This is not a popular topic in our culture today. The talk of a God of anger or judgement brings up a lot of negative stereotypes. Maybe you think of an angry person with a sign on a street corner or someone who is extremely judgemental and legalistic.
Throughout the book of Jonah, and especially in chapter 3, the theme of God’s judgement comes into play. God has seen that the injustice and violence Nineveh is committing needs to stop. As God sends Jonah to Nineveh, Jonah preaches what is in Hebrew, a five-word sermon and somehow, Nineveh turns and repents. They believe God. Even the Assyrian King repents and declares that if they turn then perhaps “God will relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that they will not perish.”
Now isn’t that a wonderful idea about God?
That God is fiercely angry and that people might perish.
If you want to make no friends at a party, go ahead...grab your drink and stand in the middle of the living room and start talking about divine judgment. No one will want to talk to you.
For many people, the idea of a God of judgement is in deep contradiction to what so many people read in the Bible as far as a God of love (1 John 4v9). How do we as Jesus followers to think about these concepts?
There has been much writing and teaching that has been done over the years on this topic, but perhaps a good place to start is understanding that a God of love is not at all at odds with a God of judgement. The judgement of God is not the opposite side of God’s love, rather God’s judgement, his declaration, and definition of what is good and not good, is an expression of his eternal life-giving love.
The opposite of God’s love is not judgement but rather apathy. For the Creator King and God of the universe to look out on his good world and not care how humans treat each other is not a loving or caring God. That God would not be worthy of worship. But this King and Creator God looks out on his good world that he loves, upon his image bearers that he loves, sees what these image bearers do to one another and declares a judgement - this isn’t right.
This isn’t how God intended life to be.
God renders a judgement as an expression of his love.
But how does this judgement come to pass?
Is it through smiting people?
Is it through angry sandwich board signs?
Is it through commanding that people change their behavior and morals in order to receive grace?
At the center of the good news of Jesus is the cross. The cross is where we see in perfect harmony the love and justice of God. Jesus takes into himself the consequences of your sin and my sin. He takes into himself the judgement that he has rendered - sin and death are not ok in God’s good world.
Jesus takes this judgement and it’s consequences into himself and because his love is stronger than sin and death, he leaves the power of sin and death in the grave and is raised to new life. Because of his work, he offers us the gift of being remade into new kinds of humans - all as a free gift of grace.
Humans that love and serve, even our enemies.
Humans that show compassion and generosity
Humans that trust Jesus’ judgement and definition of what is good and not good, and see him as the only source of true life.
God’s judgement is a beautiful thing. It’s an invitation to trust. It’s an invitation to life as it was really meant to be.