What IS THE difference between god's love and God's wrath?

The topics of God’s love and wrath are often discussed in very separated ways. Some have the tendency to emphasize one over the other and in doing so diminish both. However, these attributes are so deeply connected to the person of God and His relations with us as humanity. We’ll discuss both and see how they intersect in our faith.

The Love of God:


God’s love, just like all of His attributes, are not simply actions He decides to use when He wants. God’s love is intertwined into His nature and therefore He must love in accordance with who He is. The words used for God’s love in the Bible describe it as unconditional and perfect (Psalm 103:8; 1 John 4:18). Despite what many think, God has been incredibly loving since the beginning. There is a popular notion that God is “less” loving in the Old Testament than He is in the New Testament. This is only apparent to those who misunderstand God’s perfect and righteous love. They measure love by our human standards and not by God’s.


The true extent of God’s love is proven in the fact that He does not need to love us. God already possesses perfect love within Himself and therefore does not need us to satisfy His loving expression. The Greek word “agape” used in the New Testament describes this divine love given by God. Literally it is translated to mean a benevolent concern for another. This is precisely what makes God’s love “unconditional” in that He voluntarily chooses to be concerned with humanity without any conditions attached to that relationship. He does not need to have this concern, but He chooses to. In the Old Testament we see this concern in His constant pursuit of Israel, His chosen people.


The New Testament unveils the love of God in a manner that is more dramatic and visual. It is not that God is more loving, it is that the perfect and clearest expression of His love is found simply in the person of Jesus Christ. 1 John 4:16 states that “God is love” and therefore in Christ we can tangibly see and sense the fullness of God’s love in His person (John 1:14). John 3:16 declares that God so loved the world, that He gave His one and only Son. In this manner, the coming of the Son is the full realization of God’s love for us. While we met none of God’s required conditions, He still sent His Son, Jesus Christ.


Now, examining God’s love on its own will lead down a path of obscuring God’s full nature. At this point, we must fully understand that the reason why God’s love is so loving is because of His own wrath. The reason why the coming of Christ is in essence the very love of God incarnate, is because in Christ we gain refuge from the divine judgement of God. Before we return to God’s love, let us briefly transition to considering His wrath.

The Wrath of God:


Just like His love, God’s wrath is intertwined with His nature. In our human perception, wrath seems to be a negative attribute for one to have. We think love is “good” and wrath is “bad.” However, in God’s character both are seen as perfectly good because only God can perfectly execute both. In wrath, we see His perfect judgments on sin and evil. God cannot be so loving that He simply overlooks the sins committed by humanity. As a righteous judge over all the earth, He must be concerned with evil and punish it (Psalm 7:11). Much like we as humans want people who break the law and hurt others to be punished, God desires to judge the wickedness of humanity (Nahum 1:2; Jeremiah 10:10).


All over the Old Testament and in the New Testament, we see God warning creation of their evils and calling them to repent or else judgement would await them. Thus, we see a tension within God’s relations to us. We see a God who desires to express the fullness of His love to His creation, and we also see a God who cannot overlook when they sin against Him. While they seem to be opposed in very real ways, God is not ever confused within Himself. He has set aside how He will perfectly pour out both His wrath and His love. We will lastly then, consider how God does this.


In the Old Testament, God gave the law to His people to teach them about their sin and show how they are to repent for their own wickedness. He gave to them a system of sacrifice in which an animal would need to be slaughtered and killed for the forgiveness of their sins. It would have been on the animal’s blood that God’s wrath would temporarily be subsided until they sin again and have to repeat the process (Hebrews 9:22). In this system, God’s love is shown in that He does not directly shed the sinner’s blood the moment they sin. He instead shows mercy by allowing them to bring an animal in their place. However, while this system worked in theory it would not be a permanent solution for God’s wrath and love. God’s people still went astray from Him and became desensitized to this system. They eventually made it a religious practice that had no love for God and His commands, which is why God had a better plan all along.


In the New Testament, God sends Jesus Christ as the perfect picture of love but simultaneously uses His story to demonstrate the perfection of His wrath as well. In this grand salvation plan, God sends Jesus Christ and sentences Him to die the most gruesome death in which His blood would be completely spilled. Instead of God punishing each and every human for their sins, He lays on Christ the sins of humanity (1 Peter 2:24). In doing so, He could exact the fullness of His fury and judgement upon His only Son instead of us. However, at that same time God’s love would be fully poured out as well. At the cross, wrath and love meet each other in absolute perfection. For all of those who believe in the death of the Son, they agree that the Father substituted Christ in their place. It was wrath for the innocent Christ and love for the guilty sinner.



In all of this, it is abundantly clear that a healthy view of God’s love can only be articulated if His wrath is included. His love is so loving because He saved us from ourselves and His own fury. Romans 5:8 states that God loved us while we were yet still sinners by sending Christ to die. Paul also states that while the wages of sin is death, God grants us eternal life in Christ (Romans 6:23). In the finished work of Jesus at the cross, the wrath of God is satisfied, and we are free to experience the full depth of His love as believers (Romans 5:9; 1 Thessalonians 5:9; 2 Corinthians 5:14; Ephesians 5:2; Ephesians 3:17-19). God is patient in fulfilling all of His plans and knows how to precisely pour out His love and judgements. As the Old Testament writers state, the Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (Psalm 86:15).

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