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How Do We Understand God’s Wrath Against Sin?

Our older daughter, Leah, used to love creating huge Lego villages on our family room floor. She’d build houses, barns, stores, and roads, and populate the villages with little Lego people. She’d work hard to make sure that everything was just the way she wanted. Each little Lego person had to be standing in just the right place, their cars carefully parked in their little Lego garages, and any Lego animals safely resting in their corrals. In Leah’s mind, everything was perfect. This was her little Lego shalom.

And Leah was very keen on protecting Legoland. She had a number of rules, most of which had to do with not knocking stuff over or moving things without permission. Granted, some of her rules could seem a bit arbitrary. (Is it really that bad to put the blue Lego person in the red Lego house?) But they served an important purpose: these were the rules necessary for protecting Legoland. And, to be fair, she had the right to make the rules because she was the one who had created Legoland. So we could play in Legoland with her, but we had to follow the rules.

Unfortunately for her little Lego shalom, Leah has a younger sister, Sydney. We used to call her Sydzilla. And Sydzilla loved nothing more than to stomp on little Lego villages. It’s surprising how much chaos and destruction a three year old can cause in a relatively short amount of time. As long as Leah was in the room, she could prevent any real harm from coming to Legoland. But let her leave the room for even a few minutes, and it was entirely possible that she’d come back to find that Sydzilla had visited. And Sydzilla definitely didn’t follow the rules.

I’m sure you can imagine how Leah would respond whenever Sydzilla destroyed her Lego shalom. She’d get angry. And she had every right to be angry. That was her creation. She had set it up just right, and she wanted to make sure that it was protected and that it continued to function the way she had designed it. So when it was destroyed she got angry. Anger is the right response when shalom is destroyed.

When Adam and Eve rejected God’s gifts and violated his commandment, they destroyed shalom. If you read through Genesis 3, you’ll see how their decision caused relationships to disintegrate, introduced death into the world, and infected Adam and Eve with guilt and shame. Clearly, this was not the way things were supposed to be. They destroyed shalom. And God got angry.

God gets angry when his creatures sin against him. And he has every right to be angry for two reasons. First, he gets angry because he is God, and ultimately all sin is against him. “Sin” basically means to violate in any way the relationship that we have with God. God created us with the intention that every part of our being—our body, soul, mind, heart, etc.—would manifest his glory. This means that anything we do that does not display his glory violates our relationship with him and is a sin against him. To see this, consider Joseph. When Joseph was tempted to have an adulterous affair with Potipher’s wife, he knew that this would be a sin against God. As he said, “How…can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9). Now, of course, it would also have been an offense to Potipher and his wife. But Joseph knew that “sin” itself is ultimately an affront to God. It is a violation of the relationship that we have with him as his image bearers. Similarly, after his own affair with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, David cried out, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Psalm 51:4). Surely he had hurt Bathasheba and her husband (to say the least). Indeed he hurt the entire kingdom with his selfishness and unfaithfulness. But his sin was against God.

When Sydney stomps into the room and destroys Legoland, her offense is not primarily against the little Lego people, though she has some answering to do there as well. Ultimately she has offended Leah and violated her relationship with Leah. Leah has a right to be angry, and believe me, she is perfectly willing to exercise that right. Similarly, God is a holy God who is angered and offended when we sin against him (Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8).

But God is also angry when we sin because he is the Creator and sin is bad for his creation. God gets angry when his creatures sin because they are destroying shalom. They are corrupting the good creation that God made and the good relationships that he wanted to be a part of that creation. Remember, God didn’t give the commandment because he likes telling people what to do. He gave the commandment as a gift to his creatures, that they might become the amazing people he intended and participate in the beauty of his plan. By breaking that commandment, Adam and Eve had rejected the gift, broken relationship, desecrated the garden, and shattered shalom. And the Creator is angry because all of this harms his creation and his people.

When Sydzilla visits Legoland, she hurts the little Lego people. Leah gets angry not just because Sydney has violated that relationship with her, but because the Lego shalom has been destroyed and her good creation has been harmed in the process. Leah’s anger is a just and righteous response to something that threatens and harms her creation.

Adam and Eve’s sin provoked anger—the anger of a holy God and the anger of a protective Creator. Both of these are important aspects of God’s anger. And, if we miss either of them, we’ll misunderstand badly the story that follow.

[This is an excerpt from a book that I’m writing about the gospel, Good News for the Living Dead: A Fresh Take on the Gospel Story. You can read the other excerpts and keep track of new ones as they become available on my blog.]

About Marc Cortez

Theology Prof and Dean at Western Seminary, husband, father, & blogger, who loves theology, church history, ministry, pop culture, books, and life in general.

2 thoughts on “How Do We Understand God’s Wrath Against Sin?

  1. Speaking as someone with a little brother who used to wreck my Lego creations, this is a great way to explain this difficult truth!

  2. Lucky for us, then, that “The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished:” (2nd Peter 2:9)

    God is not angry at his own, only the unjust.

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