Is wrath the final outpouring of God’s consummate displeasure? Yeah, but is it the end-all and the final say? Not necessarily, according to Isaiah.
It occurred to me as I was reading these last few chapters that all of the eloquent, beautiful promises of glory, rest, and restoration in Isaiah are given to a people who are first warned, found unwilling to repent, and have been broken and humbled by the outpouring of God’s wrath.
This reminded me of a comment I heard my husband say the other day when he was talking with a young couple.
“Wrath is the last invitation to grace.”
Such a good way to say it.
Wrath is anger. It is justice. It is terrible. But it is also one, last, LOUD plea to return to God. It allows a heart with any remnant of softness toward God to see the dangerous futility of any hope or allegiance that is opposed to God and his purposes.
This was especially meaningful to me as I have been pretty stubborn lately about some cowardly and destructive habits in my life. God’s way was scary to me and I had deluded myself into thinking my way was “safe.” Not so, of course. But this week, the fruit of my choices became so obvious, I was forced to confess and the outcome has been humbling and distressing to me.
It is tempting when we find ourselves in this kind of place, suffering the consequences of our own sin, feeling the chastisement of God (and if we’re honest, a good deal of smarting pride from the exposure of our folly), to just revel in our own ugliness and shame—to embrace God’s displeasure as our rightful lot in life. It can become a place to hide and avoid picking ourselves up and walking in the obedience that God says we can.
And it’s neither right or helpful.
There is a time to grieve and mourn over sin—a time when any other posture would be inappropriate and an affront to God. But it’s temporary. It’s not the ultimate goal. It’s not where we are supposed to stay. Listen to what God says through Isaiah to a nation who has earned and experienced wrath:
Rouse yourself ! Rouse yourself ! Arise, O Jerusalem, You who have drunk from the LORD’S hand the cup of His anger ; The chalice of reeling you have drained to the dregs…Full of the wrath of the LORD, The rebuke of your God…”Behold, I have taken out of your hand the cup of reeling, The chalice of My anger ; You will never drink it again. 51:17, 20, 22
For a brief moment I forsook you, but with great compassion I will gather you. In an outburst of anger I hid My face from you for a moment, But with everlasting loving kindness I will have compassion on you,” Says the LORD your Redeemer. 54:7-8
“I dwell on a high and holy place, And also with the contrite and lowly of spirit In order to revive the spirit of the lowly And to revive the heart of the contrite…Because of the iniquity of his unjust gain I was angry and struck him; I hid My face and was angry, And he went on turning away, in the way of his heart. I have seen his ways, but I will heal him; I will lead him and restore comfort to him and to his mourners, Creating the praise of the lips. Peace, peace to him who is far and to him who is near,” Says the LORD, “and I will heal him.” 57:15-19
Wrath is a final expression of anger, but it is also the final hope for repentance. God’s promises of post-wrath restoration are founded on a confidence that the people will return as a response to the Lord’s discipline.
When we feel God’s displeasure, or recognize that we are being punished, we should not adopt a fatalistic attitude and decide to lay down where we are and take it until God decides to be in a better mood. Notice in 20:17 that God says to a people under wrath, a people who are still reeling from the destruction, “Rouse yourself!”
Because God’s intention is for us to be right. God’s intention is for us to be restored. If we must be forcefully humbled and have our shame and ugliness exposed in order for our hearts to be turned, it doesn’t follow that we ought to lie in the dirt staring at it until someone tells us to do otherwise. Once we’ve reckoned with it, it is time to get up. Move forward. We mustn’t waste a bunch of time wishing we weren’t ugly and shameful. We need to stop being ugly and stop being shameful. That was the point in the first place, right?
He’s ready to restore us to what we can and ought to be. He’s ready to clothe us in beauty. It is to the humbled, lowly, and fallen that restoration is offered.
‘Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline ; therefore be zealous and repent.” Rev 3:19