SE7EN: Wrath

If "wrath" is a deadly sin it is fair to ask, "How God can reveal his wrath from heaven against all ungodliness?" The difference is God's wrath is a just, measured, response of anger to unrighteousness. It is therefore something to fear (for our own waywardness) and something to hope for (concerning the vindication of the innocent, or righteous who suffer). Our wrath is unrighteous anger. It is generally a self-centered, uncontrolled, hateful response to another person. It favors revenge over justice, and payback over mercy. The Bible says people characterized by wrath create trouble rather than solve problems (Pr. 29:22), and are to be avoided (Pr. 22:24). But I have come to the conclusion that many in the church believe wrath is essentially a virtue, allowing them to vent anger and hostility toward anyone they believe to be missing the truth. They rationalize their pugnacity by pointing out God is a God of wrath, hatred is a part of zeal, and passion for truth is good. The imprecatory prayers of the Psalms are held up as examples, and of course "truth" is said to be what drives it all. They say this as if truth is the measure of Christian authenticity. It is not.

The measure of authenticity in the life of a professing Christian is not simply right doctrine. One can have right doctrine, abstracted from the Bible and agreed to in the mind, and still hate people. John tells us that the measure of authenticity is how one responds to the body of Christ. Those characterized by hatred are children of the Devil. Those characterized by love are the children of God. Truth must be present for authenticity, but so must love. Without love, all is meaningless.

I know, this is when I begin to hear, "If you really love them you'll tell them the truth." Of course that much is true, but sharing the truth alone is not necessarily an act of love. Some churches and Christians couple the truth, or a part of truth, with wrath and rage against those they deem to be immoral or doctrinally off-course (Do a Google search for "God hates" to find some extreme examples). Often times the louder people talk, the less they have to say. William R. Alger once said, "Men often make up in wrath what they want in reason." Perhaps we could say people often make up in wrath what they lack in love.

Some disguise their wrath as a desire for justice. But justice seeks the appropriate punishment of wrongdoing, the good and protection of others and ultimately the glory of God. Revenge seeks punishment for its own sake, usually without appropriate measure, and is fueled by self. Mercy is nowhere present, nor is there a desire for the individual's restoration with God.

Wrath is not always physical or even spoken. It can be an unrighteous, burning anger in the heart. How about an example? You are in the car, and Jerk #2 cuts you off for no reason, or is driving too slow (in case you're wondering, you are Jerk #1). Maybe your immediate response is anger. Why are you so upset? You might say it's because they are careless, are only concerned with their own convenience, are a danger to other drivers - whatever. What this really shows us is quick, superficial judgment against another. Your anger is really all about you. The idea that the person might be making a mistake, accidentally did the wrong thing, or is in a situation that required them to do such a thing never enters the mind, because you think they are working against you. Your inconvenience is what drives you mad. This is the point. The world does not revolve around you, and people's actions are not always directed toward/against you. A wrathful person does not know how to suffer well, go the extra mile, or demonstrate mercy, patience, compassion, forgiveness.

Even if you are not giving people the finger when driving your car (it still counts if you only do it in your mind), most of us need to repent of wrath (Eph. 4:31/Col. 3:8).

On the other hand some Christians almost develop an impassive Christian life, where emotion is minimized and righteous anger has no place. Their lack of concern for sinners, the poor, afflicted, abandoned and abused also betrays a heart completely unlike God. For the record, the church should have a righteous indignation at the injustice/evil in the world and the hypocrisy in the church. Hatred is an important part of a life of faith, and judgment must be made as believers. But all of this is for another post.

For now, let's take it one step at a time. May God give us the grace to see and repent of the unrighteous anger that dwells in our hearts.