JL: Initially what drove me to preach on the subject was a bumper sticker I encountered while I was studying for my undergrad. The bumper sticker was an anti-war sticker that read, What Would Jesus Bomb? Immediately, in my mind, I reacted thinking, “Sodom and Gomorrah for starters.” For the rest of the day, in my classes, as well as on the drive home, I found myself thinking about all the theological problems related to that bumper sticker. That’s what drove me to preach on the subject back in 2008.
I always felt that the sermon series may warrant a book, but I felt ill-equipped to write it. I figured that was a job for a guy like Sproul, MacArthur, or Piper. A couple years went by and I wasn’t seeing very many books coming out on God’s wrath. So I figured if nobody else was going to write on the subject, the least I could do was put forth my contribution. Even if my work is the worst on the subject at least it might spur others to think about it and publish their own work on the subject!
ThM: How can a pastor preach about God’s wrath and judgment without being categorized as the stereotypical fire and brimstone revivalist?
JL: I think pastors just need to remember that we are called to preach the whole counsel of God. Our ultimate objective in preaching on any topic is to get back to the glory of Christ on the cross. If Christ is glorified, if the cross is magnified, then we won’t end up like “stereo-typical” fire and brimstone revivalists. Whenever we find ourselves preaching on the depravity of man, the wrath of God, or future judgment it is always good to contrast that with how the cross remedies the situation. If people walk away from our sermon thinking, “He preached a great message about the depravity of man,” then I think we’ve failed in our task. Hopefully, however we go about doing it, people should walk away strangely affected by the glory of God, the magnificence of his grace, and the profundity of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.
ThM: Is it possible to discern divine judgments in certain historical situations?
JL: I think to a degree it is. In some instances, the judgments are built into God’s ordained institutions: the family, the church, and the government. When those institutions are functioning properly I think we can identify their activity as being “divine judgments.”
I think what this question is really getting at, though, is whether or not we can tell if an earthquake is God’s divine judgment or if it is “natural disaster.” I would say we need to be careful with getting too specific, but simply acknowledge that such could be the case. Many times I think God uses these events to both judge, try, and discipline at the same time. Depending on the person, and how they are affected by the situation, God may have a different purpose. That’s why I think we need to be cautious in making blanket statements today. We don’t know for sure, we don’t have direct revelation, and we need to restrict our assessments to deductions drawn from Scripture.
ThM: People always associate sexual immorality with Sodom’s destruction. You made some interesting points. Could you expand on the additional reasons for God’s destruction of Sodom?
JL: In the book I maintain that one of the main reasons for Sodom’s destruction was sexual immorality. Let me be more specific, and potentially more offensive, it was a particular type of sexual immorality: homosexuality. That said, I also point out in the book that it wasn’t just homosexuals who died in Sodom. Many of Lot’s extended family simply didn’t believe what he was saying and so the urgency of his plea was lost on them. They died. Lot’s wife couldn’t keep herself from looking back and she became a pillar of salt.
In the book I make this simple point: The sin of Sodom was sin. This bothers some Christians because we have a tendency to elevate certain sins in an effort to diminish the abhorrent nature of our own sin. Romans 6 tells us that the wages of sin is death. That’s the price. That’s the price of rape as well as the price of a little white lie. The problem with elevating the sins of others is that we inevitably diminish our own. When we do that, we devalue the cross.
ThM: Many people reject the idea that God causes or permits suffering; how would you respond to them?
JL: The snarky side of me wants to say, “Read your Bible.” Seriously though, there are all kinds of instances where we see God not merely “permitting” suffering but directly causing them. I think the easiest examples to turn to are Noah’s flood and the killing of the firstborn in Egypt. If they pressed me to show New Testament examples I would cite the Corinthians who were dying because of their disregard for the Lord’s supper, Paul’s thorn in the flesh, and Jesus’ activity in the book of Revelation.
Usually when people recoil at the idea of God causing suffering it’s because they have far too high a view of themselves and far too low a view of God. On the one hand, they think that God owes them something that he doesn’t. God does not owe us health, a home, a nice car, a perfect spouse, or perfect kids. He owes you nothing. On the other hand, as believers, we often forget that God, as our Father, has everything under control. When God causes these things to happen in our lives it’s not as though he’s doing it whimsically. He does it with extreme purpose. To strengthen us, to develop us, to make us more and more into his likeness. When we say, “God would never do that,” we ignore Scripture. When we say, “God would never do that to me,” we exercise our extreme pride. When we say, “God, why are you doing this?” we are questioning his sovereignty and goodness.
ThM: Could a reader interpret your point on pages 20-21 to mean that their serious illness was always a direct result of their own sin?
JL: I suppose they could. The point I am trying to make in that section is that the reason (generally) that there is sickness, disease, and death in the world is because of sin (generally). As I said above, I think we need to be careful in getting too specific in drawing correlations between particular sins and particular judgments. We don’t know why certain things happen and we need to be careful not to speak where God has not spoken.
That being said, I don’t rule out the possibility of illness, and even death, being a direct result of sin. We know, for example, that the Corinthians suffered sickness and even death for their mistreatment of the Lord’s supper. Listen, if you’re facing great sickness, it’s not a bad idea to examine your heart to determine if God might not be trying to tell you something. We also need to keep in mind John 9:3 where we learn that the blind man’s blindness was given to him simply so that the works of the Lord could be revealed in him.
ThM: Would you say that the modern resistance to church / pastoral leadership is similar to Korah’s rebellion?
JL: I might go a step further and say it’s worse! I would say that because in Moses’ situation God took care of the rebellion swiftly and decisively. In our day and age, speaking metaphorically, I would say the “sons of Korah” have successfully rebelled and are storing up wrath for themselves. The disregard for pastoral leadership is incredible in our age. The Pastoral dropout rate is extraordinarily high and the abuse of pastors is seriously out of control. I’ve not done in-depth research on the subject but I am a pastor, and I’ve seen what some congregations can do to their shepherds. I suppose some congregants will rail against that statement, having been hurt by pastors who did them wrong, but I guess I speak from a unique perspective. It’s one of the reasons I wrote that section into the book. We desperately need to develop a Godly heart of submission in the church in this day and age.
ThM: How is sloppy, sentimental theology that removes any severity on the part of God detrimental to the faith?
JL: This kind of theology drains the blood of Christ of its value, it diminishes the magnificence of the glory of God, and strips the foundation of the message of the Gospel of its fundamental purpose. No, I am not overstating it or embellishing it. When we say God doesn’t care that much about sin, we say he isn’t all that holy. When we say he isn’t all that holy, we say the cross doesn’t really do all that much because my sin isn’t that big of a deal. When we say our sin isn’t that big of a deal, then we don’t really need the cross. If one of the primary purposes of Christ was to glorify the Father, by going to the cross as a substitutionary sacrifice for our sin, and our sin isn’t that big of deal, then we literally strip God of his person, Christ of his purpose, and the Gospel of its meaning. Truthfully, I think in many cases we’ve done just that.
ThM: On page 28, it appears that God’s giving the breath of life is something unique to human beings. How would that be reconciled with the following verses in Genesis: 6:17; 7:15,22?
JL: This was an honest oversight on my part. In writing page 28 I should have said that what is unique to human beings is not “the breath of life,” but the “image of God.” I was actually trying to show the progression from existence, to life, to image of God. The sentence that trickles from 27 to 28 should read, “What makes humankind infinitely more special than all the rest of creation is that God not only breathed into us the breath of life, but he created us in His image.” Some sort of merging of the last sentence of p. 27 and the first sentence of p. 28 would have made this make more sense. It’s absolutely true that the breath of life is found in other creatures and the examples given are a good example of that.
ThM: You use an interesting term, “The Fury of Jesus.” We hear about God’s wrath, but never about Jesus’ wrath. There seems to be a divide between God and Jesus on this point. What form would the fury of Jesus take today?
JL: This is a great question! First, I think bad theology is to blame for why we never hear about the wrath of Jesus. One of the Scriptural ideas that really stood out to me when studying for this book was the idea of the “wrath of the Lamb” (cf Rev. 6:16). I was taught going through college that Jesus was both the “Lion” and the “Lamb.” This is true, of course, but the way it was presented was that the Lion of Judah was the wrathful side, but the Lamb was more the sacrificial loving aspect. So, when I stumbled across “The wrath of the Lamb,” I was sort of blown away by that concept.
The second half of this question really got me thinking. In terms of practical reality, I would say anywhere we see God’s fury on display, we have Jesus’ fury on display. I think Romans 1 does a good job of explaining how the wrath of God is being revealed in this day and age. Really, God (and Jesus) are just letting mankind fall deeper and deeper into their depravity.
That said, the question got me thinking about where Jesus would direct his fury if he were walking the earth today. I suspect we would find him most angry with the religious and expressing his disappointment in them. That seemed to be the target of his fury in his first coming and I suspect he would have the same focus today.
ThM: Would the concept of “passive wrath” be of help to people who are inherently resistant to divine judgment?
JL: I think it can help people along in the process. Sometimes people have an issue with judgment being a violation of God’s loving character. I hope my book can help them along the way as well. The notion of passive wrath is simply to help keep God’s “loving” character intact while affirming his wrath. I don’t think this is a Biblical approach, but it’s a step in the right direction.
As an aside, I’m a pretty strong believer in the sovereignty of God so I veer away from the notion of “passive” anything. I think God is directly involved with all things on some level to accomplish his good purposes. Again, that may not be the perspective of someone who is resistant to the notion of divine judgment.
ThM: Which chapter of the book was the hardest to write? Which was the most enjoyable?
JL: I had a lot of difficulty writing the chapter entitled, “The Lamentations of Jeremiah.” This subject matter is already a bit offensive to most today. Jumping into the horrific depictions of the book of Lamentations was a challenge. One of the criticisms I’ve received is that I cited a lot of Scripture. In this particular chapter I felt it was necessary to just have people read the text. If I had simply stated that God did some of the things Jeremiah attributed to him, I don’t think people would have taken it seriously and they might have been seriously offended. There was a lot more I could have said in that chapter but I felt the gruesome nature of it was, frankly, too explicit.
The most enjoyable chapter to preach and to write has been the chapter on Noah’s ark. For some reason the image of Noah sacrificing animals after the earth has been decimated captivates my heart and mind. I see that picture in my mind’s eye and it is so profound. It perfectly represents God in all his fullness to me. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to write it or preach it in the way I see it in my mind’s eye. Still, writing that chapter was the most enjoyable to me.
ThM: What’s next? Do you plan to write another book?
I have a couple ideas on tap. First, I want to get The Fury of God into as many hands as I possibly can. And then, I hope to spread the word and see where this book will go.
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