How Tim Keller Made Peace with the Wrath of God


“My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39).

In a sermon titled “The Dark Garden,” Tim Keller explains how he came to understand that a god without wrath and Hell is not as loving as the God we find in the Bible:

Because [a cup of poison] was the method of execution for many people,…the Hebrew prophets came to use the cup as a metaphor for the wrath of God on human evil…. For example…Isaiah 54: “You will drink the cup of His fury and stagger.” So the reason why [Christian martyrs] who died for what they believed in didn’t die the way Jesus is dying—didn’t fall to the ground, didn’t find this horror coming down—was that they didn’t face the cup. They didn’t face the justice of God against all human wickedness and evil, which was just about to come down on [Jesus]….

It was in the Garden of Gethsemane that I came finally to grips—I made my peace, as it were—with the wrath of God. Now, it might shock some of you that…a preaching minister was struggling with the very idea of a God of wrath, a God who sends people to Hell…. And then it was studying the Garden of Gethsemane when I finally came to peace with it because I realized this: The reason why people get rid of the idea of Hell and wrath is because they want a loving God…. They say, “I can’t believe in Hell and wrath because I want a more loving God.” And I came to realize in the Garden of Gethsemane that if you get rid of the idea of Hell and wrath, you have a less loving God.

Because if there is no wrath by God on sin, and there is no such thing as Hell, not only does that actually make what happened to Jesus inexplicable—Jesus staggering the way He is, asking God, “Is there any other way?” [and] sweating blood means that He was wimpier than hundreds of His followers, if there was nothing like [God’s wrath]—but…the main thing is, if you don’t believe in the wrath and Hell, it trivializes what He’s done…. If you get rid of a God who has wrath and Hell, you’ve got a god who loves us in general, but that’s not as loving as the God of the Bible, the God of Jesus Christ, who loves us with a costly love.

Look what it cost. Look what He did. Look what He was taking. You get rid of wrath and Hell, He’s not taking anything close to this. And therefore, what you’ve done is you’ve just turned His incredible act of love into just something very trivial, very small….

And by the way, if the anticipation of these sufferings—if the very taste of these sufferings—sent the Son of God into shock, what must it have been to drink them to the bottom?

We see the height of God’s costly love in what He did to give us grace, but you can’t know the beauty of this grace—the very concept of grace will be meaningless to you—if you reject the rightness of His justice.

(HT: Stand to Reason blog)

Peter serves as a pastor-teacher, at home and abroad, resourcing gospel-centred communities.

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