One of the major objections to Christianity raised by some atheists is that the God of the Bible does not seem to be a good God. In contrast to the popular portrayals of a benign and merciful Jesus who loves everyone, God (the Father) seems wrathful and angry. Nothing epitomizes this wrathful attitude more than Hell. The idea that a good God could willingly send anyone to a place of eternal punishment is unthinkable to the atheist.
The corollary to this moral objection against the character of God Himself is an objection to the potential actions of those who believe in this deity. It is alleged by many atheists that religious people in general, and Christians in particular, are prone to acts of violence, bigotry, and a host of other morally objectionable things because they follow a wrathful God who promotes an “us versus them” mentality. Between the crusades and the inquisition by Christians, and holy wars and terrorism by Muslims, it is supposed that monotheists are quite dangerous indeed.
I will leave the question of God’s character for another time. Here I would simply like to address the charge that Christians are potentially more dangerous than non-religious folk because they follow a “wrathful” God (I place wrathful in scare quotes not because God is not wrathful, but because wrath is by no means His only, or even his primary attribute).
On the surface this seems like a reasonable charge. God is said to hate sin, and because He is just and holy He will punish unbelievers for all eternity. If we as believers are to be like God, surely it is good and praiseworthy for us to engage in the punishment of unbelievers on this earth? If unbelievers take over Washington, why not stage a crusade to take back the nation for Christ?
Paul says in Romans 12:19,
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
Here we see the ironic twist. Christians are called not to seek vengeance in this life, and in the next chapter of Romans Paul will exhort the church to subject itself to the ruling authorities (even authorities that persecute Christians) because they are appointed by God. And why are Christians to “turn the other cheek” rather than seeking just vengeance in this life? What reason does Paul give? Christians are not to be meek and loving in spite of God’s wrath and justice, but because of it. And this makes a lot of sense. For one thing, humans are finite. We cannot possibly know everything about a person or situation, so how can we pass judgment in vengeance (especially ultimate and permanent judgment)? Imagine a Christian who kills an unbeliever who would, had he lived to an old age, have converted to Christianity. Such a scenario shows the folly of religious war. Second, humans are fallen. Many times we may claim to be seeking only impartial justice for some wrong done, but in reality our motives are tainted by personal bias and sinful desire.
God, on the other hand, has perfect knowledge and his judgments are not tainted by sin. So it only makes sense that we would be counseled to refrain from making such judgments and attempting to do God’s work for Him. Instead, we should wait in humility (even when suffering unjust persecution) for God’s perfect justice. ‘