(Rom. 1:18) Is God wrathful?

CLAIM: The Bible teaches that God is love (1 Jn. 4:8). However, Paul claims that God is wrathful and angry. Critics argue that this gives God an anthropomorphic quality—being “mad” or “angry.” Is this the case?

RESPONSE: As creatures made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27; Jas. 3:9), we have a capacity for love and anger, because God has imbued them into us. Therefore, the critics have it all wrong. We don’t impose these qualities on God; instead, we receive these qualities from him. F.F. Bruce observes, “The idea that God is angry is no more anthropopathic than the thought that God is love.”[1]

Regarding the notion that God can be both loving and wrathful, we need to remember that God’s wrath is a function of his love. In order for God to be loving, he needs to be just. If God looked lovingly at human sin, he wouldn’t be loving. Instead, he looks wrathfully at human sin, which is the loving thing to do. For instance, imagine if your grandmother was beaten to death by a group of thugs. The gang of men is brought before a Judge, and they plead guilty. The Judge looks lovingly at the men, and he says, “You boys look really sorry for what you did. I’ll give you 20 hours of community service. Case closed…” Imagine the horror you would feel! If that Judge didn’t sentence the men with punishment, you wouldn’t be able to respect that Judge. In fact, you would probably want to kill that Judge! In the same way, if God didn’t judge human sin, we wouldn’t be able to respect, love, or worship him. This would be like respecting and loving a cruel dictator, who turns his back on the tyranny going on in his nation.

Clearly, evil exists. There is no doubt about that. But, who is responsible for it? Sin needs to be someone’s fault. If God doesn’t hold humans responsible, then that must mean that he is responsible for it. God has never sinned, and has no category for being tainted by sin (Hab. 1:3; Jas. 1:13). Sometimes, a really vile sin has the ability to make our skin crawl (e.g. torture, genocide, rape, etc.). But, for God, every sin is this way. While certain sins make our stomach turn, every sin affects God. One of the reasons that we do not understand the wrath of God is that we do not understand the severity of sin.

Finally, God’s wrath and our wrath are different in multiple ways:

God’s wrath

Man’s wrath

God is omniscient, so he sees all of our sin and knows it completely.

We are finite and skewed in our judgment, so we can’t always judge fairly.

God knows the heart, and he says that it is “deceitfully wicked” (Jer. 17:9-10).

We cannot see the heart, so we often judge people without understanding.
God has never sinned, so all sin is repulsive and abhorrent to him.

We are steeped in sin, so sin doesn’t seem that bad to us. Like being saturated in a foul smell for too long, we tend not to notice how bad sin really is.

God is patient with his wrath. He waits to allow people to change (Gen. 15:13-16; Rom. 1:18; 2:5-6).

We instantly react on people for their sin, when it bothers us.
God is personally affected, when we sin against anyone, because they are made in his image (Prov. 14:31; Ps. 51:4; Acts 9:4; Mt. 25:31-46; Mk. 2:1-13).

We are often unconcerned for the disadvantaged, if they are not friends or family. If we understood God’s love and care for all people, we would see that his wrath is justified. Imagine what you would do to someone sinning against your child.


[1] Bruce, F. F. Romans: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 6). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. 1985. 90.