God’s love and wrath

Good morning,

Right now, I am reading through Ravi’s book “The Grand Weaver,” and I am on the section of Your Morality Matters. That got me thinking about the question people tend to ask, “how can God be love and destroyed nations in the Old Testament?” I know the answer, but I don’t have a clear way to answer it if someone were to ask me. How would you explain the concept of God’s love and holiness to someone, especially someone who is not yet a follower of Christ?


Hello LeAnne,
This is an awesome question. I think there is a lot to the answer to it and certainly that it brings up a lot of issues that we all deal with every day. The confusion about God’s love, when He does things that seem so unloving in the Old Testament, I believe is often a confusion between love, mercy, and justice. I would try to explain this in my own words, but I think that this sermon by RC Sproul can better help with beginning to understand the reconciliation of God’s justice, with His mercy. I hope that it will help.

If you have any other questions please ask them. May God grant you wisdom and understanding in your pursuit of the truth. God bless you and thank you.


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Hey there and good morning to you.

The Grand Weaver is a great read. You will find it encouraging at a personal level.

A great question which I myself have wrestled with. Just offering few thoughts.

The two questions are 1. How is God loving who destroyed nations in the OT? and 2. How to explain the concept of God’s love and holiness to someone, especially to a non-believer?

For the first question: Firstly, God is love (1 John 4:8). So there is no change to that wherever we move in history. The problem to be reconciled lies in the OT and particularly to the nations which God had destroyed. There should be an explanation and I think if we could understand the nature of God’s love, it will clear the roadblocks for us. God’s love is understood as holy love. By holy, I mean not tainted with sin which means it cannot do with sin. You would ask then how come Christ loved us? Well, Christ loved us not the sin in us (Romans 5:8). God demonstrated his love towards us but he hated sin. With this understanding of God hating sin, the OT will be looked upon differently, where God is love showing grace and mercy but will not overlook sin. In that case if God truly hates sin, then there is response of judgment and punishment. Therefore in the OT any act of God destroying nations or essentially people (this is what bothers many), it is always the act of his judgment or punishment. Some people render God to be partial to a group of people namely, the Israelites (maybe that’s why this question is asked in the light of the Bible). But the fact that Israel went through wars and captivity was due to God’s judgment of their sin. God was not partial to them. The matter is of sin and punishment. God is holy and God’s love is holy.

For the second question: You could tell it like a story in the person of Jesus. God’s love and holiness is perfectly illustrated in Jesus. Explaining it this way will help to present the Gospel easily too. Jesus carries the good news. God’s love is found in many things in Jesus’ life e.g. Jesus healing the sick, not condemning sinners, giving his own life as a ransom, serving others etc. God’s holiness is also seen in Jesus’ life e.g. Jesus living a life of obedience, resisting temptation, having a pure and sinless life etc. Both are represented in the life of Jesus. Jesus is the exact representation of God (Hebrews 1:3). That’s why I have answered in this way.

Hope these will help you! God bless!

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@LeAnne_Gross Given that this is one of the hardest questions for believers to wrestle with as well, it is certainly hard to unpack for an unbeliever. A few questions that may be helpful to discuss.

  1. Who do you believe the Canaanites were? A lot of people envision peaceful agrarian farmers who were suddenly overrun by Israel. But actually the Canaanites (Phoenicians) practiced child sacrifice, as evinced by evidence that their descendants continued this practice in Carthage even down to the Roman era. Below PDF has some more information, though it is important to note many secular scholars are bending over backwards to try to deny that the Canaanites had fallen into such depravity, so if someone wants they are going to be able to find scholars who disagree with this point.
  1. Does God, if He exists, have the right to judge both individuals and nations?

  2. Would you be willing to read Paul Copan’s book “Is God a Moral Monster?” together with me and discuss?

  3. If Jesus and His sacrificial love is the clearest revelation of God, would you be willing to consider Jesus even if all of your questions about the Old Testament are not answered?


Thank you!

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Hello to you, LeAnne and The Lord bless you mightily! I hope I can add to this and be of some wee help by mentioning that God was also exceedingly patient with all the nations He brought destruction upon. Sometimes, as in the case of Canaan, 400 years. He pleads and warns and pleads and warns and pleads and warns quite clearly for people and nations to repent of evil, but eventually that dreadful day will come. This is something that very frequently gets overlooked altogether.

Another difficult area for us today is that quite a bit of the behavior that got nations destroyed in those days is often outright celebrated now. Sexual immorality, for example. Greed, avarice (the love of money), and extreme vanity are some others. So I think it’s very easy for many to see The Father’s punishment as unjust when it is they, in fact, who are wicked.

He is remarkably patient with us but He is also just. Also, the western understanding of “love” has become extremely laden with warm fuzzy feelings of kindness, romance, etc. But…true love can seem quite harsh. Hebrews 12:6 comes to mind, “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” A child or young person might sulkily say to their mom or dad, “Why’d you punish me! Thought you loved me!” to which they may reply, “Because I love you I punished you” In a healthy setting it’s done for that child’s own good, although the kiddo won’t recognize that at the moment. I hope I’m not being convoluted, and if another brother or sister wishes to correct me I humbly and gladly receive it. :slightly_smiling_face:

In Him.

Hi, @LeAnne_Gross! God’s judgement on the nations (and the instruments used…mainly people, whether Israel or other nations) has historically been for me a source of discomfort. I’ve gained a little more perspective over the last couple of years, and one of the most insightful pieces I’ve read that addresses the co-existence of the God’s love and holiness is in John Stott’s masterpiece, The Cross of Christ. I just wanted to record a couple of excerpts from that chapter that may help you gain some footholds for explanation.

If you happen to own that book, flip over to Ch. 4 – ‘The Problem of Forgiveness’. In it, he presents the objection, ‘If God is loving, why doesn’t he just forgive?’ Instead, he asks the question, ‘If God is holy, how is it possible for him to forgive at all?’ So, like @mmingus36 mentioned above, it’s about understanding and articulating how both justice and mercy co-exist within the concept of love, since God is both loving and holy.

Some other good snippets include…

God’s wrath = ‘God’s holy reaction to evil’ [p. 122].

Sin cannot co-exist with holiness. As his holiness exposes sin, his wrath opposes it. [p. 125]

The is nothing inexplicable about God’s wrath: it’s explanation is always the presence of evil in some form or other. [p.127]

God must not only respect us as the responsible beings we are, but he must also respect himself as the holy God he is. [p.130]

Also, @BretG, I’d be careful when using the word ‘punish’. I don’t believe that discipline is always the same thing as ‘punishing’…though it may feel punishing. Jesus bore our punishment/judgement; as disciples, we learn (via discipline) to walk in the ways of Christ. :slight_smile:


Yes indeed! Thank you for reminding me of that distinction, Kathleen. :slight_smile:

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