I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. (1 Corinthians 15:3–4)
God is love, not wrath — and this is important to understand.
First and foremost, in his nature, God is holy, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness (Exodus 34:6). He is full of grace and mercy. That is the original, essential divine character — that is who God is in himself, apart from anything else.
The Anger of God
To be sure, though, God is also angry. He “feels indignation every day,” as Psalm 7:11 says. But his anger, fierce and real as it is, is always and only a righteous response to sin. The hands-down, most horrific nightmare possible is that of a God who is angry without due cause. It would be the most terrible thing if the only person who has the power to destroy you forever were ferociously angry with you for no reason. What if God hated you without cause? There is nothing more terrible — and nothing more untrue.
But God’s anger, much different from his love, is not original. God’s anger is always a response to something outside him — to sin. Our sin. And the reason sin deserves wrath is because sin is so opposed to, so against, the good world he made. He is holy and perfect, beautiful and glorious, but sin is defilement, atrocity, cursing the goodness of this world with the scum of idolatry and self-worship. In a world made for God’s glory, sin is ruinous and belittling. It slanders God’s handiwork and refuses to recognize his worth. Sin on the loose — sin unpunished — injects the air with a false witness about who God is. It puts the world in the dark.
And no good God can be okay with that.
With Glaring Clarity
This is why there was the cross. God’s holy goodness and our sin converged in the greatest act of love there could ever be. Jesus died for our sins, absorbing the righteous wrath of God, and absorbing it in our place. Having perfectly esteemed God’s worth, and perfectly advanced his goodness, Jesus suffered the wrath we deserved for our sin. Our guilt, our shame, our enmity with God, it was all drowned in his sea of crimson. As the blood of Jesus flowed, the curse of our sin was broken. The wrath of God was poured out, and the love of God was demonstrated.
And when all hope seemed lost, when it looked as if darkness had won, Jesus rose from the grave. He beat death, and he beat death for you and me.
The cross, then, the fierce display of God’s judgment, is actually the most glorious demonstration of his love. The risen Christ has shown us this. With glaring clarity, in triumphant victory, Jesus has defeated our burdens. He has redeemed our wretched hearts. He has shown us that God, indeed, is love.