We’re continuing to read Knowing God by J. I. Packer along with Tim Challies’ Reading Classics Together Series. This week we are in chapters 15 and 16.
Chapter 16 deals with “The Wrath of God,” not the most popular subject today. As mentioned from a previous chapter, people like to think of God as grandfatherly and benign. But the Bible presents wrath as a part of God’s character, so it is wise to see what it has to say about it.
Packer defines terms and then sketches out some of the Biblical references, noting that there are more verses about God’s “anger, fury, and wrath than there are about His love and tenderness” (p. 149). “The Bible labors the point that just as God is good to those who trust Him, so He is terrible to those who do not” (p. 149).
Some object to God as displaying wrath because it seems “unworthy” of Him, or like a loss of control. But His wrath is not like human wrath. “God’s wrath in the Bible is never the capricious, self-indulgent, irritable, morally ignoble thing that human anger so often is. It is, instead, a right and necessary reaction to objective moral evil. God is only angry when anger is called for…Would a God who took as much pleasure in evil as He did in good be a good God? Would a God who did not react adversely to evil in His world be morally perfect?” (p. 151).
“God’s wrath in the Bible is always judicial–that is, it is the wrath of the Judge, administering justice” (p. 151). It isn’t arbitrary or capricious. It’s also “something which people choose for themselves. Before hell is an experience inflicted by God, it is a state for which a person opts by retreating from the light which God shines in his heart to lead him to Himself…(John 3:18-19)” (p. 152).
Packer then traces the wrath of God through the book of Romans, discussing the meaning and revelation of it as well as deliverance from it. Thankfully God has made provision for us to be delivered from His wrath by repenting of our sins and trusting in Christ, who took our sins on Himself at the cross, for salvation. “Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him” (Romans 5:9).
The title of Chapter 16 comes from Romans 11:22a: “Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God.” Packer begins by discussing how some of the “muddle-headedness” about God and what it means to have faith in Him have come about: people follow their own ideas instead of seeking what God reveals in His Word; people think all religions are equal and “draw their ideas about God from pagan as well as Christian sources” (p. 159); personal sinfulness has been downplayed, so people don’t see the need and aren’t open to correction; and, as has been mentioned on the chapters dealing with God’s justice and wrath, people “disassociate the thought of God’s goodness from that of His severity” (p. 159).
Packer then does one of the things I believe he is best at: presenting in distilled form an overview of of both God’s goodness and severity, which I could not begin to reproduce here without quoting half the chapter. But he says God’s severity “denotes God’s decisive withdrawal of His goodness from those who have spurned it (p. 163). “But God is not impatient in His severity; just the reverse. He is ‘slow to anger’… and ‘longsuffering'” patient and forbearing (p. 165). And he has done everything possible to bring people to Himself: “The Bible shows you a Savior who suffered and died in order that we sinners might be reconciled to God; Calvary is the measure of the goodness of God” (p. 165).