It’s painful to read the news and scroll through social media most days. There’s so much hatred and anger. Hatred against other races, anger against those who hate other races, hatred against politicians and the government.
We easily judge people who blast things on social media or, if you’re someone who passionately expresses your thoughts online, you may feel frustrated that more people do not speak up about issues that matter. Maybe you fall into neither of those categories, but it’s a safe bet that you have felt anger, bitterness or even hatred toward someone about something. When this happens, it becomes all too easy to lose sight of their humanity and their eternal soul and replace them with our dark hopes that they’ll end up suffering as a result of their actions.
How anger turns sinful
Our knee-jerk reaction is protection followed by bitterness when evil shows its face through the actions of others . It might be as simple as a friend’s cutting words. Your first response might be to defend yourself followed by anger at your friend. If the friendship isn’t restored, you might continue in that bitterness for some time.
Or it might be as horrific as 9/11 or even Charlottesville. Our first reaction as Americans is to protect those who were attacked. Then comes the anger and hatred for those who have so much evil in their hearts.
Anger is not where we stray, though. Jesus displayed His anger in a somewhat violent manner at the temple, the example used by many who desire to hold onto their own anger. But we miss the preciseness of Jesus’ anger when we use this moment from His life for our own means. He showed His anger, yes. But His actions were controlled and thought-through before executing. John 2:13-22 tells us Jesus saw what was occurring at the temple and then made a whip out of cords before driving out the people from the temple courts.
Unless Jesus carried a whip around with Him at all times, He had to have seen what was going on, leave to make a whip, and come back to express His anger. Therefore, the emotion of anger is not necessarily a sin. Using the righteous anger of Jesus as an excuse for our sinful reaction of anger, though, is not scriptural nor righteous. Especially when we become no better than those we hate as we turn our anger into bitterness and wish ill upon our enemies.
Cheapening the gospel
The people who hurt with no remorse are certainly not following God in those moments. Maybe their entire lives are against God. Because of this, we validate our anger and bitterness toward them. People who march in the streets to show their hatred for others must have hearts turned toward evil. Which is why it’s difficult to read the words of Jesus as He hung on the cross.
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)
Does it get much worse for humanity than this moment in terms of giving into evil hearts? These men ignored the truth of who Jesus was, mocked Him, abused Him nearly to death and hung Him on a cross. And what was Jesus’ response? Forgive them. Forgive them for it all.
When we hold onto anger, bitterness or hatred, we cheapen the sacrifice Jesus made for us. When we just “can’t seem to forgive” that friend, when our hatred for people boils over as we read news stories about persecution and racism, when we write and speak hateful things about our president, we send the message that we don’t believe they are worthy of forgiveness. That they have gone beyond the point of Jesus saving them.
In this, we cheapen the sacrifice Jesus made. This is not to say we can make His death and forgiveness less than what it was or devalue what Jesus did. We cheapen His sacrifice by dishonoring it in withholding our own forgiveness from others.
All lives are precious to God and worth saving. There is not a single person who is beyond God’s forgiveness. None of us deserve it. We all fall short and deserve to spend an eternity in torment apart from God. But Jesus died for all and extends forgiveness to every single person He’s ever created and ever will create. How dare we think we can hold onto hatred and bitterness when Jesus died a horrific, inhumane death in order to forgive the very person we refuse to love.
Remembering our enemy
God can make all things new, and He can guide your heart to a place of forgiveness. Despite the fact that your anger points toward a sin of another, you yourself are sinning as you hold this against them. Ask God to help you navigate the process of forgiving. Ask a friend, mentor or counselor if needed.
Start by acknowledging that God desires to forgive the person you hold anger toward in the same way He has forgiven you. Keep in mind that those who truly do have evil in their hearts are not at peace. They do not experience love the way you do, nor do they experience grace. And if they truly don’t have a relationship with Jesus, they will live out eternity in the fires of hell with Satan and all his demons. These are eternal souls we’re talking about. God will judge all, but let’s not desire hell for these souls. Let’s desire they find Jesus.
We must begin praying for those who anger us. Instead of hatred, let’s pray they realize their sins and turn away from them. Let’s pray their eyes are opened to the evil they commit and their hearts are turned from their wicked ways. After all, these men and women are trapped in a lie that Satan breathes into their minds and hearts. We do not fight against flesh and blood, but against the ruler of the kingdom of the air (Ephesians 6:12). We fight against Satan and evil, not against man. Remember who the enemy is.
May we love our enemies and pray for them daily. May we stop cheapening Jesus’ sacrifice by withholding our own forgiveness. Jesus already paid the price, and He will forgive each person their sins if they turn to Him, regardless of their past. May we live as Christians who love and forgive, just as Christ forgave us.
Let’s Talk About It: How can you overcome the temptation to not forgive?