Getting Real about Wrath: An Invitation from a (Justifiably) Angry God

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But when [John] saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?
Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’

I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matthew 3:7-10, NIV)

God has come to us in the person of Jesus with an invitation.

The kingdom is an opportunity. It comes to us as transformative power on the inside of our society and our world and our souls.

Even (maybe especially) John the Baptist’s cry of “Repent!” is an invitation.

Really, I see the whole Bible as invitation. Invitation to engage, to relate, to wrestle, to change. To step into the presence of Holy God and not die because astonishingly, he has given us his life.

The Bible itself is not our ultimate reality or our end game; everything, EVERYTHING in it is about inviting us into an experience of the Truth who is God.

But it’s not all positive spin. The Bible is full of sober warnings as well.

Why wouldn’t it be? We live in a world that is cursed. We ourselves are cursed.

I consider this self-evident. We don’t need the Bible to tell us we have problems and we’re all dying, even though something inside all of us wants to last.

Nobody can warn like John the Baptist:

“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”

Wrath is a less-than-popular topic these days. Personally I’m glad God is angry. I couldn’t respect a God who wasn’t. Could you?

People starve to death in our world because other people are greedy and dishonest. People molest and abuse and murder; people prostitute and manipulate and use one another. Political power and money and personal autonomy are idolized by millions and leave millions more broken behind them.

Yes, God is angry. So am I. So will you be, if you spend even a few raw minutes thinking about the situations of which he is constantly, fully aware.

As respected and visibly pious religious and political leaders, the Pharisees and Sadduccees — one a religious power group and the other more of an aristocratic elite — didn’t expect to get singled out as a brood of vipers when they showed up to oversee the rabble-rousing dunker from the desert.

I wrote a few weeks ago that when a king comes, there are two groups of people: one happy, one not so much. The groups are divided by “those who supported the new king” and “those who didn’t.”

New kings in the ancient world usually made pretty quick work of the enemy in the land. At best you’d lose your position of power and probably your home and possessions.

At worst you’d lose your head.

The coming of the kingdom of heaven is good news for whole nations of people, but there is also wrath to come.

“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Matthew 3:11-12, NIV)

John’s word pictures of trees and wheat remind me that we are not here just to take up space. Humanity was always meant to be alive and to give life. We were meant to be recipients and conduits of blessing and to manifest the life of the Vine in the world.

A fruit tree that never bears fruit is not what it’s supposed to be. When wheat is threshed, wind blows away the lifeless chaff and leaves the heavier grain of wheat — a seed full of life, one small thing with a harvest locked inside — behind.

In Moses’s day God said, “I set before you life and death. Choose life.”

The same call stands.

But if we find that our autonomy, our status, our self-righteousness is too threatened by the new king, we will reject him.

If we are too committed to the emptiness of hypocrisy and the tyranny of this present age to give it up and exchange it for authenticity and eternal life, we will find ourselves blowing away with the chaff.

John told the Pharisees and Sadducces not to take refuge in their ancestry. We, too, find a lot of things to take refuge in. A lot of ways to assure ourselves we’ll be fine, even if we stay committed to the old regime.

A lot of ways to excuse lifelessness and unfaithfulness.

They won’t cut it.

We, who got suckered in by the fruit on the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, will stand on the landscape of earth as a dead, rotted out, finally barren tree.

But it’s not too late to choose life.

It’s not too late to repent.



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5 responses to “Getting Real about Wrath: An Invitation from a (Justifiably) Angry God”

  1. Jo Larson Avatar
    Jo Larson

    One definition of wrath is divine chastisement. To chasten, to Discipline or refine. ( like correcting your children when they misbehave. Slow to anger but abounding in steadfast love)
    They came to repent and turn their life around, because of Gods Correction and Love.
    Reminds me of Jesus on the cross crying out. “Forgive them Father, for
    they know not what they do.”
    This is just the way I see it.

  2. Tommy Thompson Avatar

    You are so right! God’s love can be both generous and angry. What father wouldn’t be angry at His people when they act as they do. It is way too easy to look back and see those in ancient days, but we do the identical, perhaps worse than they did. However, just as you concluded, God calls out to His people even now. Repent and be saved! God, through His son Jesus, will accept you. Thank you for your words. I will continue to read you.

    1. Rachel Avatar

      Thanks, Tommy! So good!

  3. Rachel Avatar

    Great insights, Deb, thanks! You actually touched on a ton of ideas I’m working in my current novel (out next month, FINALLY), “Beloved.” Especially the idea of “Thou God seest me” (one of my favorite stories in the Bible, btw). They were challenging to get into fiction form but I hope I managed it :). I love your definition of the fear of God.

  4. deb Avatar

    God’s wrath is better understood by cultures of honor… medieval, for instance, or the samuraii. Or the American Wild West where a person was known by their commitment to their word, and only cowards shot someone in the back or took advantage of the weak.

    The fear of God means I understand “Thou, God, seest me.” It means I fear nothing but him, for I understand that if I walk under his favor, no one can harm me. If I don’t, no one can help me, no matter what other advantages I enjoy.

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