Chapter 12: Hallelujah (The Love and Wrath of God)

Let’s pretend you’re an astronaut flying to the moon. Pretty awesome. You’re sitting there in the chair, with your spaceman suit on,  and you’re out of your mind excited to be launching into space. Naturally. The countdown begins, the thrusters roar,  and the G forces pin you to your seat as you wet your pants while obscene levels of adrenaline course through your veins. The cabin violently shudders and shakes as you rip through the atmosphere at ungodly speeds creating so much pressure you feel like your skin is going to peel off of your body.

And just when you think the whole shuttle is going to explode,  everything stops. Gravity is gone.  You’re weightless.  Floating. So you go through your checks and procedures and what not,  and you phone into Houston to let them know that you’re on course to the moon.
“Things are looking good up here Command.  We are on course, over?”
“Um…negative Apollo. We’ve changed your coordinates. Over?”
“Sorry, what? Over?”
“Yeah, this is Houston.  We’ve…uh…decided to send you to the sun. Copy?”
“Exqueeze me? Baking powder?”
“Yeah, Apollo.  We’ve got a new destination for you and we’re taking over controls. You’re going to the sun whether you like it or not. Over?”
“Uh…..... but….... you…..... AAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!”

Now I want you to visualize what a space shuttle would look like flying into the sun. Disturbing huh?  In this last journal entry, I’d really like to try to tackle one of the most difficult questions I’ve ever had to answer. (Wow, that sounds intimidating doesn’t it?) I grew up in Christian school and church and what have you,  and over and over and over again I’ve heard the incredible news that Jesus can save you. He can save you from hell and condemnation, because you’re a sinner and you’re going to hell. But the problem was, I never really understood why.  Why do I have to go to hell? And for that matter, why does hell even exist? I mean, if God is so loving and merciful like everyone insists, then what’s the big deal with my sin? Trust me, I get that I’m a sinner, no one has to convince me of that, but why can’t He just look down on me and say, “you’re forgiven?” Wouldn’t that make this whole thing a lot less confusing? Wouldn’t that have saved a whole lot of unnecessary bleeding and dying for Christ? If God is love, then just love people right? Why all this talk about hell and wrath and judgement? Doesn’t it sound like God is contradicting himself?  And you know, a lot of churches and ministries or whatever you want to call them have done exactly that.  They don’t really know how to explain the situation,  they haven’t figured out a way to reconcile the love and wrath of God, so sadly, they just dismiss the whole hell topic altogether.  Believe me, I know from personal experience.

One time, our band was silenced and asked to never come back to a camp just for bringing it up! Right during the middle of this song, “Hallelujah,” the screens started flashing, “Go immediately to your small groups!” So all the kids turned around and walked out, in the middle of the song! Shame too, because they missed the bridge, which is my favorite part. Later we asked the leadership why they told the kids to leave, and they said, “You were over your time.  And for the record, we hired the speakers to speak, and the band to play.  So please don’t speak any more in between the songs.” Well, we dug a little deeper and found the real issue wasn’t that I was talking,  it was what I was saying. I was talking about the wrath of God.  Now obviously, I know that this subject can be really touchy for people, it can make us feel a little squeamish just mentioning it. But we must be careful not to shy away from topics in the Bible that make us uncomfortable, or that are difficult to understand.  We must have child like faith, not childish faith, and the Bible is their to correct us, not for us to correct it. So we must come humbly to it, because, whether we know it or not, we all bring certain cultural prejudices to the table every time we open it.

For instance, talking about a God of wrath is extremely unpopular in the west, but is cherished in the east. In western thought, we like our “Shack” God just fine.  We like the idea of a buddy God who’s waiting to cuddle with us whenever we need some cheering up.  We like God to coddle us and cater to us and remind us how awesome we are.  We embrace mercy and forgiveness, at least, when it refers to what God should show us anyway,  but we start getting really bent out of shape when judgement is spoken of. However, in eastern cultures, a God of wrath is celebrated, while a God of mercy is offensive. A God who forgives is considered weak and downright despicable,  but we don’t like to think about that very often do we? We just think that other cultures are crazy and archaic and just need the enlightenment that our culture can bring. But if you think that way, it only proves how influenced you are by your own upbringing. And you know, if God is not man-made,  then wouldn’t you expect him to offend every man-made culture on some level? And so he does.  He offends the West with his wrath, and the East with his grace.  Is this freaking you out yet? Are you pumping your fist in anger or in agreement? Well, maybe it shouldn’t be either.

Let me explain.  Remember the astronauts? This is a feeble attempt to help us understand why we need saving. It’s not a question we ask often enough I think. Yeah, yeah, we’re all sinners, but that doesn’t help us understand why Christ had to die. If God wasn’t just, He didn’t have to go to all that trouble. He could have just looked down and said, “I love you.  Come on up to the party.” In other words, if there is no judgement and all grace with God, then Jesus died for nothing. You see, Isaiah 33:14 describes God like this, “the sinners in Zion are afraid; trembling has seized the godless: “who among us can dwell with the consuming fire? Who among us can dwell with everlasting burnings?”  Not the common perception of God in most churches today is it? But it helps us see that the first thing we must understand is that our problem is not so much that we’re so bad, it’s that God is so glorious. In Revelation, when Jesus comes back, it says that He’s going to have eyes that blaze like fire, a voice like mighty oceans, and He’ll be holding stars in his hand!  Stars! The sun is one star.  He’s going to have seven in his hand! And it goes on to say that people are going to be freaking out running away from Him! What? Yeah, it says that there will be two groups of people in the end. One group will be running for their lives, terrified, and diving into caves while begging for the rocks to crush them so they won’t have to stand before Jesus, while another group is going to just stand before the throne of God singing praises! Crazy huh? One group is scared out of their mind by God, while the other group is wanting more of Him! And what are they singing you might ask? “Hallelujah for the blood of the lamb that was slain.”  If you can keep that spaceman analogy in your head a little longer, you’ll see that if we’re all astronauts flying to the sun, there is no hope of survival. It won’t matter if you’re the best, most talented astronaut on the ship, and it won’t matter if you huddle in the corner and cry,  “I don’t believe in the sun! So this won’t affect me!” If the whole world is on a trajectory toward an encounter with the sun someday, Then either the sun will have to stop being the sun or something or someone will have to get in between us and its brilliance.

Enter Christ. By the shedding of His blood, He has made a way for us to come to God, without changing who God is. He has come in between the fury of the sun, and the depth of our depravity.  The cross comes between the holiness of God and the unholiness of the astronauts on their way to meet Him. In “The Knowledge of the Holy,” A.W. Tozer says it this way, “We must hide our unholiness in the wounds of Christ as Moses hid himself in the cleft of the rock while the glory of the Lord passed by. (Exodus 33:21-23) We must take refuge from God in God.” In other words, the cross casts a shade of mercy for those who believe. It creates a super suit, if you will, made from his blood that enables us to not only withstand the holiness of God, but actually draw near and behold it. Could you imagine? What wonders would NASA report back to earth if they could stand before the sun without being consumed? And what wonders will we sing of when we gaze on God in all his beauty?  Now, I know that doesn’t help us understand everything about the wrath of God, but I do think it’s a good start. Tozer also said that whatever comes into your mind when you think of God, is the most important thing about you, and I agree. We must seek to understand who God has proclaimed Himself to be, and try not to make Him into what we would like Him to be. God is love, but love is not God.  Love is not all that God is. He’s terribly more complex then we’d like Him to be, and He’s considerably more terrifying than today’s culture would like to make Him.

Consider C.S. Lewis’ analogy of God in Aslan: “Safe?...Who said anything about safe? Course he isn’t safe.  But he’s good.”  So read for yourself what God says about His own wrath, and I think it will encourage you. Check out Ezekiel 33:11 with me, “Say to them, as I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live, turn back, turn back, from your evil ways, for why will you die O house of Israel?”  Or how about Lamentations 3:32,33? “But though he causes grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men.”  The good news about the wrath of God is that it breaks his heart. Which means, if we have a hard time believing it, if we have a hard time accepting it, then that means we have a God-like view of it. People who revel in and rejoice in the wrath of God without contemplating the ache of sorrow of Christ in it, do not agree with God. Jesus himself even raised his arms to Jerusalem and lamented at how He longed to bring sinners to himself like a mother hen with her chicks.  God’s judgement breaks his heart as does our sin, but this actually gives us great hope in his love. Because, quite frankly, if God didn’t hate sin, if He didn’t hate the cancer that’s eating away at all of us, We would have to question his goodness. A parent who never disciplines their child is not a loving parent, and a God who looks idly on as rape, murder, and all the atrocities of humanity rage on, is not a loving God either. To be love, He must hate evil. And you know, if God wasn’t going to repay all the evil in the world someday, then it would be nearly impossible for me to not try to distribute vengeance myself.

Do you see what I’m saying here? Tim Keller, in his book ‘Reason for God’ quotes Miroslav Volf in his chapter on the wrath of God.  He helped me understand this point, specifically, that if I believe in a God of non-violence, then that will actually make me more violent.  Because of the sense of justice that God has put in us,  we are angry at evil.  Necessarily so. And if there is no judgement coming, then how will we keep from avenging sin ourselves? But, because of Christ, I can trust that justice will be paid.  Either on the sinner, or on Jesus for the sinner.  I no longer have to take matters into my own hands. I can forgive, and rest in the justice of God.  You see, nothing demonstrates the love of God like the wrath of God. It breaks his heart, but He cannot stop being who He is. The holiness of God pushes astronaut sinners like us away, but the holiness of the blood of Christ covers us and brings us back in. Or to quote John Piper, “the wisdom of God, has ordained a way for the love of God to deliver us from the wrath of God without compromising the justice of God.” I hope this helps.  I know I’m still struggling with all of this too.