompassing the scriptural doctrine of hell. Indeed, it can’t.

    • I don’t see that Gibson refutes the annihilationist view.

      For example, he says: ‘Other texts support the view that the suffering is eternal: in Rev 14:10 it is the smoke of their torment that arises forever and ever, not the smoke of their ‘once-upon-a-time’ destruction.’ Yet Rev 19:3 says the smoke goes up from Babylon ‘forever and ever’; this is (Rev 18:9-10) ‘the smoke of her burning; they will stand far off, in fear of her torment’ – yet in Rev 18:21 we hear what follows the burning torment: ‘Then a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, With such violence Babylon the great city will be thrown down, and will be found no more;’. The smoke is then said to rise forever and ever (19:3) – but after it has said that Babylon is ‘found no more’.

      Gibson also says: ‘An annihilationist may suggest that this describes the suffering prior to the destruction by fire, but in Mark 9:48 (quoting Isaiah 66:24), Jesus says that hell is a place where “their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched”. If the fire consumes and destroys what it burns, metaphorically speaking, how can it continue to burn? Thus, any “destruction” meant by the imagery of fire must mean an eternal destruction of some kind.’ But Isaiah 66:24 is quite explicitly a description of the fate of the ‘dead bodies of the people who have rebelled against me’, not people in conscious torment. The permanent burning is a constant witness of the victory of God over his enemies; there is no reason to see it as a constant state of torment. Jesus would have known this when he used the imagery, and also the image of Gehenna, and his hearers would have known it as well.

      • Thanks for the considered response, Will.
        Gibson does not refute, annihilation, but considers it and concludes against it.
        As you know, there is also the teaching of Jesus in the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus to be brought into the biblical theological mix and much could be said and contended for there.
        And, did Christ go down to hell? What is the import of this part of the creed, especially on the doctrine of hell?
        Can’t recall if Ian P has posted on this parable, whether it has been part of his lectionary series. As part of a church, that doesn’t follow the lectionary, I don’t know whether the parable is included or excluded.
        It would be interesting to have a developed post from Ian on the doctrine of hell, especially in the light of his expertise in the book or Revelation, though interesting is hardly an an apt word as it’s not a disinterested intellectual approach that is called for: rather it is a matter of deep pastoral and gospel concern.

        • I’m not sure the parable of Lazarus can be taken to be an entirely literal depiction of the next life because:
          – they go there immediately
          – it is called Hades and Abraham’s side
          – those in Hades can see those with Abraham and communicate with Abraham
          It strikes me as a very parabolic depiction using familiar images of the day to communicate a message about treatment of the poor and the hard heartedness of the rich. I don’t think it’s a sound basis for literal eschatology.

          • Hello Will,
            Apologies for the far too belated response: “the Rich man and Lazarus” Here is an expositional sermon from DA Carson.
            The first 20 mins sets out the Lukan context, including, very briefly, the preceding parables.
            The rest is specifically on the scripture itself, clearly pointing to the afterlife and dealing with Abraham and the discourse. As a whole is a substantial counterpoint, contradiction or rebuttal even, of your short, main point, summary.
            It is part of a sound basis for eschatology, Hell, fitting as it does with Carson’s conclusions, end points summary.

        • The story of the rich man and Lazarus is a very interesting one.
          I would point out that there is no mention of wrath or anger in this and – more importantly – no mention of judgement. As it stands, the story seems to suggest that one’s final state is the inverse of one’s state in life, c.f. the Magnificat.

          The rich man is not in ‘hell’ (with all of the conceptual baggage which that word has acquired in its passage through the mediaeval period) but in ‘Hades’, the Greek word for the place of the departed dead. It is the word used to translate ‘Sheol’ in the LXX. Neither Hades nor Sheol in Greek or Hebrew thought, although regarded as a shadowy place(s), carried any sense of torment or punishment. ‘Tartarus’ had arisen in Greek thought as a place of punishment – along with Elisium, a place of pleasure reserved for men related to gods and for heros.

          The NIV is correct in v23 in putting “in Hades” at the start of the sentence – it is there in the Greek. As a result it is not clear that Abraham and Lazarus are not in hades,; they are just “far away”. Note also that Lazarus is “by Abraham’s side”, literally “in his bosom”. That is, Lazarus is now resting with his ancestors. He is not ‘in Heaven’, not ‘with God’.

          My own hypothesis, which I would not press, is that Jesus took a story told at the time about a rich man, blessed by God, who dies and goes to be with Abraham, and a poor man, cursed by God, who finishes up in a part of Sheol which is not pleasant – a story which has absorbed Greek ideas of Tartarus. The story says “as now – so then.” Jesus then inverts the story, giving honour to the poor man by giving him a name, but denying honour to the rich one by leaving him nameless.

          But the point of the story is not the fate of the two men. Rather it is the punchline. I realised something about this very recently. In response to “if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent”, Jesus puts into the mouth of Abraham the words:

          “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”

          Now, you would think that if someone comes back from the dead and tells you that your brother is in torment in hades, and the same will happen to you if you do not repent, that you might well be convinced.

          Jesus says, through Abraham, that this is not the case. If they are not brought to repentance by reading Moses and the prophets, even something as dramatic as that will not convince them.

          This tells me that if it is the case that there are those who, as a result of not repenting, will suffer eternal torment, it is ineffective to say that this is the case. ‘Turn or burn’ preaching by someone who has not died is surely less effective that a man rising from the dead and preaching the same. But Jesus says, if they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not respond.

          To this I will add that there is no mention in Acts of orge. The apostolic preaching one finds there is largely concerned with who Jesus is. From that flow the need for repentance and the availability of forgiveness, although these are not the centre of the message.

          • Thanks David. Interesting point about Abraham possibly being in Hades/Sheol as well. I would add that Luke repeats the theme later on the cross with Jesus’ promise to the penitent thief to be with him today in paradise. Makes you wonder what’s being envisaged here and how it relates to Paul’s ‘sleep’ – though also being ‘with the Lord’. Either way I don’t think it can be taken as describing the final judgement.

            The lack of wrath in Acts is interesting, but contrasts with the heavy references to Gehenna in Jesus’ teaching. Maybe a difference between Greek and Jewish contexts. For us maybe corresponding to a difference between culturally Christian and de-Christianised context.

          • Will,
            There are those who would say that Jesus’ language of ‘gehenna’ is drawing on the language of Jeremiah in relation to the siege of Jerusalem in his day. Therefore, it might well be Jesus prophesying about the fall of Jerusalem in 70AD and the terrible effects of that (in this world rather than the next), rather than a reference to the final eschaton (c.f. stuff we have had on this blog about the two horizons in Matt 24 and Mark 13).

          • How would that fit with warnings about being thrown into hell for sinning as per Matthew 5:22,29,30? I don’t really see how such references can be understood as references to the destruction of Jerusalem? Can you explain?

          • I am not aware that ‘orge’ is textually associated with Gehenna at all.

            Regarding Acts, the word may be absent, but the idea surely is not. Acts 2:19-21, 2:40, 5:10-11, 13:11.

            The word agape is also absent.

          • Hi Will,
            for the whole ‘gehenna’ thing, I would do best to refer you to Andrew Perriman, who is a vocal expositor of it. This:
            might be an interesting place to start.
            I’m not sure I’m equipped to judge one way or the other. However, I do think this kind of argument has enough cogency that one should not assume that references to ‘gehenna’ should be translated ‘hell’ – a word with a lot of baggage.
            The references in Matthew 5 are interesting. For 5:21-22, if I extract the relevant phrases (and change ‘hell’ to ‘gehenna’):

            A) and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.
            B) anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.
            C) anyone who says to a brother or sister, “Raca,” is answerable to the court.
            D) anyone who says, “You fool!” will be in danger of the fire of gehenna.

            (A) is what “you have heard it said”, and Jesus elaborates this in three phrases, extending murder to anger, ‘raca’ and ‘fool’. Are these distinct, or parallel? Are the results parallel or distinct?

            The ‘judgement’ in (B) should be like the ‘judgement’ in (A). In the OT law, this would have been a judgement in this world. Should we not take it to be the same in (B)? The result in (C) is clearly of this world. It is being brought before, literally, the Sanhedrin. So, why should (D) be distinct from this? It makes me wonder what happened to the bodies of executed murderers.

            Matt 5:29-30 have the pattern of ‘better to lose one part of your body than for the whole of the body to finish up in gehenna.’ That does seem to relate to the seige of Jerusalem, for instance in Jeremiah 7:32. Also, if you cut off your hand, where would you put it?

          • Hello David,
            The “Rich Man and Lazarus.” Based on scripture, it contains a contradiction of the point you make about Abraham.
            This is a copy of a response to Will, above:
            Hello Will,
            Apologies for the far too belated response: “the Rich man and Lazarus” Here is an expositional sermon from DA Carson.
            The first 20 mins sets out the Lukan context, including, very briefly, the preceding parables.
            The rest is specifically on the scripture itself, clearly pointing to the afterlife and dealing with Abraham and the discourse. As a whole is a substantial counterpoint, contradiction or rebuttal even, of your short, main point, summary.
            It is part of a sound basis for eschatology, Hell, fitting as it does with Carson’s conclusions, end points summary.

        • Will,
          I’ll come back to this, when I’ve more time to marshal thoughts in a more coherent form, with some authority referencing from Keener and others, on the parable, particularly in relation to Abraham, righteousness (a theme in the Revelation passage) and the afterlife, a movement of category, the final one of afterlife, in the cluster of parables in Luke, which ultimately points to Jesus own death resurrection, and take heed of what he has to say, teach. There is a common theme in the parables of Inversion, Jesus standing the commonviews and beliefs on their heads.

      • Yes, I also agree. It is worth adding that the Greek word translated ‘eternal’ is aiwnios, the adjective from aiwn, meaning ‘age’ (whence the English word aeon). In some contexts a better translation would be ‘age-long’. We translate zwe aiwnia ‘eternal life’ in the full sense of everlasting life not because aiwnios demands it, but because of the assurance elsewhere that there is only one death and after that we shall never die. Same with ‘for ever and ever’, eis tous aiwnas twn aiwnion; lit. ‘to the ages of the ages’. The phrase appears to be emphatically ‘for eternity’, but in some contexts the usage is hyperbolic, viz. Rev 14:11, 20:10, 19:3 and 22:5. Babylon will not smoke for all eternity. Not only is this physically impossible (it must eventually burn out) but in due course the old earth is replaced by a new earth.

  13. Interesting article. Odd discussion. More interested in the details of the punishment rather than concern about what might make God that cross.

    As part of my current pilgrimage reconciling me to certain bits of the bible, I had to face up the the wrath passages in the minor prophets so I set my face and did a study to find out what actually makes God mad. I worked through the first half of Isaiah and all of Amos for starters and found a list that shouldn’t have surprised me but it did. Of course there is the drunkenness, apostacy, foreign gods, idols, false prophecy etc but a really large part of God’s gripe seems to have been how they treat the poor, needy, defenceless women and children, aliens/foreigners, false weights and measures, rigged trials, denying proper legal rights to people, etc And it seems to me that the ultimate punishment for this sort of bullying and theft is to hand them over to even bigger bullies and thieves until they get a taste of their own medecine with the invasion and exile in Babylon. The actual poor themselves get left behind in the land to make out on their own !

    So basically God goes lary about the things I wish I got more angry about too ! And as a disabled woman, on my own, with sick kids, in a foreign land, struggling with the economic crisis caused by the greedy, resulting in cuts to services I can identify with a lot of the people that God is sticking up for ! I don’t mind him getting cross about how people like me get treated – and I’ve not had a bad ride compared to many, I’m one of the relatively rich in the world.

    It seems to be yet another of those mysteries where the answers must be somewhere in not either/or but both. Some how I need to hold in my head the two images of God – so angry about wrong and injustice, yet so loving and merciful towards us. I’m not too fond of the old ying and yang thing, but I can see that it has some element of comprehension of this wonderful paradox.

    I was remembering an incident when our 13year old daughter was indecently approached by a teenage boy who lived nearby. My husband was angry and went to see that family to complain. If they hadn’t replied helpfully we would then have gone to the police. That’s the sort of caring “wrath/anger” I observe in the OT especially. God minding about how we treat people.

    Also it’d not a hasty thing. It seems that the nations of Israel and Judah may have had hundreds of years warning. That isn’t the sort of random “smiting” that people seem to attribute to God, thunderbolts and lightening and all that.

  14. According to Stephen Wellum in his book ‘Christ Alone’, ‘the offended party, the triune Covenant Lord necessarily demands just satisfaction from us for our sin against him’ (page 109).
    If this is true then we all face from birth onwards the wrath and condemnation of the Triune God, not the wrath and condemnation of the Father only, and this, in my view, puts the spotlight on the doctrine of the Two Natures of Christ in understanding the Atonement doctrine of penal substitution.

    Phil Almond

  15. When anyone I know dies two questions and an emotion arise in my mind. I wonder whether the person was a Christian; and I wonder whether the person had been told what God is like and about the terrible warnings and wonderful invitations that are the two essential parts of a faithful preaching of the Gospel. And if I could have communicated with the person I feel regret and guilt if I never told them about these two essential parts and what God is like.

    I wonder how many ordained Church of England ministers feel that regret and guilt.

    Surely, surely, the need for everyone to hear both these two essential parts, especially the unpopular terrible warnings, is the greatest need of everyone, infinitely more important, relatively speaking, than all other needs, harrowing and important though many of those other needs are.

    Why are the energies of Synods and other Councils of the Church not largely devoted to bringing this about?

    Phil Almond

  16. When the Person of Christ was a developing embryo in the womb of the Blessed Virgin he was also the Lord God Almighty who ‘throned in height sublime sits amid the cherubim’: when he lay dead in the tomb he continued as the Lord God Almighty to ‘uphold all things by the word of his power’; when he hung on the cross bearing the sins of the world and their retribution he was also, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit the condemning and punishing God. In these three instances we are confronted with the same incomprehensible mystery.
    Phil Almond

  17. I am not a Christian scholar but I have been blessed by the Spirit to teach and discern, and I knew the very first time I sang that song the phrase “the wrath of God was satisfied,” it was not the truth and that I should not be lifting that up before Him nor should I encourage others to do so which is sad because other than that phrase, it is a beautiful hyme. Nonetheless, that phrase is not found in scripture and it actually contradicts what Revelation says. Either the song is wrong or Jesus is wrong when He says that He and His Father are one and the same. If not, then there is no way to explain the wrath that Christ pours out in Revelation 19 against the kings of the earth and all those who are agaisnt Him in the end. Our God is a merciful, loving God; however, in His great love even that day will have to be fulfilled. Furthermore, to ignore it, is to ignore Christ’s complete victory over sin and death given that it is at that time that He will finally throw the beast and all false teacher of the word into the lake of fire. That is, we will finally be rid of Satan. Why would anyone want God’s wrath to be gone before that day finally gets here? I’m over here shouting HALLELUJAH…come Lord Jesus…come quickly!

  18. Sorry I am late to the party on this. Upon retirement I have tried to delve more deeply into the Christian faith I have held for most of my life and have found the waters around divine wrath to be very stormy. It is a topic I have hardly encountered in sermons. The problem I have with wrath is this. If God the creator hates sin then why would it create us with a sinful nature or at least the capacity to sin? Why does God then have any moral right to ‘pour put his wrath’ when we do sin? Giving us free will as well as disordered desires is to place an enormous burden on us -could it be unjust to impose infinite punishment on us if we fail?

    • But the question you are raising is whether or not we genuinely have free will, and therefore whether or not we are actually responsible for our actions…?

  19. In reading reviewers on Amazon on the book, a couple have stated that it promotes Universalism. For example, one reviewer wrote, “Often in Scripture, God’s wrath entails killing the unrighteous. How can God’s wrath morally educate them, when they will not be around to improve or benefit from the education? Klinghorn and Travis seem to be sensitive to this question, and their answer appears to be that God may provide people with post-mortem opportunities for salvation; those killed by God’s wrath in this life, in short, will carry the lessons from that experience into the next life, and that will hopefully make them open to God and God’s ways.”

    Is that true or have the reviewers misunderstood the book? Thanks!


Leave a comment