Wrath

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 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. On the contrary:
‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Romans 12:17-21

Starter Question
What has made you angry in the past two weeks?

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
(James 3:17-4:3)

All sin is ugly, but some sins seem uglier than others. Surely wrath is one of the ugliest. The word conjures up images of red-faced rage, of fist-clenched fury, of an out-of-control offensive to crush and destroy. And when described that way, most of us can put this ugly sin far from us. We’re happy to condemn wrath as an ugly sin, we’re also happy to thank God that we’re not like ‘other people’ (Luke 18:11) who are afflicted with it. 

And yet, the sin of wrath may be closer to us than we imagine. Wrath lives in the same semantic world as anger, and anger is complicated. The Bible instructs us to rid ourselves of anger (Ephesians 4:31, Colossians 3:8), assumes that we will be angry (Ephesians 4:26, James 1:19), and is happy to recount the Lord Jesus’s anger (Mark 3:5). 

Anger is complicated because it’s good and appropriate to be angry against sin. To hear of the vulnerable being abused and taken advantage of, or of Christian brothers and sisters persecuted or oppressed because of their faith — these things should stir in us a response of ‘that’s not right!’ Anger directed towards sin is good and appropriate. God’s people are themselves condemned by the Lord when they are indifferent toward such evil (Amos 6:6). 

What makes you angry?
However all too often our response of ‘that’s not right!’ is directed towards people or circumstances which stop us getting what we want. Sin may (or may not) be present, but what really creates our anger is our little world not being the way we want it to be. At this point it isn’t wrong being done against God’s world and God’s ways which is making us angry, but more that our rule over our little worlds and our little ways is being challenged and changed by outside forces. And so we get angry.  Consider what has made you angry in recent weeks. Might there be an element of this present? 

It is in this seed-bed of anger at wrong done to us that wrath slowly grows. Wrath wants more than simply restoration of our worlds to the way we want them. Wrath wants reparations to be paid and revenge to be taken. Wrath is anger with its boots on, acting to ensure that our rule over our lives is enforced and all challengers are put in their place. Wrath may run hot in the verbal outburst to the offender’s face, or run cold in the subtle manipulation and slander behind their backs. It may lash out in a moment, or quietly fester for many months. But the outcome is the same. They must pay for what they have done. And we will act to ensure that they do. 

Wrath and revenge
And yet as Christians we are not rulers of our own lives. Jesus is Lord. And just as he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly (1 Peter 2:22), so too we are called to follow his example. This is not to say that wrong done to us doesn’t matter — it most certainly does! You are a creation of God himself, made in his image and likeness. You are a child of God himself, purchased by the blood of his own Son. Wrong done to you most certainly matters, and must be — and will be — paid for. 

But it is not up to us to take revenge, as though we were in sole charge of our own lives. If it were up to us our justice would likely be unjust, for we do not see the whole picture. If it were up to us our judgement would likely be hypocritical, for we are as guilty as those who have done wrong against us. Rather, as we entrust ourselves to God and his just judgement we leave room for his wrath (Romans 12:19). He will make all things right. But in doing so we also leave room for his patient grace, that those who have wronged us might flee to the one they have most grossly wronged, and seek his forgiveness. That the wrong they have done to us might be borne by the one who has done no wrong at all. And that they, like us, who were by nature deserving of wrath, might receive not justice, but the mercy of God in Christ Jesus.

Questions for Reflection
1. What makes you most angry?  Is it caused by God’s world and God’s ways being wronged, or your world and your ways?
2. How does wrath show itself in your life?  Does it run hot or cold?  Fast or slow? 
3. How might God’s judgement, poured out on Jesus, free you to entrust to him the judgement of those who have wronged you? 

Prayer
Sovereign and saving God,
who sees clearly the thoughts and attitudes of all hearts:
forgive our unjust anger and wrath,
and equip us to entrust all judgement to you,
that we might follow our Lord’s example,
and leave room for your justice and mercy,
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
Amen.

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