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Forgiveness, Part II

Dearly Beloved, avenge not yourselves; but rather give place unto wrath . . ." (Romans 12:19)

In Wednesday's post, I told you how this verse has been a tremendous help to me in forgiving others, casting the spotlight on just those first two words -- "Dearly Beloved." Allow me to hit on the nuclear truth that follows after.

"Wrath" (Greek: orge) is simply God's righteous anger against sin. The question is, what, exactly, does that "anger" look like? We manifest anger in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. If I'm told someone is "angry," I shouldn't assume I automatically know precisely what form said anger will take. Will it be a vile profanity? a full blown tantrum in the toy department at Wal-Mart? A killing spree? Another vitriolic post on Facebook? And some manifest anger in ways not so immediately transparent: a sarcastic comment, withdrawal and isolation ("the silent treatment") or self-destructive behavior. Say the words "GOD'S wrath," and many instantly envision the fiery punishment of Hell. Then again, Prophecy says His wrath will be poured out here on earth during the Great Tribulation. Even secular newspapers and insurance companies sometimes speak of the catastrophic effects of an earthquake or hurricane as "the wrath of God." But Romans chapter one teaches "the wrath of God is revealed from heaven" in a very particular way; a way that would never occur to most of us and which we would probably never believe except that God states it clearly and unmistakably right there in His Word. Paul writes, "IS REVEALED," purposely speaking in the present tense. Not future. Not past. "IS (being) revealed." God is currently displaying His holy, righteous anger by handing men over to the bondage of deeper and deeper depravity (Romans 1:24, 26, 28). People speak of the wrath God must surely unleash on various forms of perversion they hear about. Read Romans one and you'll see that the perverse state IS ITSELF God's wrath on "all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who hold the truth in unrighteousness" (Romans 1:18). He's letting men "go (their) own way" until their own way is gagging them to death. After over 16 years of teaching this powerhouse book, I'm persuaded that Paul intended this radical idea to be foundational for the whole epistle. Wrath in Romans is predominantly God handing men over to the abject slavery of sin, with the result that man degenerates into deeper and deeper depravity and bondage, until, like the rock star, Pink ("Don't Let Me Get Me"), he can't stomach his own company; "Every day I fight a war against the mirror; can't take the person staring back at me." In his degenerative condition, man's acts become more debased and abominable than the beasts of the field. A dark and dirty dungeon from which he can find no light of escape. WHY? To what end? Believe it or not, God's ultimate purpose is GRACE. Fallen man is, by nature, haughty, ungrateful and terminally independent. Romans 1:18-20 tells us he HAS truth from God, but the truth he has, he "holds in unrighteousness." He misuses, manipulates and suppresses it to further his own unrighteous agenda. From the beginning, he refuses to give thanks or proper glory to the Creator. Bottom line: man characteristically is unresponsive to God. He wants to pursue life on his own terms, with as little interference from that "Higher Power" as possible. So God allows him to be reduced to his lowest by letting him follow the devices and desires of his own heart until he becomes so enmired in his own muck, even he is repulsed and horrified by what he has become. But then he discovers he can no longer raise himself up out of the slime. It is when man comes finally to "the end of his rope" he sees he has no remaining option but the sheer mercy of God. Only then does he become a proper candidate for GRACE. Strength of will cannot deliver him. All his moralizing is exposed as a sham. His "religion" is shown to be nothing but a farce. He can only cry out in despair, and cast himself on a merciful God. Study these verses, and you may see how this thread weaves as God's continuous strategy throughout the book -- Romans 3:19-20; 4:15; 5:20; 7:7-25 (see especially 7:13); 9:22-23. God allows a man to sink so low he finally must abandon all hope in himself. And then He moves in with His offer of GRACE ABOUNDING to a war-weary heart ready to receive (I Timothy 1:12-16; Romans 5:20-21). This is the thread that bobs up and down continuously through the warp and woof of Romans. So, what does it mean to "give place unto wrath?" If you're still interested, please watch for my next post. Maybe mull it over prayerfully until then Psalm 119:18.

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