People routinely confuse the two, which is alarming in its implications. It’s a very serious thing, I mean, if we can’t distinguish God from the devil. So how do we tell the difference between divine wrath and diabolical wrath? It’s actually easy. God’s Wrath is always benevolent and satan’s isn’t. God always works for our wholeness, sanctification, glorification, and deification. Satan always tries to destroy us in every conceivable way. God’s holy, good, righteous wrath works for us; satan’s works against us.
Let’s say I am jealous of a co-worker and tell lies about him, hoping he will be fired, but I am caught in my own lies. What has happened? What rôle has each played: God, the devil, and I?
*The devil, in his own, insatiable envy, provoked the evil in me.
*I consented to it.
*Then, because a bargain with the devil is never an honest bargain, satan duped me and I lost my job.
*God let it happen.
*God protected my co-worker from my evil designs.
*God also, in His infinite kindness, turned the evil to good for me by using the fleshly misfortune to teach me not to do that, to bring me to repentance, all for my spiritual and eternal profit.
So who showed wrath?
Satan worked his wrath against me, personally. Satan’s wrath would have destroyed me. God showed His wrath against the evil plot. God’s wrath saved both me (ultimately) and my colleague.
See what I mean? God’s wrath is our champion against evil. We do not want it appeased! We want it to continue until every last vestige of evil is wiped from the face of the earth.
Let’s apply the same sort of analysis to what happened in Eden. What part did each actor in this drama play?
*God allowed the serpent to be in the Garden, giving Adam and Eve a challenge to help them mature spiritually. (For they were spiritual infants.) They had only one commandment to keep, so the test was an easy one, a first, baby step toward deification.
*The serpent provoked Eve to sin, and through her, Adam.
*Adam and Eve consented to the evil, thereby renouncing the God of Life and selling themselves into the service and power of the murderous serpent.
*The serpent immediately made them afraid of God and ashamed to be naked. He double-crossed them, as always happens, for the difference between good and evil was a piece of knowledge they didn’t need anyway at that stage of their existence, but now they had acquired this knowledge in a disastrous way: by committing the evil! By committing suicide, that is, much to the devil’s delight.
*God, in His wrath, curses the serpent, chastises Adam and Eve, and promises to deliver them some day. (Genesis 3:15)
*God, in His wrath, drives them from the Garden before they can multiply the tragedy by eating from the Tree of Life, rendering themselves immortal sinners, making sin live forever in their bodies.
*God allows them to die and be separated from slavery to their bodies, intending eventually to raise them in their bodies, but glorified bodies. Take that, serpent!
*God, in His wrath against satan, slows down the death process, else Adam and Eve would have dropped dead –childless! – on the spot. This way, at least their souls will survive in Hades until the Savior comes, in due course.
*God, in His wrath against the serpent, makes Adam and Eve some decent clothing to cover the nakedness of which they are now ashamed.
Again we see the pattern: satan’s wrath destroys, God’s wrath destroys him and his works and rescues us. Toward us, in fact, His wrath is indistinguishable from His mercy.
Now let’s have a look at the Cross in this same manner.
*Satan, in His wrath, provokes the leaders of the synagogue to put Jesus to death.
*They obey satan’s promptings; according to St. Peter, Christ was crucified by “wicked hands.”
*God lets it happen. He has delivered Christ to these people precisely that He might enter this arena of combat and emerge the Victor.
*Christ, exercising His wrath against satan doesn’t give an inch or a millimeter. He endures His fearsome ordeal without making a single concession to the devil. He never gives up His faith. He never compromises the truth. He never stops loving and forgiving. He never curses God. He never descends from the cross or summons those legions of angels to His aid; He is determined to die to rescue us from death. And every moment He remains steadfast, He, in His wrath, is rubbing satan’s nose in the muck. NO, serpent, I will not give in to you!
*Death, in its wrath, swallows a man, but with the man, in the same person, God enters Hades.
*And there, in His wrath, Christ shines His Glory where the devil wanted only darkness, shines His love where satan wanted only hatred. Then He preaches to the satan’s subjects, and then, smashing hell’s gates in His wrath, He leads all of satan’s captives out by the hand.
Did all of the subjects of Hades like being removed from there, prefer the Light to the darkness? Did they all want, were they all even able, to participate in any love-fest? Possibly not. Possibly some had internalized satan’s wrath.
And possibly the same thing may happen to others of us on the Last Day, when we are all brought to stand before the Glory of God. It may be that some will find it sickening, unbearable, excruciating.
But if so, it will be because of their own wrath; it will be because they have internalized satan’s wrath, which cannot tolerate proximity to God. His Presence will torment them. God Himself, however, the unchanging One, will remain kind, compassionate, loving and good to them, forever and ever.
Alexandre Kalomiros explained their mind-boggling perversity, I think, very well in his lecture, "The River of Fire":
Now if anyone is perplexed and does not understand how it is possible for God’s love to render anyone pitifully wretched and miserable and even burning as it were in flames, let him consider the elder brother of the prodigal son. Was he not in his father’s estate? Did not everything in it belong to him? Did he not have his father’s love? Did his father not come himself to entreat and beseech him to come and take part in the joyous banquet? What rendered him miserable and burned him with inner bitterness and hate? Who refused him anything? Why was he not joyous at his brother’s return? Why did he not have love either toward his father or toward his brother? Was it not because of his wicked, inner disposition? Did he not remain in hell because of that? And what was this hell? Was it any separate place? Were there any instruments of torture? Did he not continue to live in his father’s house? What separated him from all the joyous people in the house if not his own hate and his own bitterness? Did his father, or even his brother, stop loving him? Was it not precisely this very love which hardened his heart more and more? Was it not the joy that made him sad? Was not hatred burning in his heart, hatred for his father and his brother, hatred for the love of his father toward his brother and for the love of his brother toward his father?
This is hell: the negation of love; the return of hate for love; bitterness at seeing innocent joy; to be surrounded by love and to have hate in one’s heart. This is the eternal condition of all the damned. They are all dearly loved. They are all invited to the joyous banquet. They are all living in God’s Kingdom, in the New Earth and the New Heavens. No one expels them. Even if they wanted to go away they could not flee from God’s New Creation, nor hide from God’s tenderly loving omnipresence. Their only alternative would be, perhaps, to go away from their brothers and search for a bitter isolation from them, but they could never depart from God and His love. And what is more terrible is that in this eternal life, in this New Creation, God is everything to His creatures.
As Saint Gregory of Nyssa says,In the present life the things we have relations with are numerous, for instance: time, air, locality, food and drink, clothing, sunlight, lamplight, and other necessities of life, none of which, many though they be, are God; that blessed state which we hope for is in need of none of these things, but the Divine Being will become all, and in the stead of all to us, distributing Himself proportionately to every need of that existence. It is plain, too, from the Holy Scriptures that God becomes to those who deserve it, locality and home and clothing and food and drink and light and riches and kingdom, and everything that can be thought of and named that goes to make our life happy. (On the Soul and the Resurrection). (46)46
In the new eternal life, God will be everything to His creatures, not only to the good but also to the wicked, not only to those who love Him, but likewise to those who hate Him. But how will those who hate Him endure to have everything from the hands of Him Whom they detest? Oh, what an eternal torment is this, what an eternal fire, what a gnashing of teeth!
Depart from Me, ye cursed, into the everlasting inner fire of hatred,’ saith the Lord, because I was thirsty for your love and you did not give it to Me, I was hungry for your blessedness and you did not offer it to Me, I was imprisoned in My human nature and you did not come to visit Me in My church; you are free to go where your wicked desire wishes, away from Me, in the torturing hatred of your hearts which is foreign to My loving heart which knows no hatred for anyone. Depart freely from love to the everlasting torture of hate, unknown and foreign to Me and to those who are with Me, but prepared by freedom for the devil, from the days I created My free, rational creatures. But wherever you go in the darkness of your hating hearts, My love will follow you like a river of fire, because no matter what your heart has chosen, you are and you will eternally continue to be, My children.'
"If I make my bed in hell, behold, thou [art there]." (Psalm 139:8)