God is holy.
If your vision of holiness is limited to ideas of Him being perfect, or sacred, or transcendent, or “other”, you’re missing it.
God’s holiness is uncontainable, incapable of being restrained. His holiness can’t be held back in the face of rebellion or affronts to His nature. It will not abide the humiliation or degradation of sin. His holiness must be asserted. Even He can’t hold Himself back.
God displays His holiness in one of two ways: in mercy or in wrath.
As the sole Judge, as the standard of righteousness and holiness, He is just in displaying His holiness in wrath. He may come as Judge, punishing wickedness, the defilement of His creation and the order of the Universe which He established. He may call for the repayment of debt for sin at any time. He can rightfully make the case for His holiness by bringing it down with terrible force into the midst of our fallen world and sordid lives.
Reading through the Old Testament book of Numbers will very quickly bring to view several examples of God wiping out thousands upon thousands of His chosen people as a result of their various affronts to His holiness. Plagues, disease, the gaping maw of the earth–God is right to use these means to assert His holiness.
But it doesn’t always have to be this way. God may also come in mercy.
Mercy is not getting what we do deserve. (Grace may be thought of as getting that which we don’t deserve.) God may choose to forego administering our justly deserved punishment for affronts to His holiness, and instead display His mercy. His uncontainable holiness may overflow from mercy to grace, setting aside retribution and replacing it with abundant blessing. Mercy only makes sense in light of His justified wrath.
The skeptic will ask: why would a good God then ever choose to come in wrath, when coming in mercy is an option?
If you are a child of God, you may not want to hear the answer. At times, God comes in wrath because we don’t ask Him to do otherwise.
Chapter 14 of The Ministry of Intercession (Andrew Murray) exploded my perspective 10 days ago. The chapter opens with several verses from the Old Testament:
“And He saw that there was no man, and was astonished that there was no one to intercede; then His own arm brought salvation to Him, and His righteousness upheld Him…. And He put on garments of vengeance for clothing…. According to their deeds, so He will repay, wrath to His adversaries, recompense to His enemies” (Isaiah 59:16-18).
“I looked, and there was no one to help, and I was astonished and there was no one to uphold; so My own arm brought salvation to Me, and My wrath upheld me. I trod down the people in My anger and made them drunk in My wrath, and I poured out their lifeblood on the earth” (Isaiah 63:5-6).
“I searched for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand in the gap before Me for the land, so that I would not destroy it; but I found no one. Thus I have poured out my indignation on them; I have consumed them with the fire of My wrath; their way I have brought upon their heads” (Ezekiel 22:30-31).
Why does God come in wrath sometimes? Because we don’t ask Him not to. As members of His Kingdom, we have the special opportunity to approach His throne and make requests on behalf of others. And He receives them from us, not just as words from His deferent subjects, but as pleadings from His own children. We can beg of God to come in mercy rather than in wrath, to spare judgment and display His holiness in overwhelming grace. Or, we can watch as the uncontainble fury of His holiness pours forth upon those who do not walk in righteousness.
The skeptic may ask of God why He would ever choose to come in wrath. Perhaps we should be asking of each other: if you are a child of God with the special opportunity to intercede, why aren’t you asking Him to come to others in mercy?