14

It is widely accepted that the Bible contains many accommodated descriptions of God; the finite human mind cannot comprehend the infinite God, so he has revealed himself to us in ways which we can understand, even though the true reality of God transcends what the scriptures say. For example, most Christians believe that the scriptures teach the immutability of God, so the times when the scriptures say God changed his mind (such as Exodus 32:14) are understood to be accommodations.

The wrath of God is believed by many Protestants to be a real attribute of God, but an accommodation by many other Christians. The wrath of God is important because it forms part of the foundation of penal substitutionary atonement.

What is the basis for believing that God's wrath is not an accommodation? Good answers will give exegetical and logical arguments why certain verses should not be interpreted as conveying only accommodated depictions of God's wrath.

  • 4
    Related: Is God's wrath an anthropomorphism? – ThaddeusB Dec 1 '15 at 1:38
  • 1
    I am not sure I agree that Protestants see wrath as an attribute of God. I see an attribute as a fundamental component of someone. I see wrath as a temporary reaction to a condition or situation. I cannot see God as having wrath without cause, therefore the absence of wrath would indicate it was not an attribute. – timf Dec 3 '15 at 14:24
  • @timf That's fair, I definitely wouldn't call it a permanent attribute of God! I'm not sure what other category it would be called though.. – curiousdannii Dec 3 '15 at 14:54
  • If those suffering in Hell are there eternally, then God's wrath will be active eternally. – Paul Chernoch Dec 4 '15 at 22:15
  • If it's not an accommodation, then I take it it's an attribute? Perhaps the question would be clearer if you rephrased it as, "What is the basis for believing that the wrath of God is an attribute?" – ktm5124 Nov 5 '17 at 6:11
4
+100

Definition

Accommodation means that we use finite terms to describe an infinite God, and thus naturally come up short. This is certainly true, so in some sense every description of God is an accommodation. However, that does not mean a given description does not correspond to a truth. Thus, for the purposes of this answer, I am restating the question to be "What is the basis for believing descriptions of God's wrath correspond to a true aspect of His nature?" which I think is the real question here.

Basic principle

Perhaps the strongest argument against viewing God's wrath as an accommodation is the lack of evidence for this understanding. The view is primarily driven by human desire to avoid putting "impure" emotions such as anger on to God. However, the idea that anger is "wrong" is driven my philosophical ideas about how the ideal person should act, not the Bible. Indeed, Paul writes:

Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. (Ephesians 4:26-7, ESV)

Notice what Paul does not say here - "do not be angry." Instead, he says something like "It's OK to be angry, but resolve your angry quickly, so that it doesn't develop into something actually sinful." This line is actually an illusion to Psalms 4:4:

Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent.

So, if anger is not automatically sinful for man, then there is no need to "explain" God's anger. And there is a real danger is seeking a way to explain away things that make us uncomfortable. If "negative" emotions attributed to God are merely accommodations, who is to say that "positive" ones aren't? Perhaps God is actually ambivalent to humanity and we just think He loves us because that of our finite understanding of God... It is one thing to say the "eyes of the Lord" (e.g. 2 Chronicles 16:9), which can easily be read as a metaphor in context, are an accommodation. It is quite another to say something (e.g. wrath) that is explicitly described as an attribute of God is one.

Finally, it should be noted that while "wrath" a synonym for anger, it is not equivalent. Biblically, God's wrath is the opposite of his satisfaction or pleasure in men's actions. That is, it is a term used to describe His displeasure with man. It is described in terms of anger, sadness, even hatred, but it is not merely an emotion, but rather part of God's righteous judgement. (e.g. Romans 2, see below)

I will now analyze some specific verse that illustrate that the "wrath of God," while perhaps not a 100% perfect description, is a fundamentally accurate way to describe an aspect of God. The list is by no means exhaustive.

Romans 1

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Romans 1:18-20)

Paul's argument here is that everyone is without excuse for knowing God because his actions are plainly seen, and from these actions his divine attributes are evident. To back up his argument, he says the "wrath of God is revealed from heaven." That is, evil and unrighteous behavior have clearly been punished. If God was not truly wrathful, and was only described that way for our benefit, then Paul's argument would have no force. The unbelievers certainly could not be expected to naturally perceive wrath that did not actually exist.

Indeed, the wrath of God is contrasted with "the righteousness of God [which] is revealed from faith for faith." (v17) While righteousness can only be seen through the eye of faith, wrath is apparent to all. One would have to jump through hoops to explain how the "unreal" wrath of God is apparent while the "real" righteousness of God is invisible to unbelievers.

Deuteronomy

A similar theme is found in Deuteronomy.

Take care lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them; then the anger of the LORD will be kindled against you, and he will shut up the heavens, so that there will be no rain, and the land will yield no fruit, and you will perish quickly off the good land that the LORD is giving you. (Deuteronomy 11:16-17)

Beware lest there be among you a man or woman or clan or tribe whose heart is turning away today from the LORD our God to go and serve the gods of those nations. Beware lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit, one who, when he hears the words of this sworn covenant, blesses himself in his heart, saying, 'I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart.' This will lead to the sweeping away of moist and dry alike.The LORD will not be willing to forgive him, but rather the anger of the LORD and his jealousy will smoke against that man, and the curses written in this book will settle upon him, and the LORD will blot out his name from under heaven. And the LORD will single him out from all the tribes of Israel for calamity, in accordance with all the curses of the covenant written in this Book of the Law. And the next generation, your children who rise up after you, and the foreigner who comes from a far land, will say, when they see the afflictions of that land and the sicknesses with which the LORD has made it sick-- the whole land burned out with brimstone and salt, nothing sown and nothing growing, where no plant can sprout, an overthrow like that of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim, which the LORD overthrew in his anger and wrath (Deuteronomy 29:18-23)

Here, we have two instances of a specific sin (turning away form God) leading to a specific punishment (barren land). The specific language makes it difficult (exegetically) to see this as anything but a literal description. Furthermore, this punishment is something that "all the nations" will recognize as God's wrath (v24). If wrath was a mere accommodation and not actual action by God, it is hard to explain how Gentiles will understand that God is in action here.

Romans 2

We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.

... but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek (Romans 2:2-5; 8-9)

In this passage, Paul clearly ties the wrath of God to His righteous judgment of mankind. By doing evil, the sinner is "storing up wrath" that will be result in judgment on the "day of wrath." If the wrath being stored/delivered is not literal or not roughly equivalent to human wrath, then it is difficult to see what "tribulation and distress" the sinner will be suffering. Note also that the suffering is tied not an abstract person, but rather "the Jew" and "the Greek" - precisely Paul's original audience. If we were to understand this passage as a metaphor for God's character, we would expect at least some sort of textual clue, but instead the message is delivered in very concrete terms, and explicitly directed at the (original) reader.

Leviticus 26

Leviticus 26:14-43 describes the punishment Israel will face for failing to keep the commandments. Here again, specific sins are met with specific punishments, making it difficult to view God's wrath as merely accommodating language. The whole section illustrates the point, but I would like to focus one thought:

But if in spite of this you will not listen to me, but walk contrary to me, then I will walk contrary to you in fury, and I myself will discipline you sevenfold for your sins. (26:27-8)

These verses uses the doubled pronoun I myself to emphasize the personal nature of God's punishment. If, for example, man's punishment was just the natural consequence of sin and not a direct action of God (i.e. if God's wrath was accommodating language), this emphasis would be out of place. Furthermore, the sevenfold nature of the discipline would seem to indicate that the punishment is more than the inevitable consequence of the sin. The author of Leviticus is making it quite clear that the punishment given is from the direct action of God, which means it emanates from an actual aspect of God's nature.

Matthew 11

Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you. (Matthew 11:20-24)

In Matthew 11, Jesus harshly rebukes a series of cities for failing to repent. In Matthew 23, He casts similar judgment on to the scribes and Pharisees. Although neither passage uses the term "wrath," it is apparent that Jesus is passing judgment on these groups. The passages certainly read much more naturally if one sees an element of anger in Jesus' speech. In Mark 3:5, He is explicitly described as angry:

And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart

Jesus on Earth can legitimately be described as angry, and He describes judgment of certain groups in harsh "wrath-like" terms. As such, it is only natural that passages that describe God's judgment in heaven in similar terms be read as accurately describing a true aspect of God's nature.

Variety of contexts

Another reason to believe that the wrath of God is not merely an accommodation is that the descriptions of wrath occur in a wide variety of contexts. It occurs in history writings (Exodus 32), the Law (Leviticus 26), Poetry (Psalm 59), prophetic writing (Isaiah 13), the Gospels (Matthew 11), letters (Romans), and of course the Apocalypse (throughout Revelation).

Wrath is attributed to God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit (Hebrews 3). It is brought against Israel, Gentile nations, mankind as a whole, specific individuals, and the Serpent/Satan (Genesis 3). It is hard to find a context where God's wrath is not described in some fashion.

Conclusion

The idea that God's wrath is an accommodation stems from a desire to avoid the difficulty in seeing God as angry. It is often phrased in a condescending fashion such as "ancient people needed to see God that way, but we moderns know better" - either by believers to make God more palpable, or by nonbelievers in an effort to discredit the Bible.

The idea that anger is wrong does not stem from the Bible, however, but rather a man-made sense of the "enlightened man" ideal where man acts rationally and without emotion, or at least without negative emotion. This "ideal" is directly contradicted by the Bible and also carries unwarranted pride in one's own intellect. In reality, emotion is an essential part of human nature and logically an essential part of God's nature if we are indeed created in His image. Just as one cannot fully understand God's infinite, perfect love, one cannot fully comprehend His wrath either. That, however, does not mean that our terms to describe His wrath do not correspond to a true aspect of God. Furthermore, that His wrath is real is backed by straightforward exegesis. Those who wish to say otherwise must twist scripture to an extent that if applied elsewhere could make God's love just as "unreal."

1

The 'wrath of God' is not an attribute of God nor is it properly an accommodation. This is clear by determining first, what is an attribute of God and then under what causes the 'wrath of God' is made to appear in scripture.

First, an attribute of God is something true of his nature always. For example God is always present, wise, powerful, holy, all knowing, etc., but not always filled with wrath. Second, in one sense everything in scripture is an accommodation in that God's unknowable transcendent qualities and ideas are reduced into human language in order to 'accommodate' to humans. However a proper 'accommodation' is where the scriptures even apparently contradict themselves, in order to accommodate to our inability to understand otherwise. Therefore if God is represented as 'walking among us' naturally it is an accommodated way of speaking, not to be taken literally.

As God's anger is not an attribute of God it must be a result of an attribute and I've never encountered anyone not attributing it to his justice.

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. (Romans 1:18-20, NIV)

and

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. (Ephesians 5:6, NIV)

For everywhere when we see God punishing sin, or threatening of a future punishment of sin, it is in connection with his justice being taken into account in the punishment of evil doing. When we speak of God's wrath we are clearly referring to his actions in, cursing man to death as a result of the sin of Adam, in sending a flood to destroy the world at the time of Noah, to manifest a hatred of sin in the capital punishments of the Old Testament Law, to represent the cup of wrath borne by Christ on the cross and to warm of the final judgment.

Having clarified what God's anger is in the bible as clearly understood by any who read it, the question becomes wether or not God's punishment of sin as described by the word 'anger' is an accommodation or not, beyond the normal sense in which everything in scripture to a degree must be an accommodation to humans as it is written in human language. In other words is God's anger an accommodation more so then say for example, God's patience or God's eternal councils?

The question is difficult because it depends on what a person really means by 'accommodation'. If we mean an intentional misuse of pure logic in order to explain something, like 'God walking among us', or 'God repenting', then obviously it is not an accommodation in that obvious sense as God will punish sinners and has punished sinners in the Bible. The bible is full of his punishment everywhere, there is no need to quote scripture in detail as all will confess his judgments recorded. However, if what is really meant is a method to reconcile God's anger with his love, as seeming contradictory attributes, then the question itself is a confusion of subjects as anger is not an attribute of God.

God is love always and is an attribute. Love, loves was is good and beautiful and hates what is evil, by the very nature of the concept. Anger, as desiring the harm of another being is evil and the opposite of love. Therefore God's anger can't be ill-will in contradiction to his goodness. If someone thought his anger implied ill-will then they would be in distress to somehow reconcile 'anger' and possibly attempt to reconcile the contradiction through an assignment of an 'accommodation'. Well, in some sense that would be within reason based on the original confusion. However, there is no need to grasp at weak methods to resolve the supposed contradiction. The fact remains that God's anger is made plain to all humanity and so is his love in the gospel, love gets angry at injustice and hates evil. There is no contradiction to resolve. The saying is good, love the sinner and hate the sin.

Literally Christ died in love for sinners. Literally God will punish all who refuse it. There is no special accommodation under either biblical fact.

  • Wrath is commonly seen by evangelicals to be an attribute: both Grudem and Horton call it one. And it's seen to be a permanent attribute because God's hatred of sin is unchanging. – curiousdannii Dec 8 '15 at 6:56
  • By focusing directly on the fact of God's punishment I think you haven't really given enough explanation to the anger/wrath itself. You can punish sin while being stoically unmoved by it. This question is about the belief that God's own experience of his anger is akin to our experience of our anger, and I'm not sure you've really answered that. – curiousdannii Dec 8 '15 at 6:58
-1

Merriam-Webster defines wrath as:

1: strong vengeful anger or indignation 
2: retributory punishment for an offense or a crime : divine chastisement 

To us, anger means a racing pulse, manipulations of our facial muscles, a loud tone of voice and many other physical manifestations. God is only capable of these aspects of anger in the person of Christ in his incarnation, and he demonstrated them when he drove out money-changers, rebuked scribes and Pharisees and even his disciples. Apart from the Incarnate Christ, I would say such things are accommodations.

But the second part - a forceful response to an offense or crime, does not require a human body, just a means of interacting with the creation. The curse upon Adam and Eve, the Flood, the Tower of Babel, Sodom and Gomorrah, the plagues on Egypt, the exile of the Israelites - these are all actions taken by God to punish sinful behavior. It is telling that the dictionary entry defines wrath based on God's behavior. Our wrath is the allegory, not God's.

Scriptural support

If the Wrath of God were an accommodation, how would it be so?

1) Is it an expression of something that the people who wrote the Bible could not understand because of their level of technology and scientific understanding of reality?

2) Is it an expression of something that no human regardless of knowledge and experience could understand properly?

3) Is it couched in figurative terms to be consistent with common idioms known to the original hearers but confusing to us?

4) Is it a temporary thing? (God is eternal and unchanging, so anything temporary cannot be one of his attributes.)

(NOTE: John Calvin did not originate the idea that God must accommodate to man's finiteness and imperfections, but he is one of the first theologians to talk about this at length. See this paper for information on Calvin's views on accommodation. http://archive.churchsociety.org/churchman/documents/cman_118_4_tinker.pdf )

There are many ways that an idea that God wishes to communicate to us may be garbled, many impedances to understanding: human finiteness, immaturity, sinful hearts, mutations that have weakened our minds...

The first time God reveals his capacity for wrath is in Genesis when he warns Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil or suffer death. At this time Adam and Eve were not sinners and no physical or mental infirmity had yet entered the creation. Thus this word did not need to address hearers who were blinded by sin or weakened by the curse and subsequent genetic defects. Also, language was new, so had not yet had a chance to become cluttered with confusing idioms. Adam and Eve were, however, finite and immature.

A crucial instance when God revealed his wrath was when Christ suffered on the Cross. He bore the punishment for all mankind's sins. If we consider this merely a message to us, then we might have any number of reasons to declare it an accommodation. However, the wrath that God poured out upon his Son is most certainly a message from the Father to the Son. Jesus is not a sinner, is not (in his divinity) finite, is capable of understanding the message in all its fullness and (the thorny issue of kenosis aside) has access to all the scientific knowledge he needs in order to understand what he is being told. He experienced true wrath to punish real sin. It is at the very heart of the Gospel message. If it is merely an accommodation, so is everything else!

Taking up the issue of time. In Revelation 13:8 we have this:

All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.

If Christ was slain from the foundation of the world, his sacrifice is eternal, and the cause that required it is revealed to be eternal, namely God's wrath against sin (accompanied by his love, which caused his wrath to be directed against his Son and not us).

Revelation 14:6-8 reinforces this:

Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language and people. He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.”

The gospel message is eternal, not a temporary measure. As Daniel 12:2 says:

Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt.

The fact of eternal punishment is an indicator that the wrath of God is an eternal attribute, not a temporary one.

John calls Jesus the "Word of God". The event that will cement the idea that this Word has as one of its attributes God's wrath is his second coming. His speech and his very presence will be the force that separates the good from the evil and keeps them separate, as in Mathhew 25:31-33:

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left."

Jesus described this separation many times using parables, but the idea is clear. Wrath against sin is an eternal attribute of God.

Or as Scripture says in Psalm 19:9:

The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever.

(The topic of the fear of the Lord is immense. It has many dimensions, but cannot be separated from the wrath of God. The wrath of God produces righteousness and purity in the faithful who fear him, and eternal torment in the disbelieving. If the Fear of the Lord is eternal, so is its counterpart, the wrath of God.)

  • 4
    The OP asked for "exegetical and logical arguments" applied to Bible verses. Perhaps you can add some of that to your answer? – ThaddeusB Dec 1 '15 at 21:10
  • 3
    If you're going to base an answer off a dictionary, it would need to be a Hebrew or Greek dictionary, not an English one. (And if it was going to be based on an English dictionary, then that dictionary should be the OED!) I don't think this is enough of an answer. – curiousdannii Dec 2 '15 at 1:22
  • 1
    This answer would be acceptable if you could add references showing that this is a common understanding, and who teaches/believes it. To clarify a common misconception, this isn't a discussion forum. It's a Q and A site with a very specific format. Answers are not to be used to put opinions or make comments/observations, but rather well-sourced answers as to what is taught by some group within Christianity. – David Stratton Dec 2 '15 at 2:30

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.