Peace with God
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
Romans 5:1-11 NRSV
God’s wrath isn’t something we like to talk about – unless we’re condemning other people to it, which misses the point quite gloriously. We have trouble reconciling the God-man Jesus, who was this interesting, loving, rebellious, compassionate, gentle, determined man, with the cantankerous OT God: smiting people left right and centre with floods, fire and pestilence, like an old man angrily shaking his stick.
The only way I think these two ends can meet is in understanding the fact that God is holy. He cannot entertain unholiness because he is its antithesis; there is no darkness to be found in his blazing. With God there are only really two options: his peace, or his wrath. There’s no middle way, no grey area. You are either his or you aren’t.
This sounds…dispiriting, doesn’t it? Most days we struggle to give those unqualified “yesses” about our faith. But it’s really good news, even the wrath bit, and I want to explain why.
First of all, being God’s isn’t very hard. Being a good Christian is, but actually belonging to God is easy. And it’s easy because we are piggybacking on Jesus Christ’s sacrifice. Through Jesus we have “obtained access to this grace in which we stand”. That’s not changing. That’s not being taken back. We worry about this a lot, but this really is the thing we should worry about least. If we accept Christ, we’re in. Like Bob Goff wrote, “Grace draws a circle around everyone and says you’re in.”
Second of all, we need to understand that God’s wrath – God’s anger – isn’t human anger. God’s wrath is not aimed at those who are unsaved, it’s aimed at that which prevents them from being saved: all the sin obstacles, all the wiles of Old Nick. That’s what’s getting the boot end of God’s anger: the sin, not the sinners. We like to think we can make this same distinction – hating the sin but loving the sinner – but of course we struggle with that, because our conception of a person blurs the lines between who they are, whose they are, and the sins they commit. God never has a problem with those distinctions.
It’s not hard to see, then, that God’s entire will works inevitably, inexorably towards grace. Both his love and his anger draws us in, like a protective mother hen gathering her chicks together under her wings. He has worked tirelessly with us, the most undeserving of creatures, to try to bring us back into the fold; finally surrendering his Son, part of the Godhead, to humiliation, struggle and death to heal the separation, to rebuild the bridge, to kindle the Holy Spirit in our hearts.
This is what it means to have peace with God: to be in his love, to be reconciled to him through his Son, to be under warm wings, to be his again.
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens,
and let your glory be over all the earth.
Give victory with your right hand, and answer me,
so that those whom you love may be rescued.
Psalm 108:5-6 NRSV