The Wrath of God

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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Pour out your wrath on the nations that refuse to acknowledge you—on kingdoms that do not call upon your name.

Psalm 79:6

Most Christians I know don’t like to think about the wrath of God. We rarely hear this language in worship services or small group conversations. It isn’t part of our daily devotions. The idea of God’s wrath seems foreign to the God whose love is revealed in Christ. And surely we don’t want to think of God’s wrath applied to us personally. Moreover, when Psalm 79:6 calls upon the Lord to pour out wrath on the nations that refuse to acknowledge him, this seems politically incorrect in the extreme. It sounds like the kind of rhetoric that enflames our world and leads to all sorts of terrors.

So when we read verses like Psalm 79:6, we are understandably uncomfortable. How are we to understand God’s wrath? How could we use this psalm in our devotions? Should we pray for God’s wrath to be poured out on pagan nations?

As you might expect, I can’t answer these questions adequately in this reflection. But I do want to make a few relevant observations. First, the wrath of God refers to God’s righteous judgment, not primarily to his feelings of anger, though the word “wrath” has this connotation. To call for God’s wrath is to ask him to execute justice on those who deserve it.

Second, God’s wrath, in this sense, rightly falls upon all human beings. As we read in Romans 1:18, “But God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness.” Later in Romans we learn that we ourselves are worthy of God’s wrath: “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard” (Rom. 3:23). This is bad news, to be sure.

Third, the bad news leads to good news. Jesus Christ took God’s wrath upon himself, dying in the place of sinful humanity. Thus Romans 5:9 proclaims, “[N]ow that we have been justified by his blood, we will be saved through him from the wrath of God” (NRSV). Because Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath, we are able to drink the cup of salvation.

Therefore, in our prayers and in our actions, we continue to seek God’s justice. But, recognizing that the nations who reject God are also those for whom Christ died, we pray for their redemption. In particular, we ask that God’s grace in Christ will be poured out on all people, including those who reject him.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: How do you understand the wrath of God? What feelings does this language evoke in you? Do you pray for those who don’t acknowledge the Lord? Are there people like this for whom you want to pray today?

PRAYER: Lord, you know how difficult it is for many of us to read passages like this one. Our tendency is to ignore them, to hurry on to something more palatable. Forgive us for failing to take seriously the full breadth of your revelation. Help us to know you more truly and completely.

Dear Lord, we do ask you today to execute justice on this earth. We think of nations where people are trapped in oppression and poverty, of tyrants who wield their power for their own personal advantage. We think of companies that ignore the needs of people in the greedy quest of profits. We remember fellow believers in countries where they can be imprisoned or killed because of their faith. In these situations, and so many more like them, we ask for your justice.

But, indeed, as we point the finger at others, we acknowledge our own sin and guilt. We have sinned, Lord, and are worthy of your judgment. Thus we rejoice in the good news of your grace through Christ. Thank you for giving us, not what we deserve, but that which flows from your boundless love.

As those who have received your grace, we pray for others who have rejected you. May they experience your justice in the cross of Christ. May they be overwhelmed by your grace, turning from their sin and embracing your righteousness.

All praise be to you, God of justice and mercy, God of judgment and love. Amen.