The gospel is good news announcing that we have been rescued or saved. And what are we rescued from? What peril are we saved from? A look at the gospel words in the New Testament shows that we are rescued from the ‘coming wrath’ at the end of history (1Thess 1:10). But this wrath is not an impersonal force – it is God’s wrath. We are out of fellowship with God; our relationship with him is broken.
In perhaps the most thoroughgoing exposition of the gospel in the Bible, Paul identifies God’s wrath as the great problem of the human condition (Rom 1:18–32). Here we see that the wrath of God has many ramifications. The background text is Genesis 3:17-19, in which God’s curse lies on the entire created order because of human sin. Because we are alienated from God, we are psychologically alienated within ourselves – we experience shame and fear (Gen 3:10). Because we are alienated from God, we are also socially alienated from one another (v. 7 describes how Adam and Eve must put on clothing, and v. 16 speaks of alienation between the genders; also notice the blame shifting in their dialogue with God in vv. 11-13). Because we are alienated from God, we are also physically alienated from nature itself. We now experience sorrow, painful toil, physical degeneration, and death (vv. 16-19). In fact, the ground itself is ‘cursed’ (v. 17; see Rom 8:18–25).
Since the garden, we live in a world filled with suffering, disease, poverty, racism, natural disasters, war, aging, and death – and it all stems from the wrath and curse of God on the world. The world is out of joint, and we need to be rescued. But the root of our problem is not these ‘horizontal’ relationships, though they are often the most obvious; it is our ‘vertical’ relationship with God. All human problems are ultimately symptoms, and our separation from God is the cause. The reason for all the misery – all the effects of the curse – is that we are not reconciled to God. We see this in such texts as Romans 5:8 and 2 Corinthians 5:20. Therefore, the first and primary focus of any real rescue of the human race – the main thing that will save us – is to have our relationship with God put right again.
- Tim Keller