by Joe Leavell

I remember vividly the look of confusion I received. The man had struggled through a long story about his near absentee father whose approval he had diligently labored for and never received. He was used to hearing from those he related his story to that he was supposed to forgive and move on, and he simply couldn’t do it. Deep bitterness and feelings of inadequacy continued to plague him deeply these many decades beyond his childhood.

These stories are all too common and far too heart-wrenching. These are folks who share such sorrowful memories of abuse, neglect, molestation, unfaithful spouses, parents leaving, mistreatment, death of loved ones, etc. These heartrending stories are often lamented to us between sobs…

 “Honestly,” I shared with him, “I think the main problem is that you aren’t angry enough.”

This is not the answer he was expecting. The simultaneous expressions of skepticism and surprise on his face demanded an answer. “Frankly, you’re limiting your father’s crimes to simply neglect. Think about this with me. God designed a father to be present, to be loving in reflection of His love as our Father, and He warns against exasperating their children. He commands fathers to teach their children in the Lord and to point them to Christ and your father completely neglected you! What do you think God’s perspective is towards him for his treatment of you?” It turned out, like his earthly father, he did not think that his Heavenly Father much cared about what happened to him one way or the other.

Scripture teaches that God has a will that is very good and reflects His perfect character. As our Creator, His will is our Law and it is a very good thing because His law always reflects His character of love, peace, order, beauty, etc. including his will for parents. So what happened? Adam and Eve chose to walk away from the good will of God because they believed that their will was better. According to Scripture, the consequence for walking away from the Giver of life? Death. Hell. Eternal fire.

What’s the Big Deal with Sin?

Have you ever wondered why Adam and Eve received the death penalty for eating a piece of fruit? Really? A bit overkill, don’t you think, for a bit of fruit?! Why death??

Imagine for a moment that I say something that offends you and you respond by punching me in the face. What is the consequence? Now (work with me here for sake of illustration), the President of the United States comes to town and for whatever reason, you’re upset and manage to work your way around the Secret Service and punch him in the face. So…do you think we would we ever hear from you again??? Why a different consequence for the same action just because one runs a country? The difference is a matter of authority. Now, magnify that authority an infinite amount of times to the Eternal Creator of the universe Himself! Think of your limitless Sovereign God who holds all things together by His sheer will. What would be the penalty for metaphorically punching Him in the face? Anything less than an eternity in the Lake of Fire would diminish His righteous holiness and completely sovereign rule. Anything other than the full wrath of God would be an insult to His perfect justice. Scripture truly does not say in vain, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Heb. 10:31) Psalm 7:11, in a passage begging God for justice, expresses that there is not a day that goes by that God is not justly furious with the wicked!

The Comfort of God’s Wrath

Like the man with the neglectful father, many believers who have been deeply violated by the sin of others often find little to no comfort in the love of God. Why? Because in a culture where God’s holy anger towards sin is swept under the rug, victims of serious wrong are left with a view of God that allows their abusers to go unpunished and there is no justice to be found in this life or the next.

There is great comfort for Christians who know that God not only cares, but those who have sinned against you will face the full righteous fury of an angry God! Scripture says, “Our God is a consuming fire!” (Heb. 12:29). Remember the God in the Old Testament as He wiped out entire people groups for killing their own children, who flooded and killed all but 8 people because of the wickedness of mankind? If you are a Christian, that same God is your Father. His wrath is terrible if you stand before Him as an enemy! When He’s behind you, He’s still someone to fear in awe, but think mamma bear with her cubs. If you are God’s child and you have been mistreated, what do you think He’s going to do to your abuser?  Whoa…

Released from Our Anger

When a believer holds their own anger towards injustice up to God’s perspective and future reckoning, then they can experience complete freedom from revenge and hatred. Why? If your anger is a slingshot, God’s wrath is the full force of the entire US military. Your own anger is an insufficient response to the sin that was perpetrated against God. To be sure, there often must be severe consequences, sometimes including jail time, for people’s crimes. Yet human anger and justice is never sufficient and never could be. We must instead broaden our perspective to accurately see our loving Defender who is the only one who has the necessary authority and perfect anger on our behalf. Scripture says in Romans 12:19,

“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.’”

Justice is coming. God’s anger is enough.

What about Me?

But I have sinned too, and so have you! If Adam and Eve deserved eternal torment for a bite of fruit, what must I deserve? Truly, from God’s perspective, we all deserve the fate of Hell. For those of us who have turned to the mercy of Christ as our Savior, we understand that every last ounce of God’s fury against our sin that we rightly deserve was pounded, not into us, but into Jesus on the cross! We have been rescued and saved by Christ, not just from Hell, but from a Holy God Himself. As a result, “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Rom. 5:1b) This means that if you are God’s child, there is no anger left for you. Not a drop. You are completely and truly forgiven and He promises that soon, every wrong will be righted and every tear will be wiped away in the joy of your Savior!

Scripture says in 2 Corinthians 5:11, “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men…” God’s wrath changed the man’s perspective. His view of his neglectful father turned from bitterness to longing for his dad to experience that same complete forgiveness that he had. He wept, no longer in anger, but with heartbreak and compassion at his dad’s refusal to repent. His dad had recently died in his sin without reconciling with his boy. While still struggling with the implications, he released his father from his bitterness and left it to God.

How about you?

For Further Reading:

Solving the Stink – by Joseph Leavell

Good and Angry – by David Powlison 

Uprooting Anger – by Robert D. Jones

A Small Book about a Big Problem – by Ed Welch