“Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” is one of the more popular sermons in American history. British Colonial Christian Theologian Jonathan Edwards, painted the picture of a God with an itchy trigger finger, constantly at the ready to dispense justice on wicked sinners. The God that Edwards describes is so angry at sin, and those that live in it, that he is doling out bits and pieces of Hell to the wicked, that they might understand what their future holds should they continue down the path they are currently on.
This picture of God being angry at sinners, of God bringing punishment upon those that sin is a pretty common theme in modern evangelical America. How many times have I heard that God would smite the United States because of our current abortion laws? When a natural disaster strikes certain parts of our country or certain areas of the world, I often hear a soft undercurrent in Christian circles about how God was punishing those affected for the sin that they have ignored or accepted. From this perspective, what does COVID-19 tell us about God’s thoughts on the world as a whole? Is he so angry with the sin that runs rampant in our world that he is smiting us for it? Punishing us for it? That he is giving us a taste of hell, venting some of his rage so that we might be scared back into submission? Is this God’s way of letting us know we’ve toed the line one too many times and now we’re getting put in the penalty box for a time out?
Many Christians live with the understanding that if we do something wrong, God will punish us. And so, we must do everything, or at bare minimum as much as we can, right. We must continue to live within God’s laws, we must continue to live lives that are pleasing to God. If we don’t, we risk sickness, or disease, or being laid off, or any number of punishments that God may come up with. Many Christians are walking on eggshells, living as if we are sinners in the hands of an angry God.
Which begs the question: Is he? Is God angry with us?
There are many reasons that I love Easter. Holy Week is by far my favorite week of the year. Because during this week I am informed of God’s feelings about me. This is the week that Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey, victoriously submitting himself to God’s plan. This is the week that there is a dinner in an upper room in which Jesus institutes the Lord’s Supper, which I now get to celebrate while I rest and rejoice in the forgiveness poured out over me by God. And it is during this week that I read about Jesus in the garden asking God to take the cup from him. The cup of wrath. This is the cup of God’s anger at sin. This is the cup of God’s punishment, his divine retribution. Jesus is innocent. He is perfect and pure and blameless. There is no need for him to suffer the wrath of God, and yet: “Not my will but yours be done,” says the voice of my Savior. And from this cup of wrath, Jesus drinks fully. And so on Jesus God’s wrath was poured out perfectly. He did not save a couple of drops to pour out on me for when I cheated on a test. He did not save the swill at the bottom for when I was vulgar in my thought and speech, that he might hit me with some wrath to keep me in line.
No, Jesus drank from the cup fully, drained every last drop. All of God’s anger over my sin directed completely at Jesus. Through faith in Christ, through the faith that has been given me, I am not the recipient of God’s wrath, only Jesus is. And that wrath manifested itself this week when Jesus went to the cross. There he hung, abandoned by God, the cup of wrath was fully poured out, and having finished the drink, he declared: “It is finished.” God’s wrath is spent. The cup is empty. There is nothing left, no drop, for me to lay claim to. And then my Savior, my substitute, died, alone and abandoned.
And it is this week, Sunday morning, Easter, we celebrate Jesus rising again. We celebrate how he defeated sin and conquered death. We celebrate a relationship with God restored on account of Christ’s work on our behalf. We celebrate the outpouring of God’s love for us. His love, not his wrath.
So Christian, are you a sinner in the hands of an angry God? You’re a sinner, yes. But is God angry at you? No. God’s wrath was poured out on Jesus, totally and completely. Rest in the truth that God looks on you with love and favor on account of Jesus. Live in the comfort that when we fail there is forgiveness, not the itchy trigger finger of a ticked off God. Rejoice in the complete work of Christ on the cross.
"Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all." (Isaiah 53:4-6)