For years, scholars have debated whether God’s wrath, as taught in the New Testament is personal or impersonal. That is to say, whether ‘wrath’ is some that can be ascribed directly to God, describing something of his hostility towards sin, or that it merely describes the inevitable consequences of sin, the misery and self-destruction that it brings.
Writing in Aspects of the Atonement, I. Howard Marshall, finds the following points ‘decisive’:-
1. To allow that sinners bring calamity upon themselves does not exclude the idea that the calamity is not from God. To assert this would be to set up a false antithesis.
2. The language of judgment, as used in the New Testament, strongly implies a deliberate action of God, and not the outcome of an impersonal process. If God is the personal agent in judgment, then he is the personal agent in wrath, the first expressing God’s action against sin and the second his attitude towards it.
3. So too with reconciliation. The fact that God now receives sinners through the merits of what Christ has done for them argues that there was a previous time when he regarded them as rebels and liable to the consequences of their rebellion.
4. If we accept that God feels other emotions, such as compassion, then surely he feels other emotions, including revulsion against evil. He is at liberty to begin to be wrathful (cf. Rom 3:5; 9:22) and equally at liberty to turn from it (Exod. 32:12; 2 Chr. 12:12; Ps. 37:8; Hab. 3:2), or decline to exercise it (1 Thess. 5:9). If we agree that God feels pain when he sees his creatures suffer, them we must allow that he feels anger against those who cause that suffering.
5. God’s wrath is not affected by those limitations that so often accompany human anger. It is not arbitrary or uncontrolled. It is for this reason that we are forbidden from taking revenge, but rather commanded to ‘leave it to God’ whose ways are always just and right.
6. It is a mistake to assert that ‘wrath is not an essential attribute of God’. Rather, the God of the Bible ‘is fundamentally holy and loving, and both of these attributes are relational; they find expression in grace and mercy towards his creation and yet also judgment and wrath when that creation is spoiled by sin.’