My relationship with wrath is complicated, so when God asked me to tell a young woman I had never met that He was angry at those who had harmed her, I was a little nervous. I walked up to her and asked if I could tell her a message I had from the Lord. She looked at me with a little apprehension, quite rightly. After all, it isn’t every day a stranger walks up to you with a message from God. She nodded and agreed. Her friends looked at me as if I was absolutely crazy for which I couldn’t quite blame them.
As I told her that God had seen how she had suffered at the hands of evil men and that He wasn’t going to let them get away with it, I felt a bit overwhelmed. I felt His love for this woman and yet, at the same time, I felt a surge of wrath. It wasn’t mine. I had no idea who had done what to her. I really didn’t have a dog in the hunt. She broke down in tears and let me know that the message hit home.
After I left, I found myself in a bit of a quandary. I have told countless people over the years that God isn’t mad at them. And I know it is true. And yet sometimes, I forget that God is a God of justice. Love does not exist without justice. Grace exists because of the cross. The atonement is essentially Jesus taking on the wrath of God for our sakes. So who is God mad at and why, if Jesus took it on Himself?
I don’t tell many people this, so writing it out is painful. My ex-husband, the narcissistic abuser, made one of our daughters hold down a stray dog while he bludgeoned it to death. More than one of our children witnessed it, and the effect of it still ripples into our lives in the form of PTSD and dissociation. Because of this and many more incidents, I am well acquainted with wrath. But I am also free of it.
In the message to the young woman, I found an even deeper release from the hold wrath can have on our minds and bodies. You see, I assumed that God isn’t mad at anyone. Sometimes, we turn God into an emotionless monolith instead of recognizing His personhood complete with deeply felt emotions. I am so glad that Jesus expressed His wrath in a way we would deem inappropriate when He drove the cheating moneychangers out of the temple. He took a whip to them! That would land you in jail for sure. But in doing so, He let us know that we are allowed to be angry at evil!
The crux of the issue lies in understanding the arenas of love and justice. Love is available to all, but most choose justice. When we turn our backs on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, rejecting the offer of grace, we choose wrath. In Romans 12:19, Paul says:
Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.
I want to note that the next verse tells us to return good for evil, to not be overcome by evil but to overcome evil with good. So if any reader is tempted to call down God’s wrath down on those who have hurt them, I would urge them to refrain.
However, God is angered at the injustice in the world. Jesus said it would be better to have a millstone tied around the neck and thrown into the sea than to exploit others. Better to drown than to face what awaits. But God’s wrath at evil sets me free. It means I don’t have to try to achieve justice for myself. I can trust Him with it.
When we hold on to wrath, allowing it to color everything, we actually prevent God’s will in our lives and the lives of our persecutors. If we leave justice, revenge, or whatever you want to call it, in His faithful hands, we leave room for Him to act. But just the knowledge that He will act sets me free. I can live without injustice gnawing away at me as my ex lives his lavish life and makes no contribution to the lives of his four daughters. I can trust God with the burden of that inequity.
To experience God’s love and forgiveness at a core level frees me enough to actually wish that my ex would choose grace. How wonderful would it be for him to make amends, to reconcile himself to God and man. My daughters might receive some healing and closure. Because, as my daughter who has a doctorate in psychology suspects, he is a sociopath, chances are very much against.
But make no mistake. As Christians, we are not like those who draw back unto perdition, but are of those who believe in the salvation of the soul as Hebrews 10:39 puts it. Perdition means utter destruction. Annhiliation. Hell, in fact. Those who draw back unto perdition choose God’s justice. They choose perdition in the face of God’s heart towards them for repentance and adoption into His family.
So how do we put wrath away and live in the shadow of His wings?
Recognize that His justice is higher than yours.
God sees the beginning and the end. He sees consequences and issues that we have no inkling of. As big a stake as you have in justice, His is bigger. He paid the price for it.
Understand that His love does not excuse wickedness.
He keeps accurate accounts with those who choose justice over grace. They will receive in full measure the consequences of their actions.
Know that He has taken up your cause.
He never abandons us. Never. He fights for you and with you against the evils of others. He rescued me from a man who injured my soul. Over and over, He has directly intervened in my life. Invite Him to do the same for you.
Wrath is not the same as righteous anger.
Righteous anger has a necessary place in our lives. Righteous anger impels us to stand against wrongs and fight for the weak. Wrath is anger that expresses itself in a desire to punish others. Leave that one to God who sees the hearts and minds of all humans.
Wrath is a tsunami of emotions. It leads to deadly consequences in our bodies and relationships. Wrath is at the heart of a cycle of violence because it includes retribution. And God has set up systems within the rule of law to punish those who injure others. Our courts testify to the wrath of society against evildoers.
But when we take up the burden of punishing others who have harmed us, we are choosing justice for ourselves rather than grace. Perfect love cast out all fear because fear has to do with punishment, says John, the Apostle. To turn away from wrath and choose love is to walk away from your own destruction to the saving of your soul. Leave the justice to God, acknowledge your righteous anger, and walk in grace. Remember, Love is the most powerful weapon. He knows what He is doing.
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