Written by: Don Carson
HOW DOES THE WRATH OF GOD manifest itself, according to the Scriptures?
There is no short answer to that question, because the answers are many, depending on an enormous array of circumstances. God's wrath wiped out almost the entire human race at the Flood. Sometimes God's punishment of his own covenant people is remedial. Sometimes it is immediate, not the least because it then tends to be instructive (like the defeat of the people at Ai after Achan stole some silver and fine Babylonian clothes): at other times, God forbears, which at one level is gracious, but granted the perversity of God's image-bearers, is likely to let things get out of hand. The final display of God's wrath is hell itself (see, for instance, Rev. 14:6ff.).
Romans 1:18ff pictures the revelation of God's wrath in a slightly different way. What Paul presents here is not the only thing to say about God's wrath — even in Paul — but it contributes something very important. Not only is God's wrath being revealed against "all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness" (Rom. 1:18), but it manifests itself in such sins — that is, in God's giving people over to do what they want to do (Rom. 1:24-28).
In other words, instead of rebuking them in remedial judgment or curtailing their wickedness, God "gave them over": to "shameful lusts" (1:26) and a "depraved mind" (Rom. 1:28). The result is multiplying "wickedness, evil, greed and depravity" (Rom. 1:29). The picture painted in the rest of the verses of Romans 1 is not a pretty one.
We must reflect a little further as to what this means. In our shortsightedness we sometimes think God is a little abrupt when in certain passages, not least in the Old Testament, he instantly chastens his people for their sins. But what is the alternative? Quite simply, it is not instantly chastening them. If chastening were merely a matter of remedial education to morally neutral people, the timing and severity would not matter very much; we would learn. But the Bible insists that this side of the Fall we are by nature and persistent choice rebels against God.
If we are chastened, we whine at God's severity. If we are not chastened, we descend into debauchery until the very foundations of society are threatened. We may then cry to God for mercy. Well and good, but at least we should see that it would have been a mercy if we had not been permitted to descend so far down into the abyss.
Granted the shape and trends in Western culture, does this not argue that we are already under the severe wrath of God? Have mercy, Lord!