Wrath of God

A friend from Facebook, for some unknown reason, posted a link to Westboro Baptist Church’s list of press releases. Out of curiosity, I visited it and clicked on their parody section. I was presented with a list of well-known songs that the group has modified, including a cover of John Lennon’s “Imagine.”

Listening to that song, cleverly re-titled “Imagine the New Heaven” (an obvious reference to Is 65 and Rev 21), I realized something rather chilling. Fred Phelps & Co. represent the opposite extreme of a spectrum of authentic Christianity. Mainstream Christianity sits on the other end.

Let me explain. Mainstream Christianity preaches God’s unending love. The popular preachers emphasize over and over again how God loves all of humanity, and then they carry it to illogical extremes. They equate “love” with “unconditional acceptance” and that makes sin and damnation completely disappear. No need for sanctification, they will preach, because God loves you just as you are!

Believing that God always has the best interest of his people at heart (cf. Rom 8:28), but then completely de-contextualizing a person’s “best interest,” they preach that God will make you wealthy and powerful. God will answer every prayer with a resounding YES if you only believe it’s true.

On the other end is Fred Phelps, who emphasizes the coming wrath and judgment of God to the exclusion of any mercy or grace. Phelps and company commit numerous theological errors besides that one (such as believing the elect are always members of Westboro Baptist Church, shirking the Great Commission, encouraging those around them to sin to bring the coming judgment faster, and everything else that you can classify as hyper-Calvinism), but removing all hope of grace and mercy from God’s character is by far the biggest they make.

Mainstream Christianity shies away from wrath and judgment. Phelps embraces it. Mainstream Christianity heaps on the tenderhearted, kindhearted, warm-and-fuzzy-bunnies-playing-in-a-meadow God. Phelps paints God as a monster who delights in sending sinners to hell.

The truth is that you need to embrace both images of God in order to truly appreciate the character of the God of the Bible. On the one hand, God does love everyone and has pre-planned the world to bring the best possible result for those who love him. But, it’s a mistake to assume that he loves everyone equally.

Parents, do you love your children equally? No, don’t even try to lie and say that you do. You love them for who they are as individuals, in the measure of love they are due. That doesn’t mean you love one more than the other. It means you love them differently. Why should we assume God, in whose image we are made, is any different?

God loves all of us, not equally, but in different measures based on who we are. It doesn’t mean he loves me more than you. It means the love he has for me is different than the love he has for you; for the person we were, are, and will become is due a different measure of love from God.

Each person is, as the psalmist says, fearfully and wonderfully made. Each person here has a purpose to fulfill in God’s plan, but that purpose may not bless that person with eternal life in heaven with God. There is still a wrath and judgment aspect to God that must be feared in order to fully appreciate who God is as revealed by nature and the Bible.

We can never forget that God is both love, and sits in judgment of sinners. He loves us enough to sacrifice his Son to appease the divine wrath and judgment in our stead. But he loves us too much to see us stay in our sins.

Hence the exhortations in the Bible to live as though we have hope, not in this life only, but in the next life. “What shall we say then?” asks the apostle Paul. “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom 6:1-2).

The churches of mainstream Christianity often have us living in our sins, as though we have no hope to get out from under them. Or worse, they minimize or glorify those sins because our American culture is accepting them (fornication, because, as one atheist wrote, we have a “right” to have sex before marriage; abortion, because we wouldn’t want our daughters “punished with a baby,” and the pro-life movement is often depicted as enslaving young women by “forcing” them to carry the pregnancy to term; adultery, there are several matchmaking websites that cater exclusively to married people looking for affairs; women senior pastors, because the sexes were not only created equal, but apparently are equally good at doing everything; homosexuality, because gays were “made that way, and God would want them to live as he made them!”). There doesn’t seem to be any taboos anymore, and tolerance of “alternative lifestyles” is the only absolute.

So, what are we going to do about this? Well, the first thing that needs to happen is that mainstream Christianity needs to (I never thought I write this) take a page out of Fred Phelps’s book. The judgment and wrath of God needs to make a serious comeback. People understand that God loves us, but they need to also understand that a relationship with God is meant to change who you are.

You begin life enslaved to sin. Pledging your life to Christ does something; it immediately makes you a new creation (see 2 Cor 5:17). You have instantly become a good person. You don’t have to become a good person. This isn’t something that you work on over the course of a lifetime, and if you practice the correct behaviors you’ll achieve and go on to a reward in heaven. That’s what other religions teach. In Christianity, you pledge your life to Christ and that’s it. You are now a good person in the sight of God. This nonsense work of becoming a worthy enough person to be in the divine presence has already been accomplished for you on the cross.

Next job is to set your mind on spiritual goods; i.e. building treasures in heaven. Yes, the needs of the flesh are more immediate. You will struggle with this. I still do. I probably always will. But it’s necessary. Jesus told us to become his disciple, we must take up our cross and follow him. For some people, that may mean renouncing a homosexual lifestyle. For others, it may mean reconnecting with estranged loved ones, and ending all of the bad blood (1 Jn 2:9). This is sanctification. The process is different for everyone, and we all have a measure of time here on earth to accomplish it. Using it wisely is the key.

That would be an excellent start to fixing this problem. I’m not advocating anything Fred Phelps does, but I am saying that, theologically, we ought to listen to the hellfire and brimstone that he preaches. Some (but not much) of it is accurate.

It’s comforting to think of a loving God in heaven who smiles down at everything we do, but the truth is that’s not the God revealed in the Bible. The God revealed in the Bible hates sin, and wants no part of it anywhere near him. Instead of using the grace he has given us to cultivate a life for ourselves that brings us hedonistic pleasure, we ought to use the time given us to make ourselves more like Christ, renouncing earthly gains in favor of heavenly gains. In other words, focus on eternity and live the best life we can to set a firm foundation in eternity.

About Cory Tucholski

I'm a born-again Christian, amateur apologist and philosopher, father of 3. Want to know more? Check the "About" page!

Posted on November 30, 2010, in God, Heresy, Morality, Sin, Theology and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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