After the recent Oregon shooting and ISIS executions, I’ve been encouraged to remember two aspects of God’s character: (1) God’s holy wrath against all evil, and (2) God’s holy ever-flowing joy.
Given the circumstances, I think it’s also helpful to remember God’s compassion. The Lord is always intimately aware of the pain of every person, whether closely affiliated with these particular incidents or not. Because God is holy and compassionate, we should also seek to be compassionate for those who are persecuted, threatened, or otherwise troubled (Luke 10:33, Hebrews 4:15). We can be set free to be truly selfless in our compassion as we come to know and adore our compassionate God in Christ, including a knowledge of Him in His wrath and in His joy.
John Piper has described God’s wrath and joy well in many ways. Here are a couple helpful quotes that came to mind for me:
(1) First, on God’s wrath:
“When I look at the beheadings, and I hear someone ask, ‘Where is your supreme Christ?’ My answer is really easy: ‘He is in heaven storing up almighty wrath in fury to pour out on all who commit such sins. That’s where He is. And you’d better get right with Him and repent or you will all likewise perish.’ That’s not a hard question to answer biblically.”
– Piper, speaking on the Supremacy of Christ in 2004
- Because God is holy and wrathful against all evil, we should recognize and remember that each of us deserves God’s holy wrath against our own sin. We should also think about how Christ graciously and willingly received that wrath on the cross for all who would repent and trust in Him.
- Because God’s holy wrath against all evil is good, we should also not seek to personally avenge ourselves, but we should leave room for the wrath of God, and we should pray for those who persecute us (Romans 12:19, Matthew 5:44-45). For example, can you think of a person involved directly in your life who regularly causes you anger or grief? Since I’ve become a Christian, I can think of at least one such person whom I had to see almost every day for over a year. And seemingly every time I saw him, I could tell by his behavior and demeanor that he was deviously trying to get under my skin. Throughout all my interactions with him, I found the most freedom not in seeking to avenge my anger against him, but by looking him in his malicious eyes and sincerely thinking to myself about him, ‘I completely forgive you in this moment of every wrong you ever commit against me, and I am praying for you.’ I was only set free to truly forgive him because I knew that I had been entirely forgiven by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
- Because God is holy and sovereign over all authority on earth, we should seek for governmental justice to punish evil through legal means where possible. We should also pray for government authorities to have wisdom (Isaiah 1:17, Romans 13:1-5, 1 Timothy 2:1-2).
(2) Second, on God’s joy:
“God’s glory consists much in the fact that he is happy beyond our wildest imagination. . .
No one would want to spend eternity with an unhappy God. If God is unhappy then the goal of the gospel is not a happy goal, and that means it would be no gospel at all.
But, in fact, Jesus invites us to spend eternity with a happy God when he says, ‘Enter into the joy of your master.’ (Matthew 25:23)”
– Piper, in his book, “The Pleasures of God” (1991), quoted in the Solid Joys daily devotional from 10/6
- Because God is holy and overflowing with joy, we should seek joy and hope in Him at all times so that we will be enabled to endure when we face persecution ourselves for the sake of Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:16, Philippians 4:4, Hebrews 12:2-3, Romans 15:13, 1 Peter 4:12-13).
God will perfectly punish all the evil of men, either entirely at the cross for those who truly repent and trust Christ, or for eternity in hell for those who don’t. And because God reigns supreme over all things (even over the worst evil imaginable, the crucifixion of His only Son), our Lord also has an unwavering, unstoppable, and ever-flowing joy. God’s joy is divinely higher than our greatest thoughts and hopes, and He puts that joy in us through faith in Christ (Isaiah 55:9, 1 Corinthians 1:25, John 15:11).
Throughout any challenging times, our best interest is to renew our minds and hearts continually with God’s Word and with the gospel of God’s forgiveness toward us in Christ. Our hearts need God’s Word for eternal sustenance (Matthew 4:4). Next time you open your Bible, perhaps consider reading Psalm 22 or Psalm 88 (on God’s wrath) and Psalm 16:11 (on God’s joy). As you read these Psalms, think about the penalty of God’s wrath that Jesus received at the cross, and the everlasting joy that He purchased for you if you are united to Him through faith.
For all we know, any of us could be meeting Jesus very soon, as we’re reminded by these recent events. And Jesus Himself taught about the reality of hell under God’s righteous wrath and about the reality of heaven in God’s fullness of joy. Considering the actual teaching of Christ primarily all about His sacrifice, I suspect that hell will be terribly more horrific than we think, and that heaven will be amazingly more joyous than we can imagine.