And the idols he shall utterly abolish. And they shall go into the holes of the rocks, and into the caves of the earth, for fear of the LORD, and for the glory of his majesty, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth. In that day a man shall cast his idols of silver, and his idols of gold, which they made each one for himself to worship, to the moles and to the bats; To go into the clefts of the rocks, and into the tops of the ragged rocks, for fear of the LORD, and for the glory of his majesty, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth. (Isaiah 2:18-21, KJV)
What is the wrath of God?
For a long time, I thought that eternal punishment after the final judgment was an existence apart from God. I thought “going to hell” was being in a place where God wasn’t. I got this idea from classical paintings of hell that showed torment and demons but not God.
I thought “the wrath of God” was a different way of God the Father being toward a certain group of people. That “part of God” is wrath and another part is love. That he shows love over here and wrath over here and these are different emotions.
I have come to realize that this is incorrect.
I have learned that God, in his relationship with the creation, expresses all his attributes equally. When he expresses his love, he also expresses his justice. When he expresses his truth, he also expresses his holiness, and so on. These do not come in parts and does not change his emotions. We confess this in Westminster 2.1 when we say he is without body, parts, or passions. God is utterly simple. These attributes come as one, simple manifestation of the glory of God the Father.
Where does God’s wrath fit into this, then?
Wrath is the manner in which the glory of God is received by those who are in sin and not united to Christ. They are in the presence of God, yet God cannot – because he is holy – countenance their sin. Thus, they receive the divine glory, the justice, and the holiness of God, from the perspective of God, in the same manner as those who are in Christ. However, from the perspective of man, the wrath they receive is God’s judgment upon their sin.
They are in the presence of God. And his presence is horrifying and wrathful because of their sin.
Look at our passage today. The idols of the nations attempt to flee from to presence and glory of God. They attempt to go to caves and behind rocks, to hide from the presence of the LORD. However, they are unable to do so. They can never get outside of the creation, get away from the presence of God. The fear they experience, the glory and power before them, is as wrath because of their sinfulness.
Consider our reading from Hebrews 10. When warning to not to sin nor to forsake Christ, for apart from him there is only judgment. Paul concludes:
The Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:30b-31)
Falling into God’s hands is an anthropomorphic account of God’s presence. The point is that coming under God’s judgment – being in his hands, his presence – is a fearful thing. It is being in the presence of the divine glory, and rather than having Christ and the eternal blessedness which is our inheritance, there is only punishment.
Wrath is necessary if God is to be confessed as simple (and he is). Our confession confirms that wrath is being in the presence of God in our sin:
The end of God’s appointing this day is for the manifestation of the glory of his mercy, in the eternal salvation of the elect; and of his justice, in the damnation of the reprobate, who are wicked and disobedient. For then shall the righteous go into everlasting life, and receive that fullness of joy and refreshing, which shall come from the presence of the Lord: but the wicked, who know not God, and obey not the gospel of Jesus Christ, shall be cast into eternal torments, and be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power. – Westminster 33.2
Consider yourselves. There is nowhere to hide from the presence of God. When he comes to judge in his appointed time, he will forever judge, either unto blessedness or unto wrath. Consider your sin. You cannot flee from God. You cannot flee from the judgment for your sin. You can only flee to Christ, in whom your life is hidden. It is through him alone that the presence of God is eternal blessedness. We will all face the divine glory. Cling to Christ, lest you fall into the hands of judgment.