WHEN I WAS A BOY, I use to be afraid of the dark (this was entirely due to watching too many scary movies). My brother and I kept the lights on and took turns going to sleep while the other took “guard duty” (which, by the way, my brother was miserable at since he was always asleep when I woke up). And sometimes, when the fear was unbearable, my brother and I would sleep on the floor in my parents room. This practice drove our parents crazy! At one point, my mother tried to comfort me by telling me that I had nothing to fear because God would be in the same room with me. But for some reason, that fact was not comforting. If anything, it actually made matters worse! The movies that I watched caused me to fear things such as ghosts, vampires, and monsters (although deep down I knew those things were not real). But I did believe in God’s existence! And the thought of God being in the same room as me gave me a sense of deep dread. Fear of imaginary gremlins is one thing, but fear of a real Spirit was altogether a more palpable terror. Although I honestly believed that God could save me from my imaginary ghosts and monsters, the dilemma was who would save me from God? As a child, my fear was mainly due to the fact that God was still an unknown Person in my life. But as I grew older and my understanding of the Bible increased, I realized that my initial reaction was not that far off base.
Saved From What?
When we, as Christians, say that “we are saved,” the implication is that we are saved from something terrible. But what exactly are we saved from? Are we saved from eternal damnation, our sins, or even Satan? What precisely is the source of our fear and trembling? In other words, what or who is our enemy? The answer may surprise you. But if we carefully consider what the Bible teaches, then the answer is that we are spared from God Himself—His holy wrath against the sinner. Without the atoning work of Jesus Christ, God is our enemy! Satan is not even remotely our main concern. As Jesus says in Luke 12:5, we should be more afraid of the One who can destroy both our bodies and souls. Satan, at most, can only destroy our bodies.
But some may protest and say, “Doesn’t God love the sinner but hate the sin?” I have heard that quote many times, but I can’t seem to find it in the Bible. The reason is because it’s not in the Bible! This false dichotomy of separating the sin from the unrepentant sinner is not a Biblical concept. When God talks about His anger and wrath, that wrath is not targeted at the sin, it’s targeted at the perpetrator of that sin. And this makes perfect sense. No sane person loves the rapist but only hates the rape. We do not separate the rapist from his vile acts. We do not imprison rape—we imprison the rapist. The same concept applies to God’s wrath. He does not send the sin to hell—He sends the sinner.
But what about God’s love, mercy, and grace? Isn’t it true that He deeply and passionately loves us? To answer this questions, a more basic question first needs to be addressed: can God hate and love at the same time? Although these emotions may seem contradictory, this description of God’s divine personality is how God feels about those not covered by the atoning blood of Jesus Christ. As a holy God, He burns with anger and judgement at the sinner for his selfishness, pride, deceit, lust, unfair anger, injustice, unbelief, and idolatry. And yet, He is filled with tremendous compassion even for those who willing reject his free offer of grace (Luke 13:34). His love is indeed sweeter, purer, and more passionate than anything this world understands. And yet His hatred of evil is a smoldering fire—perfectly righteous, without malice, and fair—but ready to erupt at the wickedness of mankind after much patience and longsuffering.
There is a mystery here that mixes divine judgement and love in a way that is purely holy. As fallen creatures, we do not completely comprehend this mixture and we definitely are not able to live it out very well. When I hate someone, it is never just or holy. When I love someone, it is rarely with complete self-denial and purity. This mixture, however, is perfectly lived out in the life of Jesus Christ. And on the cross, we see the amazing reconciliation of God’s just hatred and deep love. When God pours out his wrath on part of His own Personhood, we see anger appeased, justice resolved, and perfect love expressed. On Christ was poured God’s burning wrath that was reserved for the sinner. And when Jesus cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus took on himself that separation, isolation, and abandonment meant solely for us.