God's mercy really is incomprehensible apart from God's wrath. Paul tells us, "Jesus delivers us from the wrath to come" (1 Thessalonians 1:10). And it becomes clear that if we are to know the depths of this deliverance we must know more about this wrath from which we are delivered.
Leon Morris writes,
The use of the concept of propitiation witnesses to two great realities, the one, the reality and the seriousness of the divine reaction against sin, and the other, the reality and the greatness of the divine love which provided the gift which should avert the wrath from men. . .
. . . unless we give real content to the wrath of God, unless we hold that men really deserve to have God visit upon them the painful consequences of their wrongdoing, we empty God’s forgiveness of its meaning. (The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross, 211, 213)
This means at least one thing: all talk of the love of God without explanation of who God is might as well be an episode of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. Isolated from the greatness of God, we stifle the wonder of the gospel and short-circuit our joy. We bleach its goodness.
Let us remember then — and be glad — that God rich in mercy and great in love is thus because he is a God who feels indignation everyday, who holds a cup of foaming wine, and who is a consuming fire (Ephesians 2:4; Psalm 7:11; 75:8; Deuteronomy 4:24).
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