Sunday, May 03, 2015

Spoiling the Wrath

Sermon preached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis on the fourth Sunday after Easter

Let’s face it, we Christians are just not supposed to get angry are we?

If we start to look just that little bit cross that things aren’t going our way, we hear people say “you’ve got to turn the other cheek”, “love thine enemies” and other such things, especially from people who aren’t Christian and expect us Christians to conform to a given stereotype of being all meek and mild and gentle and complete push-overs. Yet, each of us gets angry, does that mean that we are necessarily in sin, after all Anger is one of the seven Deadly Sins, is it not?


Well, actually, no it isn’t. Anger is not a deadly sin. People think that it is, but in fact when Christians reflect upon what is truly sinful it isn’t anger that’s the sin, it’s an uncontrolled anger – an anger that boils over into violence and hatred. It’s an anger that spills into the desire for destruction and complete obliteration. This type of anger is called often called wrath.

Perhaps you will have heard a teacher speak of breathing the wrath of God into a naughty schoolboy. It’s true that there is something called “the wrath of God”. Why is it that God gets wrath and we don’t?

That’s easy to answer: God is God and we are not God. God’s wrath is a very simple hatred for all evil and it’s perfectly reasonable for us to hate evil. There are lots of passages in Holy Scripture in which God is described in terms of a soldier waging war upon his enemies. The Psalmist says, “Stand up, O Lord, in thy wrath, and lift up thyself, because of the indignation of mine enemies: arise up for me in the judgement that thou hast commanded.” It seems that the wrath of God is exactly what we Christians want!


Let us be clear. Only God can control His anger. Since Evil is precisely a lack of any good at all, God can overcome Evil just by putting Good in its place. Human beings can’t actually do that. We are created by God and therefore it is good for us to exist – in our very selves we are good because we are created by God – but we are not able to work out what is truly evil and how it is truly evil. For God, wrath brings about more Good. For us human beings, well, you only have to look at the violence in the world around us to see that our wrath does not bring about Good.


That does not prevent us from being angry though. Our Lord shows His anger when He casts the money-changers out of the temple. Also, St Mark tells us:

“[Jesus] entered again into the synagogue; and there was a man there which had a withered hand. And they watched him, whether he would heal him on the sabbath day; that they might accuse him. And he saith unto the man which had the withered hand, Stand forth. And he saith unto them, Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill? But they held their peace. And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, he saith unto the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the other.”

Notice how Jesus controls his anger and uses it to allow His Father to do Good. This is how we repent of the sin of wrath, how we turn back to God. We step back and look for what the problem really is and then work out what good we can put in its place. Often, all we need to say is “get thee behind me Satan” to rid us of the temptation to hate and destroy. We must not allow our anger to overcome us, but control it remembering that we must in all things do the will of God.


It is not a sin to be angry, but is it a sin not to be angry? What do you think? This is a question for another time, perhaps.

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