For today’s post, we invited guest contributor and GRTS alum Dr. Chris Brauns to address the recent terror attacks in Brussels.
The reluctance of Christians to soberly consider the biblical doctrine of God’s wrath leaves us vulnerable to bitterness.
It was the picture of an x-ray that punched me in the stomach. My wife got emotional when she heard the sound of a baby crying. But for me, watching the nightly news, it was the image of a bolt embedded in the chest of one of the victims of the Belgium terrorist attacks that made me mad.
There is such a thing as righteous anger. But I was somewhere beyond righteous. Looking at the x-ray of shrapnel that had viciously ripped its way into someone’s chest, I did not feel constrained by the love of Christ.
My struggle to process the evil of terrorist attacks in Belgium is minimal in comparison to what others face. So far as I am aware, I don’t know anyone who was there. Yet, I am by no means alone in the challenge of keeping it all in Christian perspective. Believers wonder; how do we process senseless and horrific evil? How do we protect ourselves from becoming defined by bitter resentment and suspicion?
Too often victims of terrorism are told that they must simply let go of anger and feel love. Yet, the biblical response to evil is in sharp contrast with such “precious moments” Christianity. Scripture repeatedly equips people to endure evil by pointing them to the certain justice of God. Second Thessalonians offers one example. Writing to first century terrorism victims of one sort or another, the apostle Paul soberly assured his readers:
… God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints. (2 Thessalonians 1:6b-10a, emphasis added)
Paul’s descriptions of “flaming fire,” “vengeance” and “eternal destruction,” make us wince. Which is the point. When we realize that God is just—that vengeance belongs to Him—it is then that we will be most compassionate for those who do not know Christ. Would we wish the wrath of God on anyone? Surely not those of us who remember that one time, we too, were objects of wrath (Ephesians 2:1-3).
Shortly before the Nazis executed Dietrich Bonhoeffer, his friend Eberhard Bethge wrote to Bonhoeffer in prison and asked, “How is that you can feel compassion for the Nazis?” Bonhoeffer responded, “…it is only when God’s wrath and vengeance are hanging as grim realities over the heads of one’s enemies that something of what it means to love and forgive them can touch our hearts.”
So it is for us. If we forget that God is just and that His wrath is awful, we will be overwhelmed in the face of senseless evil. A soft view of God’s justice makes for hard and bitter people. But when we remember that Christ will return in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on evil—then we will be constrained by the love of Christ and motivated to share the good news that God demonstrates His own love for us in this, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (2 Corinthians 5:14; Romans 5:8).