This is the third part of a three part series that was interrupted by the extreme craziness of the last two months. In part one (available here) we saw why a God of love must be angry against sinners. In part two (available here) we saw that this makes God’s forgiveness of us greater, because the cross shows God swallowing his own anger – taking it upon himself, being separated from himself.
In this third part, we will see how it can help us to forgive. People sometimes say that if you believe God is a God of anger, you will become an angry person. On the contrary, I believe that divine wrath can make it much easier to forgive.
Think about what it feels like to be angry – really, truly, angry – with someone. If someone truly harms you badly, it is a very challenging emotion to overcome. If they harm someone you love, it can be even harder.
A few years ago, someone I know did something that seriously harmed both me and one of my closest friends. The details probably aren’t appropriate in a public blog, but he (the perpetrator) was fairly clearly in the wrong, but didn’t admit to it. I found it incredibly hard to let go of anger.
Why couldn’t I let go of anger? Well, to stop being angry would be a damage to myself. It would make me feel like the perpetrator was getting off scot free – as if I was saying that the harm suffered by myself and my friend wasn’t real, or that the perpetrator wasn’t really that bad. My heart cried out for justice – for myself and my friend. I wanted to harm the perpetrator – because they deserved it, and because justice required it. I wanted justice to declare clearly that they were in the wrong.
The moment I became able to forgive was the moment I realised that God’s anger covered the situation. God loved me and my friend, and hated wrongdoing against us. God’s anger was therefore directed against the wrongdoing. Me forgiving them therefore didn’t involve them getting off scot free – it meant me acknowledging that it isn’t my role to judge, and what’s more that I don’t need to, because justice is someone elses role. And if you truly believe that, it becomes much easier to forgive.
When I thought about this, I found it much easier to let go of the anger I felt. I didn’t need to provide justice – God already had, at the cross. If the cross is sufficient for God to forgive, it is sufficient for me to forgive. Therefore, I was able to show the man (who wronged me and my friend) mercy, kindness, and love – because it was not my responsibility to judge them, it was God’s.
The Bible speaks about God’s justice as being the grounds of Christian forgiveness. For example, the apostle Paul writes:
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Thanks to God’s wrath, we can trust that God’s justice will be enacted against the sin – either at the cross, or in hell. He loved every wrongdoer enough to take the judgement upon Himself – and we can know that it is named as wrong forever. If it is sufficient to cover our sins, it is enough to cover other people’s. We can trust God’s wrath – and let go of our own.