We want honest love and truly we are like Neo in the matrix – we have never breathed it or really tasted it. Everything is about our performance and about pretending our failures and the failures of everyone around us don’t matter when they do.
23 And this is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us.
(1 John 3:19-24, NASB).
The Wrath of God is revealed? Really?
When Paul says that the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men (Romans 1:18), our first response is “huh? really? how is that? I’ve never seen it.” But we are all intimately acquainted with moral wrath. We live in it. We swim in it. We breathe it and eat it and mull over it and cherish it and loathe it and hold it very close and very dear every moment of every day. If someone says the right thing to us in a slightly off manner, we judge it instantly. If we do a job but don’t do it exquisitely, we know we are instantly and perfectly judged, and we instantly and perfectly judge the unreasonableness of that. We are swimming in an endless ocean of judgment and wrath all the time. We spend an enormous amount of energy trying to hide our wrath-worthy deeds. Judgment and wrath are the only things we know, they are so ubiquitous that we don’t even realize how suffocated we are.
Love in the land of wrath
Amazingly, love is possible in this environment, it really is. But people don’t court each other and date each other with the initial intent of being honest about the truth of their shortcomings. Dating is all about dressing yourself up to look your best and to appear to be your best. Dating is really about hiding our ugliness. We end up loving by pretending that judgment and wrath are not part of the picture, because of a false grace. That is why in marriage it ends up being such a shock when the truth arises. I have married a person who is worthy of wrath, and I am feeling that wrath. I am right to have wrath, my very conscience knows it is true. Also, I have tried to hide it, but I myself am a person who is seriously worthy of wrath; I have serious imperfections. This person I am with should be able to see past these imperfections and love me for who I really am, but they don’t. So there is more wrath, and I feel more alone and isolated than ever. Even my most important relationships are filled with judgment and rejection.
Unforgiveness and Anger are the RIGHT response
Understand something that I am saying here. These judgments and this wrath we have are not wrong. They are correct. Forgiveness is insanity. Forgiveness says it is OK for you to be a monster and hurt me. Forgiveness says that I am not important and that my wounds should be marginalized. Forgiveness is in fact an illusion, a fake veneer of temporary false forgetfulness that pushes the truth of great and terribly personal injustices under the rug. Forgiveness is dressing up a ferocious lion as a teddy bear and then pretending that is the end of it. Forgiveness heals nothing because apart from the substitutionary death of Jesus there is no such thing as forgiveness. When we hold unforgiveness and anger and justice and vengeance dear, we stand with God Himself, we are in fact the agents of God’s rightness. Forgiveness is an affront to human dignity and human kindness.
What? Forgiveness is a Virtue! This is weird!
This seems like such a shocking thing to say! Forgiveness is a very common human virtue! We’ve dreamed up all these ways to fake a bloodless atonement-free way to forgive because we are starving for a way out of the guilt that is constantly shoved in our face. However, if you think about it, God in His holiness must agree that forgiveness is all a sham, because He doesn’t just “forgive”. He is holy because He is truthful about this. He is serious enough about this wrath against injustice that He required Jesus to go to the cross to die for sin. For God, forgiveness came at the cost of the terrible death of His son, while we want to dole it out with an idle word or a thought or some namby pamby idea of “letting go”. Idle words and thoughts cannot atone for your injustices or for anyone else’s injustices.
We have never experienced honest love
So, we hate each other. Really we do. We ought to. People should not be getting away with any of this. We have to learn to love our enemies because the only people around us are enemies. We are correct to be furious with everyone else and with ourselves. We live in a fog of weak and ineffectual and artificial forgetfulness while real boulders of wrath and daggers of anger and hatred and prisons of rightness lurk everywhere. They daily come back into view and we try to push them away or dodge them, but in our conscience we know that the fog of forgiveness we live in is all a pretense and in the end we want to be forgiven for real. We want out of the ocean of judgment. We want out of the land of pretense and fakery. We want honest love and truly we are like Neo in the matrix – we have never breathed it or really tasted it. We have had to hide our shame and failure to get love, and so everyone loves our fake persona – not our real self. Everyone is shocked and judgmental when our real self pokes through, just as we are shocked at them. Everything is about our performance and about pretending our failures and the failures of everyone around us don’t matter when they do. We want to pretend that we are not driven by wrath when anger and wrath are really the only right response to life’s many injustices.
Why Belief in Christ is the Answer
Belief in Christ means there is a place for vengeance and wrath for our sins to go. It means all of these true judgments and real anger can be actually avenged. It means that when my family dumps all of their dirty and clean laundry mixed with mail and homework on my side of the bed, I can own my very real wrath, and believe that as I clean that up, that Jesus died for that sin. I don’t have to pretend that is isn’t a sin. I don’t have to pretend it doesn’t bother me. It means I can say, there is true injustice here, however small, and that the wrath of God that I am feeling about this in my wonderful conscience is taken out on Christ’s cross. I believe it; there is true release. And so I can ask without wrath and outrage if there is a way we can deal with the laundry. I can love.
Why Grace Scandalizes Religious People
I think the reason that grace is often such a scandal to religious people is that in some subtle but very real way, the message of the cross has not reached them. It has not taken root as central; it is a strange but mysteriously necessary doctrine that has not connected with their conscience and their true inner world. It has not become all that they know. As such, they are right, forgiveness is a complete scandal, it is completely awful. Mercy is really just letting someone get away with it, and grace is blessing them for it. If there is no proper atonement, there is no grace. Once the message of the cross of Christ has become center stage for you, grace makes total sense. Forgiveness can be granted with authority and power and with a clarity of conscience that was impossible before.
Belief in Christ is the Foundation of Love
Belief in Christ is the necessary foundation for love. There is no other. Love demands wrath against injustice and life is filled with little injustices every day all day. It never ends. When that wrath has a genuine place to go, our conscience will let us go, and we find the freedom to love. Christ has truly saved us from our worst problem, which is our collective sin. In Christ we enter a universe, a kingdom if you will, in which the guiding and foundational animus is no longer the judgment of good and evil, but of love.