A few times previously on this blog I have discussed the matter of "the wrath of God" (and sometimes linking that discussion to that widely sung modern favourite In Christ Alone with its much debated line "the wrath of God was satisfied").
I have noticed in the intervening years that the wrath of God is not something we can pretend is not a scriptural "thing" - the Old Testament has a lot about God's wrath. When the NT says something about God's wrath, it is not a de novo concept.
Moreover, just yesterday, preparing a message for a service in Holy Week, I was looking at verses which help us to make sense of Jesus' dying on a cross - that is, theological sense of what God was up to in Christ. An obvious treasure trove of verses is Romans 5. Let's reproduce the first 11 verses from the NRSV:
"5.1 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we[a] have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have obtained access[b] to this grace in which we stand; and we[c] boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we[d] also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 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.
6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. 8 But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. 9 Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God.[e] 10 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. 11 But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation."
So, in 21st century terms, we have "nice" verses such as verses 1, 6, 8 and 10.
But we also have verse 9!
"Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God."
(Note the Greek says, "the wrath" rather than "the wrath of God" but "the wrath" here is surely God's wrath and not the wrath of any other being.)
Why did God love us so Christ died for us (verse 8)?
To save us from the wrath of God.
It is increasingly difficult to talk about the wrath of God because a godly wrath we need saving from implies we have done something to deserve wrath rather than love - that God sees us first as sinners needing salvation and not as saved people needing assurance that we are loved by God.
In our crazy world today the starting point for many people is that we are good.
Sure, there is a lot of finger pointing going on against a bunch of people (including stale pale males like me! ... and, Kiwi horror du jour, I own more than one house), and no doubt the human wrath against today's malefactors has some chance of conceiving that God is wrathful against racists, misogynists etc.
But those who point fingers today (and those who stoutly resist the notion that "I/we have done anything wrong") generally assume the mode of being "righteous". Neither human wrath nor divine wrath is deserved by us.
God loves us because we are lovely and deserve nothing less than all God's favour all the time.
It is quite a bit of work, in these times, to develop an understanding that we are all fallen short of God's standards, that none of us has been perfectly just and that a bunch of things about the way we live incures God's disapproval and not approval.
Can we truly credit the wonder and glory of Christ's "finished" achievement on the cross if we do not consider that on the cross God's wrath against us was, in some expiatory or even propitiatory way, turned aside (if not satisfied!).
In simple terms, we all deserve X but Christ received X in our place and so we are now blessed to receive the opposite of X.