Every Thursday I’ll post an article having to do with either relational or emotional matters. Hope it helps.
“For the wrath of man does not work the righteousness of God.” - James 1:20
A YouTube video which went viral last January should sicken anyone with an ounce of respect for our nation, the military, or humans in general. In it, four unidentified Marines are shown desecrating the corpses of fallen Taliban soldiers, smirkingly telling them to “have a nice day” when they’re finished. It’s generated outrage from all quarters, and the Marines are of course investigating to find out who the soldiers are and whether the video is authentic. But authentic or not, it hits all the right buttons: lingering outrage over 9/11, contempt for al-Qaeda, frustration over having to deal with the fear of future attacks, and an unholy, brutal crowing of the conqueror over the vanquished. It’s man at his worst, displaying one of the most commonly despised, yet most commonly practiced, of sins – wrath.
I can say all that with integrity, because it’s true. What I can’t say is that I’m above it, nor can I throw the first stone at these guys because, God help me, I share in their sin. My first response when hearing about all this was a combination of revulsion, loathing, and then, in some part of me I’d rather not discuss, I chortled and winked, and relished the enemy’s humiliation. Then shook it off, slapping myself for such animal thoughts, then chortled again, slapped again, you get the picture. I so despise all that the Taliban represents that at my worst I wish them torment, then I despise my own over the top rage, leaving me saying to myself, “Pick a lane, buddy. You either love your enemy or you don’t.”
And that’s the point. I’m susceptible to wrath, as I suspect a large part of the human population is. After all, who hasn’t been betrayed, abused, humiliated, or abandoned? We bleed; we respond. Can’t be helped. And since the perpetrators of these sins aren’t generally the most caring of people, it’s likely we experience the brunt of their wrongdoing without ever getting an acknowledgement, much less an apology, from any of them. Something in us protests this; first the wrong, then the refusal of the wrongdoer to own it, then our ongoing pain over the wrongdoer’s unacknowledged wrong. That’s fertile ground for hard-core, unyielding wrath, directed not just at the original wrongdoer but towards any overt sinners we can vent our unresolved rage against.
Of course, rage over national evils like 9/11 is hardly the unresolved, misdirected type, and I likewise wouldn’t imply that all instances of wrath are born out of some old, uncorrected hurt. I would say, though, that the hurts of the past fuel and combine with the outrages of the present, creating a toxic cocktail too many of us get drunk on. In addition to being sinful and common, wrath is contagious. Look no further than the French Revolution or Nazi Germany for panoramic views of wrath on the rampage.
Problem is, we have no right to wrath. Anger, yes, because righteous anger can motivate us to correct wrongdoing, so Paul told the Ephesians to be angry, and sin not. (Ephesians 4:26) But wrath? Hardly. To my thinking, there are two primary reasons wrath is reserved as a right only God has. First, only God has the full view of the picture. Being omniscient (See Psalm 139, for instance) He knows all, giving Him, and Him alone, the perspective needed to righteously judge and punish. How many times, after all, have we had a knee-jerk angry response to something, spouting off curses and threats, only to find we didn’t have all the information and had formed the wrong opinion? That, I’m sure, is why we’re told that “He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him.” (Proverbs 18:13)
Second, only God can punish completely and eternally. When He says “I will repay”, I tremble to consider what He means. Because no matter how vehement my white-hot anger gets, it’s a baby’s whimper next to the wrath of God. And if I as a sinful limited creature hate unrighteous, cruel behavior, how much more – infinitely more, really – does the Creator hate it? And how much more – again, infinitely more – can He punish wrongdoing, far beyond the limited ways my puny backlash would punish it?
“Vengeance is mine; I will repay”, He said, (Romans 12:19) so wrath is reserved for God alone, and for good reason. Only He can do it righteously, and only He can do it right. Let’s keep that in mind when the news of the day ignites our passions, and let’s let it ignite our prayers as well.