What is Love?

What is love?  The main way it is understood today runs something like this: To really love someone means that you will do everything in your power to make them happy.  It means accepting and affirming whatever way they choose to live their lives.  It means excusing any harm they cause as just a “mistake” and assuring them that, no matter how bad it was, deep down they are a “good person”.  It means giving them a second (and a third, and a fourth…) chance, because, after all, they deserve it.   

Accordingly, this has also become the main way God’s love is understood.

But this isn’t love; at least not as Jesus understood it.   

Yes, God loves us unconditionally.  He accepts us just as we are.  But, precisely because He loves us, He doesn’t accept and affirm everything we do.  Often, He’s repulsed by it.  He’s repulsed by the harm we cause ourselves and others, the very people He loves so dearly! 

And He loves us too much to leave us where He finds us.  For our own sake, He challenges us to be radically better.  To be all that He created us to be, and, therefore, to know all the joy He intended us to experience.

Many people struggle with the idea of God’s wrath.  Many struggle to see how a God of love could also be a God who becomes enraged when people fall short.  It’s morally repulsive.

Much of this, though, is driven by a deep-seated confusion.  We unwittingly attach ideas borrowed from pagan mythology to our notion of God’s wrath.  So, we think that He’s just throwing a cosmic temper tantrum.  We think that His wrath is all about Him assuaging His anger, getting it off His chest—so to speak—as humans and the infantile gods of mythology made in our image often do. 

But, as J.I. Packer in his classic Knowing God puts it, this is a “monstrous distortion”.  Wrath, rightly understood, is “the holy revulsion of God’s being” at the harm sin and evil causes. (J.I. Packer, Knowing God, Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 1993, p. 184)  And this is the only reaction a loving God could have.  It’s the only morally right reaction.

How should God react when a child is sexually abused?  How should God react when a terrorist blows innocent people to bits?  How should God react when someone is lynched because of the color of their skin? 

A God who isn’t outraged at what sin and evil do to His children is utterly indifferent.  A God without wrath is a God without love.

Standing a mere five-foot-five, Brother Kelly was the first principal I worked for and one of the scariest people I ever met.  Not only were the kids terrified of him, so was much of the faculty!  You didn’t want to incur his wrath.

The one class he taught each year happened to be in the classroom across the hall from mine.  Lucky me!  Almost daily, I could hear him yelling at one of his students.  As he reamed them out, even big, husky football players twice his size would be shaking in their shoes.   

Naturally, you would think that the kids in his class detested him.  Not at all.  Just the opposite.  They adored him.  As on more than one occasion they went out of their way to express to me, he was their favorite teacher, hands down. 

What was so clear to them was how genuinely he cared.  In the midst of his “tirades”, he would often say something to the effect: “Mr. So and so (he always called kids by their last name when they were in trouble—and he knew the name of every kid in the school!), I know you’re better than this and I’m not going to let you get away with it.” 

The message they heard was loud and clear: He truly loved them.  It would’ve been easier for him to let them get away with things and be the “cool” teacher, the popular principal.  But instead, what they knew and appreciated so well was that he was so hard on them because he wanted the best for them.  He wasn’t going to let them slack off or be disrespectful to each other, because he wanted them to thrive not only academically, but much more importantly, as human beings.  His “wrath” reflected his deep love for them.

This is love.  This is what God’s love is like. 

God’s wrath, God’s holy revulsion at sin, flows out of His deep, passionate, fierce love for us. 

What are your thoughts about God’s wrath?  Are you morally repulsed by the notion?  Let me know what you think by going to the “Contact E.J.” page of the Raising Jesus website and leaving your comments there.  Also, please “Like” our Facebook page and subscribe to our YouTube channel.  I truly appreciate all your support!


About Me

E.J. Sweeney is a true skeptic. He needs to see to believe. Hard Evidence. Compelling Proof. Solid Logic. This is what he believes in. In college, he encountered questions that the superficial faith he was raised on couldn’t handle. So he began a quest for Truth, a quest for the answers to life’s ultimate questions.

EJ Sweeney

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