Another distinction regarding forms of divine wrath is that between what may be called natural and special wrath. By “special” divine wrath I mean any case where the wrathful event is somehow extraordinary, unique, or out of step with the usual course of nature or human events, though not necessarily a violation of the laws of nature. Thus, the cases of the worldwide flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, the Egyptian plagues, Elisha and the bears, and the sudden deaths of Ananias and Sapphira would all qualify as special divine wrath. These are all strikingly special events in that there was nothing routine or predictable about them. Each occurred, as it were, “out of the blue” and, thus, was more easily identified as being divinely orchestrated.
In contrast, what I am calling “natural” wrath does concern events that are in some way ordinary, routine, and predictable, because their natural causes are—at least at this point in scientific history—easily traced and analyzed. However, they may have just as much of a corrective and deterrent effect on those involved as cases of special wrath. They are the sorts of cases to which the biblical proverb applies which says, “there is a way that appears to be right but in the end it leads to death” (Pr. 14:12 and Pr. 16:25) and to which the apostle Paul refers when he declares, “a man reaps what he sows” (Gal. 6:7; see also 2 Cor. 9:6-7). The basic idea is that if you engage in particular kinds of bad behaviors then certain negative consequences will follow. In addition to these general biblical statements we find specific illustrations in Scripture, such as where the deadly effects of adultery are guaranteed in this passage: “For a prostitute can be had for a loaf of bread, but another man’s wife preys on your very life. Can a man scoop fire into his lap without his clothes being burned? Can a man walk on hot coals without his feet being scorched?” (Pr. 6:26-28).
This is what we might think of as a divinely ordained moral law of reciprocity, in the sense that certain forms of conduct bring very unpleasant consequences. Some extra-biblical examples might include the negative effects—physical, psychological, and relational—of alcohol abuse and the tendency of sexual promiscuity to result in venereal disease or other STDs as well as emotional and relational distress.
This distinction between natural and special wrath is potentially controversial. This is because, depending upon one’s view of divine providence, one will be more or less inclined to accept the natural moral law of reciprocity as featuring enough specific divine intent for the pain and suffering that follows from bad behaviors to properly qualify as divine wrath. (For more on the providence debate, see my book The Benefits of Providence.) Those who hold a “high” view of providence which affirms God’s meticulous governance of all things will no doubt be more amenable to this distinction.