Q&A: Anger, Justice, and Mercy

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Q. A person I love has been wronged by others. I know that God will get around to judgment eventually, but I cannot seem to get over being angry at the person who hurt a person whom I care about. How can I deal with this?

 

A. The desire for God’s justice is normal for the believer. In fact, the craving for justice is even normal for a non-believer, though they are often led astray in trying to obtain it on their own. The anger which arises from injustice is a quality which reminds me we are made in the image of God, a Being who burns against the wickedness of men. However, as you seem to realize, this anger on our part can take us in a bad direction if left to its own devices. Here are some thoughts which I try to keep in mind in these situations.
  1. God is okay with you having this frustrated desire, as long as you are taking it to him in prayer. The Psalms are filled with frustrated pleas for God to bring justice to the world right now (see Psalm 44). The Scriptures warn against taking vengeance away from God, but not necessarily against the desire for justice. Justice is not an evil desire, but the human hubris which attempts to make justice our own work is the beginning of all sort of evil (Romans 12:14-21). The Christian learns from Jesus another sort of response, but more on that in a moment. In the mean time, tell God about it. Treat him as God. Petition him for the justice you seek as if he is the only Being in the universe who can cause true justice to be. He is.
  2. All sin is against God and worthy of his vengeance. “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Psalm 51:3-4). Other people’s sins – especially those which hurt the people I love – make me angry, but my sins are no less worthy of punishment and in need of justice. I have to learn to discern between my anger and true justice. “For the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:20). Behind the anger lurks the realization that somewhere out there is a person who is hurt and angry because of wrongs I have done. Which leads to the next grim realization …
  3. If God were to render justice, he would have to destroy me too. If he in a moment struck down all the wicked, I wouldn’t be around afterward to enjoy it. Judgment begins at the house of God (1 Peter 4:17). I’ve hurt people, and so have you. I’m glad he is patient with me, but that means he has to be patient with everyone else too. Do not think of God’s “slow” justice as powerless or impotent. Think of it as patience directed at you. “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but its patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
  4. Realize the limitations of vengeance. While I do believe that at times, divine vengeance is the last remaining road to justice, it is not the perfect satisfaction we crave. The book of Revelation teems with images of vengeance and violence against those who persecuted the early church. The martyrs cry out in frustration, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (Revelation 6:10) But when John digests the meaning of this vision, he is warned by an angel of its hidden bitterness (10:9). John responds with exactly that sensation when he writes, “It was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it my stomach was made bitter” (10:10). Such is the ultimate dissatisfaction of vengeance. I think I can say it is dissatisfying in some degree even to God. After the flood – a work of cataclysmic vengeance – God promises not to go down that bitter road again. On the one hand, he limits the out-of-control scope of human violence and reserves vengeance for himself (Genesis 9:5-6). On the other hand, he commands fruitfulness over vengeance, and promises that the flood will not be repeated (Genesis 9:7-17). Never again, he says. In the New Testament, we see God’s desire to empty the power of justice and vengeance, robbing it by the atoning death of Jesus. He accepted the cross in order to find the greater glory and joy of forgiveness for humanity.
  5. Jesus’ response to injustice is not vengeance. He responds with love and compassion to the hurt and weak. He responds with truth spoken to those doing the hurting (sometimes tender and sometimes more severe). He responds with forgiveness wherever possible. He responds with works of goodness in the face of evil. Commit yourself to these and you will find that God has worked justice through you without the vengeance you thought you needed. “For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13).
In conclusion, here is a cryptic riddle for you to gnaw on. Not all justice is equal. Mercy and judgment are both forms of justice. The mystery of the gospel is this, that mercy is the greater justice.

Got a question? Fire away! I’m opening up the new Q&A section to the public, though I reserve the right to ignore questions based on my whim. 🙂
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Pulpit Minister for Glenpool Church of Christ (Glenpool, OK); BS in Astrophysics from University of Oklahoma; MDiv in Ministry from Oklahoma Christian Graduate School of Theology

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