As someone who has wrestled with a quick temper since childhood, the idea of wrath has puzzled me for a long time. In particular, understanding when anger is truly righteous, and what to do with that kind of anger. For years, this has confounded me.
Choosing to Mediate on God’s Wrath
Last year, I determined to gain a better understanding of wrath and anger. To do so, instead of trying to suppress my feelings of anger whenever they arose, I resolved to meditate on God’s holy wrath whenever I began to feel a rise in my temper. This practice taught me a couple of very valuable lessons that I hope will be useful to others. If, by chance, everything I have to say was already obvious to you, then I hope you will simply find joy that a weaker brother is growing in his understanding of this important attribute of God.
A story from last spring illustrates the lessons I’ve learned particularly well. In 2023, the government in my home state of Minnesota went on a legislative spree to enshrine all manner of wickedness into our state’s laws. The laws passed included legalizing abortion up until birth, designating Minnesota as a so-called “trans refuge” state, and a number of other terribly wicked things.
The 2023 Minnesota Legislative Session
At the same time as the legislative session, I was working on a construction project for the state capital in St. Paul. Every day for months I walked past the buildings where men and women were deciding which fresh sins to institutionalize. Week after week that reality grated against my soul, until one day, when I was walking past the capitol building after my shift, anger swelled in my heart and stopped me in my tracks. I turned where I stood, faced the capitol, and prayed.
I prayed for God to judge my wicked rulers. I prayed for God to punish the people flouting righteousness and justice, embracing evil instead. I named my governor and several legislators specifically. I poured out my heartbreak and grief for my beautiful, beloved state, the only earthly home I’ve ever known. I thanked God for his promise that every sin would one day be punished absolutely, and that everyone who did not confess Jesus Christ as Lord would one day be cast into a lake of fire.
A few things happened over the course of this prayer.
First, I was humbled.
As I prayed, images came to mind of God’s wrath demonstrated in the pages of Scripture: fire and brimstone, boils, darkness, the Nile turned to blood, and more. Praying for that wrath felt like pointing a rocket launcher into a crowd. It isn’t ephemeral or metaphorical. God’s wrath is real, tangible, and utterly terrifying. That’s what I was wishing upon my state’s leaders in my prayer, and it frightened me. I didn’t retract my prayer, but it did give me pause.
In that moment of pause, I was reminded starkly of my own sins. The instances of God’s wrath that struck me in that moment were not moments of pique for God. They weren’t irrational outbursts. Rather, they were entirely just and appropriate expressions of his holiness in response to sin. Maybe the men and women I prayed against that day deserved that wrath, but so did I. With that reminder stinging my heart, I could only confess my own sinfulness to God and thank him for the completely undeserved mercy he had shown me by his free gift of salvation through the blood of Christ.
None of this meant that I lacked the right to pray for God’s judgment. Even so, this sharp reminder to fear God helped keep me from arrogance in my prayer, and I was reminded of my own unworthiness of the gift of mercy I’ve so happily received.
The second effect of my prayer was a great encouragement in my heart.
It grieves the believing heart to live in a fallen world. My heart was certainly grieving on that day in particular. So many opportunities for both deep discouragement and helpless anger are presented to believers by the unending floods of sin and depravity that surround us in a world that hates God. This is true in instances of wicked government, which was what grieved me that particular day, but it’s true in every other area of life too. There is no part of any life untouched by sin.
Even so, anger and discouragement may be dispelled by the simple reminder that “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19) Did my heart break to see the evil being done in my state? Did I yearn for God’s justice? Well, the divine court dates are set. The sentence against wickedness may not be “executed speedily,” (Ecclesiastes 8:11) but it will be executed eventually. Our God is a God who keeps his word. He has promised justice, so justice will be done.
Delighted by God’s Mercy
Finally, I was delighted by God’s mercy.
God’s mercy seems all the sweeter after meditating on his wrath. If God had condemned me to eternal damnation rather than saving me from my sin, he would have been no less good or just, and yet he showed me mercy. My depravity, my sin nature, was exactly the same as that of the men and women with whom I was so angry that day in St. Paul. Despite that, God redeemed me out of my fallenness and into his own family and kingdom. Can that sweet grace fail to shine even brighter when compared to the fiery glare of his judgment? I don’t think so. In fact, that contrast forced me to pray that day in St. Paul that the men and women who were committing such evils in my state government would come to know the same mercy as me. They don’t deserve it. But neither do I.
I wanted – and still want – the sins of the 2023 legislative session in Minnesota to be punished. But maybe, by God’s grace, their punishment can be found at the Cross rather than in the pit.
God’s Wrath is Worth Meditating On
So, what have I learned?
I’ve learned that anger in response to sin, expressed in humble prayer, is no sin at all, but is instead a very good and proper thing. I’ve learned that the wrath of God is worth meditating on, for the sake of humility and fearing the Lord as he ought to be feared. And I’ve learned that a moment of righteous anger is a perfect opportunity to pray for sinners like me to be redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ.