This article was discussed on Episode 10 of the All Truth Is God’s Truth Podcast recently. This segment starts at 00:26.
In an essay titled “The Wrath of God,” penned for Bruce McCormack’s Engaging the Doctrine of God: Contemporary Protestant Perspectives, D. A. Carson argues,
Rightly integrated into Christian theology, the wrath of God enhances our grasp of God’s love; it does not diminish it. The point has often been made but not often more intelligently than by J. Gresham Machen in a passage I stumbled across recently: ‘It is a strange thing that when men talk about the love of God, they show by every word that they utter that they have no conception at all of the depths of God’s love. If you want to find an instance of true gratitude for the infinite grace of God, do not go to those who think of God’s love as something that cost nothing, but go rather to those who in agony of soul have faced the awful fact of the guilt of sin, and then have come to know with a trembling wonder that the miracle of all miracles has been accomplished, and that the eternal Son has died in their stead.’
This reality is clearly seen in Jesus’ story about Lazarus and the rich man. In Luke 16:19-31 Jesus says,
19 “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores.22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. 24 And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ 27 And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”
Notice that Abraham points to the rich man enjoying good things on earth, but now he’s in torment in Hades. God’s grace on earth makes hell that much more unbearable due to being compared with the common grace previously received on earth. “For He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:45b). Also notice that the rich man can see Lazarus being comforted. This too magnifies the rich man’s torment. Furthermore, Lazarus’ joy is magnified by his previous suffering on earth and the current suffering of the rich man. As Lazarus (and Abraham for that matter) peer into Hades, they are forever reminded of God’s wonderful grace and justice. The rich man’s suffering at the hands of a holy, just, and wrathful God magnifies the grace experienced by Abraham and Lazarus. For, if it wasn’t for God’s love freely poured out on us, we would justly suffer under God’s wrath in a sinner’s Hell for all eternity. Remember this reality the next time you sing “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.”
Moreover, this truth answers the terrible question concerning, “If my family members are in Hell, how will I enjoy Heaven?” The answer is that we’ll thank God for His wonderful justice in rightly judging our family members, and we’ll praise Him for His wonderful love, grace, and mercy poured out on us. This should greatly motivate us to take the gospel to our unbelieving family members now. We weep for their souls and the rest of those who are lost today, but in eternity we shall weep no more. We will worship God, not only for His love, but also for His wrath and justice (Isaiah 66:22-25). His wrath towards His enemies, and our enemies as well (since His enemies are our enemies) will magnify His love for His people forevermore.