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Each year during Holy Week and Easter, we intentionally move our thoughts to the cross. Some years, I can really feel the joy of Easter, and some years, I struggle to remember why Jesus’ death and resurrection matter. When Easter feels humdrum, I need a jolt of truth. I need to sit with the depth of my sin and the reality of God’s perfect love expressed on the cross as wrath.

So, in this post, we’re going to consider why the Trinity matters when we think about God’s love and God’s wrath.

At Mr. Kohlwey’s recommendation, I picked up Michael Reeves’ book Delighting in the Trinity. (Highly recommend!) Towards the end of the book, Reeves delves into God’s holiness, anger, and wrath and why it's crucial to understand them through the lens of the Trinity.

He explains how, for all eternity, before creation, the Father was loving His Son. Reeves says, “But never once was [God] angry. Why? Because there was nothing to be angry with until Adam sinned in Genesis 3. So God’s anger at evil from Genesis 3 onward is a new thing: it is how the God who is love responds to evil.”

The problem of evil.

A cursory glance around us reveals the immense suffering caused by evil, from overseas conflicts to local issues of homelessness and drug abuse. Clearly, things have gone awry in this world.

What is God’s response? Scripture unequivocally states that He does not tolerate sin and evil, and He will not passively allow them to prevail. Psalm 5:4 declares, ”For You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness; no evil dwells with You.” Not only does He not take pleasure in wickedness, but He also pours out His wrath upon it. As Deuteronomy 32:35 and Romans 12:19 assert, vengeance belongs to the Lord, and He will repay.

But what is evil? In Genesis 3, we find Adam and Eve and the serpent deciding for themselves what is good and what is evil. The serpent deceives. Adam and Eve eat the fruit. And the relationship with God - who they walked with in the Garden - is severed. Humans were created to love as God loved, with an outward focus, caring for the needs of others. When Adam and Eve ate the fruit, it was because they decided they loved themselves more than anything else. At the serpent’s prompting, they looked inward.

And since then, nothing has changed. In 2 Timothy 3, Paul expands on the problem with our broken human hearts:

"For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, proud, demeaning, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, without love for what is good, traitors, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to the form of godliness but denying its power. Avoid these people."

As Reeves puts it in Delighting in the Trinity, the problem of sin is “something deeper than rule breaking and misbehavior: we perverted love and rejected Him, the one who made us to love and be loved by him.”

Who wants an angry God?

There is evil in the world. There is evil in me. Yet, I am still uncomfortable with the idea of God having wrath. When I think of an angry God, I often think of impatience, hurtful words, power-hungriness, and temper tantrums.

Theologian Mirslov Volf brings my misunderstanding into perspective,

“I used to think that wrath was unworthy of God. Isn’t God love? Shouldn’t divine love be beyond wrath? … My last resistance to the idea of God’s wrath was a casualty of the war in the former Yugoslavia, the region from which I come. According to some estimates, 200,000 people were killed, and over 3,000,000 were displaced. My villages and cities were destroyed, my people shelled day in and out, some of them brutalized beyond imagination, and I could not imagine God not being angry.”

When we reflect on sin on a global scale, the call for God’s justice feels good and right.

During Lent, we spend 40 days reflecting on our personal sins and brokenness, recognizing our culpability. Daily, I hurt people with my words and actions. Daily, I choose to define right and wrong in my own eyes and disregard God’s wisdom. Daily, I reject God’s love, distort God’s love, and redefine God’s love in order to elevate myself.

I, too, deserve God’s wrath; I, too, am unworthy of His love.

The Holy, Trinitarian God

Maybe you’ve heard that God’s wrath stems from His holiness, His set-apartness. But His holiness isn’t synonymous with aloofness. Although His ways are higher than our ways, Scripture teaches us that God is not far off. When we consider the Trinity, we gain a better understanding of His holiness.

Before creation, God existed. God has been eternally Father, eternally Son, and eternally Spirit.

For all eternity, the Father has been loving the Son through the Spirit. They are - and always have been and always will be - a perfect community of love. Reeves explains God’s holiness this way, “My love is naturally all perverse and misdirected, but His love is set apart [holy] from mine in perfection.” God’s love is never perverse, never misdirected, never selfish, never demanding. It is never impatient. It is never envious or boastful. It is not quick to anger, and it doesn’t delight in evil. (See 1 Corinthians 13)

The Trinitarian definition of love is the true definition—utterly self-giving, sacrificial, and rejoicing in the other. Romans 5:5 assures us that this is the kind of love that has been lavished upon us through the Holy Spirit, “And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

The Father makes His love known through the Spirit. At Jesus’ baptism, the Father spoke over Him, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” and the Spirit rested on Jesus (Matthew 7:13-17). The Spirit unites the Father and Son in love. And as believers, we receive the same Spirit! So we are also united to the Father and Son in love! This is God’s desire for us.

Jesus’ prayer in John 17 gives us a picture of the Trinity and His desire for us to be brought into this unity:

"May they all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe you sent me … I am in them and you are in me, so that they may be made completely one, that the world may know you have sent me and have loved them as you have loved me … I made your name known to them and will continue to make it known, so that the love you have loved me with may be in them and I may be in them.” John 17: 21, 23, 26

Knowing Jesus means knowing the love of the Father. And knowing the Father means being in Jesus.

If it is the Father and the Son and the Spirit’s desire for us to be part of their perfect, love-filled relationship, how does this happen? Is it even possible in our brokenness?

Contrary to the notion that brokenness is beautiful, our sin leaves us feeling just the opposite—broken, hurting, anxious, and lacking. The chasm between our distorted love and God’s perfect love seems insurmountable.

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us,” 1 John 3:16

This is why the cross of Christ is such good news for Christians. When Jesus proclaimed that “greater love has no one than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends,” and then went on to act on his proclamation, He epitomized love. He is love.

And that is why every Good Friday, we turn our thoughts and hearts to the cross. We picture the crown of thorns being smashed on His head. We think of the whips that bloodied His back. We cringe at the thought of nails being driven into His hands and His feet. We listen to His ragged breathing and His cry that He’s thirsty. We hang our heads when we hear Him cry, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?”

Before time began, Jesus experienced perfect love from His Father through the Spirit. Yet, on the cross, this relationship fractured as Jesus bore the wrath we deserve. In the context of the Trinity—a perfect community of love—Jesus’ sacrifice, enacted in accordance with the Father’s will, is profound and incomprehensible. It is deeply tragic. The eternal community of perfect love was broken. Jesus went from experiencing perfect love to undeserved wrath.

Jesus didn’t die for all the rules we broke, all the words we regret saying, all the mean things we did to others. He died to bring us into perfect communion with the Trinity. He died so we can know the love of the Father as He does - not just someday or after we die - but today.

We are an Easter people. Jesus is our hope.

cross

Jesus’ love runs deep

Why did He endure such suffering? Out of His immense love for us.

Romans 5:9-10 reminds us:

“Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”

We have Easter hope every day. We are so valued by God our Father that His own Son paid for the price for our rebellion. Our worth and salvation stem not from ourselves but from our Creator and Christ. His grace is a gift to us. Our sanctification is the ongoing work of the Spirit in our lives.

When I consider my sin, I understand why Paul seems so close to the end of his rope in Romans 7:24 when he says, “Oh wretched man that I am, who can rescue me from this body of death?” When I look around the world, I can fall into the same despair. Who can redeem this broken world full of evil?

But when I remember the cross of Christ and the empty tomb, I pick up Paul’s praise in the very next verse of Romans 7:25: “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

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