Anger (Wrath) and Forgiveness

The Simple Catholic Snapshots:

Wrath             Forgive

  • Anger (Wrath) is the Unreasonable Desire for Vengeance
  • Anger is not always a sin; Only when Accompanied with Wishing Misfortune to Others
  • We Must Break the Cycle of Anger with Forgiveness
  • The Forgiveness of Our Sins by the Father, is Conditional on Us Forgiving Others!
  • Forgiveness is not a Weakness; Forgiveness is the Power of God Within Us

The Simple Catholic Truth:

Anger is everywhere. When that driver cuts me off on the road, I get angry. When the promotion goes to the other guy, I get angry. When I miss that game winning shot, I even get angry at myself. Anger is part of our nature. In Ephesians 4:26 (“be angry, but do not sin”) St. Paul acknowledges that anger is a natural part of being human but also warns that anger can be sinful. So, what are the conditions that make anger a sinful offense against God?

The natural emotion of anger becomes the deadly sin of wrath when that emotional response includes a deep felt desire to inflict punishment and harm on the offending person. We must always remember that vengeance and just punishment is possible only by a God of perfect Love. The Father may punish his wayward child but always out of Love, to correct and grow and transform. Mankind on the other hand, can strike out in wrathful anger that serves only the desire for revenge and leads to inner destruction.

In the Gospels of Mt 26 and Luke 22 we are told the story of Jesus’ betrayal in the Garden of Gethsemane. Here the mobs approach Jesus with clubs and swords of anger and hatred. His disciples ask, “Lord, shall we strike with a sword?”(Lk 22:49) The disciples were asking Jesus, shall we meet anger with anger? To this Jesus spoke and revealed the consequences of this response. “…all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Mt 26:52)

Jesus showed us that only the Lively Virtue of Forgiveness breaks this cycle of anger. Met with forgiveness, the power of evil has nothing to feed on and as a result wilts away. We’ve all experience an argument where the first word flies, Wrathand then an even stronger response is countered. The volume escalates along with the venom of each ensuing retort. The anger feeds on itself to the point that sometimes we even forget what we are really arguing about. That is often both comically and tragically true. I’m reminded of an old common phrase used to describe a person that is really angry. That person is so angry that he is said to be ‘seeing red’. Look up the definition and you will find that ‘seeing red’ describes a person that is so angry that it controls them. Wow! What a great way to describe when natural anger has crossed the line into a deadly sin. Look at the above picture again. Does it look like either of these two are in control? Hopefully it doesn’t look too familiar?

Contrast that with a situation where that first verbal jab is thrown. Instead of clenching fists and counter punching, we extend our hands in forgiveness. We meet anger with love. ForgiveMagically, no miraculously, the tone of the situation turns. Those same fists that just a few moments ago were the clubs and swords of an angry mob are now the open hands of forgiveness. Does this remind you of another weapon of pain and hatred and violence that became the instrument of eternal forgiveness?

One final thought on the forgiveness that God graces to his children. There is only one event in Scripture in which Jesus gave specific instructions on how to pray and that is captured in Matthew’s Gospel, Chapter 6:9-12. (Also found in Lk 11)

9 Pray then like this:
Our Father who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
10 Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread;
12 And forgive us our debts,
As we also have forgiven our debtors;
13 And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.

There are a couple of alternative interpretations to verse 12. First, some may claim that this language is suggesting a simple this-then-that relationship between God’s forgiveness of our sins and our forgiveness of others. In other words it is sort of like God showing us the way and we respond in kind. Taken just a bit farther, this group would say that due to our faith alone, God forgives our sins and that our forgiving others was a natural and unavoidable consequence of our faith as we imitate Christ.

Some others claim that God’s forgiveness of our sins is unilaterally applied to all people as He chooses. In this framework, they say the above verse 12 is simply suggesting that God forgives our sins in the big eternal picture as we sometimes choose to forgive our debtors on earth.

These two interpretations have some merit when taken in narrow context, but take a look at the verse that immediately follows:

14 For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; 15 but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Notice the two uses of the conditional word ‘IF‘. The emphasis could not be more clear. The forgiveness of our sins by God  is conditional on our forgiving the sins of others that sins against us. 

I know that some may take issue with this conclusion fearing that it could imply mankind as being the instigator of his own forgiveness and salvation. Nothing could be farther from the truth. It simply means that our forgiveness of others, enable by the grace of God to begin with, is an integral part of our eternal forgiveness.

The ultimate goal of forgiveness is to restore our eternal relationship with God, but a relationship can only be restored when both parties are willing. There cannot be communion when one party is willing and the other is not. As Paul describes, we are transformed when our old self is crucified and Christ lives in us (Ga 2:20). Using our free will, we choose the death of our old self and in repentance we beg to be transformed by the power and grace of God into a new creation.

Of course, God’s offer of forgiveness is universal in that He extends it to all of mankind. But the final grace of forgiveness is only for those who accept the conditions of faith in repentance. Take a look at the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant in Mt 18 for another version of the same message. God forgives only those who turn to Him in repentance thus putting their trust in Him.

So now it should be more clear how that Roman device of pain, suffering and humiliation is so appropriately used as thecross-clip-art-ncBXEy7cA ultimate instrument of forgiveness. One night in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the adjacent hill of Calvary the next day, anger was not met with anger. The wrath of evil was totally muted by the forgiveness of Love.





4 thoughts on “Anger (Wrath) and Forgiveness”

  1. Beautifully written. As someone who struggles daily with anger, this post gives me a lot of food for thought and some great practical advice. Thank you Tom!

  2. Thanks Curtis,
    The 7 Deadly Sins – 7 Lively Virtues class has been amazing. The group is really engaged and the conversations are thoughtful and probing. The class has been a great addition to my Lent, and we still have three more meetings to go!

  3. Tom, I just read this and found it thought provoking and certainly a different take than the usual, “who says sorry first”. In this year of mercy I have been actively and acutely aware of the “sorry/forgiveness” part of everyday of life?

    I do not think I ever had gotten past the parental instruction of “Tell him you are sorry”. No mention of–Do you feel sorry? Do you want/need forgiveness? (Answer: yes and yes)

    Thanks for a beautifully written column.


    1. Thanks Gayle,
      I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Yes, forgiveness is a tough one.
      Your ‘who goes first’ idea can be a problem for us all. It’s tough to be the first one to reach out, our pride often gets in the way. That said, if no one takes the first step, then healing never gets started and the wounds continue to hurt us all.
      Look at the two pictures above. I much prefer to live with hands clasped in love rather than clenched in anger.


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