Monday, July 30, 2018

The Day of Wrath

In this morning’s Bible reading, the phrase “the day of wrath” stood out to me. It is from this verse:

Because of your hardened and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath, when God's righteous judgment is revealed. (Romans 2:5 CSB17)

Anger is a very unpleasant emotion. Most human anger is unrighteous anger, which is why the Bible tells us to get rid of it (Ephesians 4:31).  But even in the rare cases when I think my anger towards some injustice or evil was truly righteous anger, the emotion was not pleasant. I wouldn’t want to stay angry forever.

Although God’s anger in entirely righteous, I don’t think anger feels pleasant to God. God says, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked” (Ezekiel 33:11 CSB17). Jeremiah witnessed God’s wrath on Jerusalem. In his lamentation, Jeremiah says about God, “. . . he does not enjoy bringing affliction or suffering on mankind” (Lam. 3:33 CSB17).

We often think of how terrible eternal torment would be for the unrighteous. But have you thought about how it would make God feel to inflict such a punishment? A terrible consequence of interpreting the Bible to teach eternal torment is that it results in a view where God is experiencing anger forever. In this view, God is eternally engaged in an activity which brings Him no pleasure and which He does not enjoy.

We all occasionally have to perform unpleasant tasks. This will continue as long as we live in a fallen, imperfect world. Because God loves us, it is not surprising that He reserves the most unpleasant task of all for Himself. God wants everyone to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9). But God must either allow evil to continue forever or eventually He must destroy those who refuse to love His truth and repent. It makes sense to me that God will carry out this unpleasant task in order to maintain justice and cleanse the world from all evil. It does not make any sense to me that God would want this necessary, but unpleasant, task of destroying the unrighteous to involve a process that goes on forever.

I realize that sometimes the Bible uses the word “day” in a non-literal way to refer to a period of time. And I understand that with the Lord, a thousand years can be like a day. But I don’t think “the day of wrath” refers to an eternity of wrath. Romans 2:5 is not the only verse that indicates that God’s wrath is limited to a “day”:

Therefore I will make the heavens tremble, and the earth will shake from its foundations at the wrath of the LORD of Armies, on the day of his burning anger. (Isaiah 13:13 CSB17)

Their silver and their gold will be unable to rescue them on the day of the LORD 's wrath. The whole earth will be consumed by the fire of his jealousy, for he will make a complete, yes, a horrifying end of all the inhabitants of the earth. (Zephaniah 1:18 CSB17)

By the same word, the present heavens and earth are stored up for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. (2 Pet. 3:7 CSB17)

In the last verse quoted, notice that the “day of judgment” is also the day of “destruction of the ungodly”. Due to the incorrect doctrine of eternal torment, I think we often imagine that when the Bible speaks of “the day of judgment” it is only referring to the act of declaring the unrighteous guilty and of proclaiming their sentence. The execution of the sentence is then thought to go on forever. However, based on 2 Peter 3:7 (and I think the Bible in general supports this), it seems more accurate to view the “day of judgment” as referring to the time when God both declares judgment and carries out the sentence. This sentence ends in “the destruction of the ungodly.”

Let’s consider one more passage which teaches this same truth. The most natural way to interpret “eternal destruction” is that it refers to destroying the unrighteous in such a way that they will never again exist as conscious, living people. It cannot refer to a process of destruction which goes on forever because Paul tells us when they will be destroyed:

They will pay the penalty of eternal destruction from the Lord's presence and from his glorious strength on that day when he comes to be glorified by his saints and to be marveled at by all those who have believed, because our testimony among you was believed. (2 Thess. 1:9-10 CSB17)

Hebrews 13:16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others . . .

If you are interested in learning more about this topic, and about the brotherly debate between annihilationism (also called conditional immortality) and eternal conscious torment, you may find these posts helpful:

Also, you may want to check out the very helpful Rethinking Hell website.

1 comment:

  1. I do allow comments with views contrary to mine, but I expect such comments to interact with what I have written.

    I have removed a comment which provided links to documents. The first of these documents is over 600 pages long. I don't have time to read it in depth. But skimming over it, it appears to promote some views which:
    1. Have nothing directly to do with my post above.
    2. I don't agree with at all.
    The long paper does include some sections on hell. If the author of this paper wants to interact with my post above by making comments, rather he agrees with me or not, I'm open to that. But please refrain from posting links to documents promoting views contrary to this sight without at least seriously interacting with what I wrote.