The picture of God in the Bible is admittedly a mixture of wrath and mercy. This fact presents a challenge to anyone who would attempt to understand the message and purpose of the Bible. I personally recognize two different ways that men have attempted to reconcile the goodness and severity of God. The traditional way has been to see God as dividing mankind into two groups- the saved and the lost with mercy applying to the former and wrath to the latter. This explanation has placed great emphasis on the methodology of identifying each group, thus empowering those who can differentiate between the two. If God’s wrath is His supreme attribute, then man is forced to live and die fearfully.
This traditional explanation is the basis for the commonly held idea that men cannot live peacefully without being fearful of punishment for “bad” behavior. Fear supposedly motivates the saved to become so, and it restrains the lost, thereby stabilizing society.
The second explanation of God’s apparent split personality is to divide God’s wrath and mercy on the basis of time rather than individuals. God operated for a time legally, using rules and compliance as the means of dealing with mankind; but, then after that phase had served its purpose, God moved on to His ultimate goal which was to display Mercy and Love as the final outcome for all mankind. If God’s goodness is His final answer for mankind, then men should live and die without fear. Behavioral restraint under this paradigm is motivated by love, as embodied in the Golden Rule.
The ultimate question to be answered in determining how to interpret the apparent conflict between a wrathful God and a Loving God is this. Which of these diametrically opposed characteristics will ultimately win out in relation to man’s final destiny? Does mercy triumph over judgment or the other way around?