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Forgiveness, Part III

So what does it mean to “give place unto wrath “ (Romans 12:19), and what's that got to do with forgiving those that done me wrong? Again, wrath is simply a stronger word for anger. In Romans, it’s God’s righteous anger at man’s sin and defiance. And the predominant way wrath is MANIFESTED in Romans? God gives man over to the evil monarch, "King Sin;" He hands man over to his own lusts (Romans 1:24, 26, 28). The result is increasing enslavement to those lusts. The more man declares his independence from God, the more he places himself under wrath, and the deeper into the quicksand of depravity he sinks.

Around our ‘hood, we often see the banner (or license plate) bearing the likeness of a venomous serpent, coiled up and poised to strike. Above reads the menacing credo: “Don’t tread on me.” The idea is, you cross me, Bub, and you done messed with the wrong marine. You'll be paid back IN SPADES. You'll rue the day, and we are talking MAJOR, even EPIC rue-age. This is the essence of unforgiveness. And evidence of our own depravity. In my heart (whether I admit it to myself or not), I want harm to come to those who have harmed me. I want payback. If I can't hurt them in a literal, physical way, I'll "hurt" them through hating them with all my heart (I never said there was anything smart about unforgiveness!). "Give place unto wrath" means it's time to hang up MY spurs. It means I step aside and let GOD be the One to dispense wrath. It means I surrender my "right" to vengeance. But that doesn't mean there's no wrath in their future; quite the contrary! It means I remove myself from the arena and let the MASTER take up the gladiator's mace. The problem is not that they don't deserve wrath. The problem is I'm not expert enough to get the job done properly. Y'see, I WAS a vessel of wrath, once upon a time. But those days are gone. Wrath is the very thing God used to break my heart and draw me to Himself. I had to see the hopelessness of my own depravity. I needed to see my enslavement to sin and the darkness of my own heart to be convinced of my desperate need for the Savior. Through wrath, I was finally able to own up to my need for His Amazing Grace. And now, I am a vessel of MERCY. I am His "dearly beloved." Wrath is no longer my story, and it is nowhere in my job description. My job description is MERCY. My story is GRACE. But when I give up "my right" to wreak vengeance, it doesn't at all mean they skate. It means I trust Someone infinitely better at wreaking vengeance to do ALL the wreaking that needs to be wrought. "Remarkably, when we decline to avenge ourselves, we leave room for the expression of God's wrath toward the offending party. As BDAG [Greek-English Lexicon by Bauer, Danker, Arndt and Gingrich] understands it, the Greek statement, dote topon te orge, suggests that we should "give the wrath of God an opportunity to work out its purpose." The idea is that we should not preempt God's action through our own vengeful behavior. Paul made it clear as early as chapter 1:18ff. that God deals with mankind by bringing His wrath to bear in an appropriate way. Our own ill-conceived or inappropriate revenge can short-circuit what God would otherwise do Himself" (Zane Hodges; "Romans: Deliverance From Wrath").

The Old Testament reference: "Vengeance IS MINE, I will repay, says the Lord," tells me the ones who hurt me won't just slip through the cracks. I can rest in the assurance they will NOT get off "scot-free." GOD is on the job.

But the beginning of this verse reminds me how that turned out for me. I was the object of His wrath. Now, I am dearly, tenderly loved. God recompensed me, all right. With Grace Abounding! No, it doesn't end up that way for everyone. The greater number, unfortunately, will leave this world still "under wrath;" still rejecting the love of God (John 3:18, 36; Matthew 7:13-14). The results aren't up to me. As General Norman Schwarzcopf used to say, "my job is simply to arrange the introduction." But what helps me to forgive is the sure knowledge that . . . 1) when I most certainly DESERVED wrath, God made me His "Dearly Beloved." 2) Someone Who can judge right vs. wrong, fair vs. unfair, vengeance vs. mercy much MUCH better than I; Someone FAR more vigilant and attentive, and Someone Who hates injustice, and knows what it's like to be misjudged and mistreated, HAS GOT THIS. And this applies both to "saved" and "unsaved," by the way! Even our brethren in Christ can mistreat us terribly. It helps me to realize God's wrath is working faithfully in their lives, too, to bring even His own children to the place where they can no longer deny their rampant carnality (as my own inability to forgive exposes mine!) and crowd them to deeper and deeper dependence on Himself. Then, and only then, do I truly "win," as I present my Lord with the opportunity to vent HIS righteous wrath, and overcome evil with good. That brother who injured me is "a work in progress," just as am I. Wrath may have to take him all the way to rock bottom before he taps out and allows the Grace of God to conquer his heart. Unforgiveness in my heart makes it look like I'm still a "vessel of wrath," myself. Unforgiveness is wrath from which I've already been released. That is, if I'm man enough to claim what's mine.

"For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shown no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment" (James 2:13).

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