It was the most poignant picture of wrath I've witnessed. I had taken my family camping in the Sierra Nevada mountains to escape the heat of our home on the valley floor and to soak in some rest and relaxation. I was hunkered down in a lunge chair deeply engrossed in a novel. My wife, Sara, was coming to join me when suddenly we heard screams of pain from our two-year old son, Andy.
He'd been playing in the dirt not far from our campsite. As I looked up, he was stomping his feet and waving his hands wildly. Swirling around him were flying insects, backlit by the sun; Sara immediately recognized them as bees. Somehow he had stumbled into their nest in the ground and they were attacking him relentlessly.
Before I could extricate myself from the reclining chair, Sara was rushing to the sounds of his screams. Even though she is allergic to bee stings and got stung for her efforts, she angrily swatted at the bees as she scooped up her son to run with him to safety. When I got to them she was stroking his head with comfort even as she was panting from the overload of adrenaline still coursing through her veins.
If you want a picture of God's wrath, I can think of none better. She was angry as I've ever seen her, but the anger wasn't directed at Andy nor did it seek punishment. She simply risked herself to rescue someone she loved so deeply.
That's what God's wrath is like. He sees the evil that mars his creation and destroys the people he loves, and he must be rid of it. His wrath consumes evil and wickedness and as such does not exist as the opposite of his love, but as an expression of that love. He must protect and set free the object of his affection.
I'm sure when my son first saw Mom running at him, eyes blazing with anger, he thought he was in trouble. Even though he didn't know what he'd done wrong, he was already recoiling from her as she approached. Only after she had swept him to safety did he realize he was not the focus of it, but its beneficiary.
Our shame-consciousness does the same thing toward God. Whenever we see God acting to consume sin, we internalize the anger against ourselves. But that isn't where the wrath is primarily directed. "The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men…" (Romans 1:18)
It's not people God seeks to destroy, but the sin that destroys his people. In that sense, God's wrath is far more curative than it is punitive. Its primary purpose is not to hurt us, but to heal and redeem us."
From He Loves Me by Wayne Jacobsen