Is God a God of Wrath or Grace?
In this week's Empty Conversation, I brought up the question of how can we reconcile Old Testament wrath (or judgement) with New Testament grace? I know this is something that I have struggled with as a Christian and will admit I don't fully understand. It's not a comfortable topic and not one that I have personally heard addressed from the pulpit that often. So, I brought the question up to the EC crew to hear their thoughts on the subject.
The Wrath Of God
There are plenty of examples in the Old Testament that demonstrate the wrath of God: the Flood, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the mass genocide of nations that opposed Israel, and even striking down Israelites who disobeyed. There is one story in particular that had bothered me every time I read it, so I brought it up to the EC crew so we could discuss it further.
"And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the ark of God." (2 Samuel 6:6-7)
Being completely transparent and honest: this story scared me. My impression of the story is Uzzah, loving God and having respect and awe for the ark of the covenant, saw that it was about to hit the ground and took action. Just like we would catch something or someone we love from falling, Uzzah reacted and caught the ark. He was a Levite, afterall, and the Levites were the tribe God selected to take care of the temple and the ark. So when I read that God was angry with Uzzah and killed him for touching the ark I was a bit shocked.
I know God warned not to touch the holy things of the temple (Numbers 4:15) or you would die, but I guess I thought God would have seen Uzzah's heart and known he wasn't trying to defile it, but rescue it. When I brought this up to Josh, he made a very accurate point I think we often forget: God doesn't need our help. Josh also brought up another great example (listen to the podcast for the whole conversation, too good to try to recap here!) and quoted another scripture: "Obedience is better than sacrifice."
God's wrath isn't evil.
If God is good and God is just, then His judgement is good and His actions are just. Yet, when God wipes out unholy nations or strikes down a Levite for catching the falling ark, we call those actions God's wrath and wrath doesn't sound too good. Wrath sounds evil. But God cannot be evil, so where is the disconnect?
If you have ever struggled with God's wrath or judgement displayed throughout scripture, you're not alone. I know I have, and I know other people who have been so offended by the judgement of God that they decided He was not worth their worship. Just like we have rules and laws to abide by today, God set forth rules for His people to abide by. Just like we have consequences when those rules were broken, God established consequences. I will still admit that I do not fully understand all of God's rules and why some of them result in pretty serious consequences, but I'm trying. Talking through God's judgement this week with the EC crew has helped me to understand a bit more, so I would encourage you to do the same. Feel free to reach out to one of us or leave a comment below and let's wrestle through this topic together.
The Grace Of God
God's grace is still pretty hard to understand, but much easier to accept, isn't it? Anytime I've had grace extended to me by someone, I was grateful and accepted it but I often did not understand why they would choose grace when they had the right to choose wrath. I've heard many people associate the New Testament as God's story of grace through Jesus, which it is, but God's grace can be displayed throughout the Old Testament as well.
By separating the two sections of the bible, you see a segmented story and therefore a segmented view of God. If the bible is the word of God (which I believe it is) then all of it's text is a representation of who God is. You cannot just read one chapter or book of JFK's biography and say that you know who he is, so you cannot read just one book of the Bible and say you know who God is. It's important to read the whole story and to see that God's grace is a thread throughout the entire bible, as is His judgement, and that both are good.
Grace And Wrath Collide
One of the biggest lies that I have heard is that the New Testament was the end of God's wrath and the beginning of a time of grace for all people. Sure, Jesus' sacrifice on the cross extended God's grace and mercy to all, but it was not the beginning of that grace nor was it the end of His judgement/wrath — just read Revelations. Yet, Jesus' sacrifice can be pointed to as an example of where God's wrath and grace collide. Jesus died a horrific death, one that he did not deserve (wrath) but his death and resurrection became the final sacrifice and extended mercy to all people (grace).
One of the quotes I found this week that brought everything into perspective for me was: "We get offended by the wrath of God because we are desensitized to the severity of sin." Please do not let the stories of God's grace in the bible keep you from forgetting His wrath. And please do not let the stories of God's wrath in the bible keep you from accepting His grace.