I knew that my heart and mind would always be tempted to feel anger–to find blame and hate. But I resolved that when the negative feelings came upon me, I wouldn’t wait for them to grow or fester. I would always turn immediately to the Source of all true power: I would turn to God and let His love and forgiveness protect and save me.
~ Immaculee Ilibagiza, Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust
Human trafficking. Scams designed to rob the elderly of their life savings. Incest. The Holocaust. Sandy Cove shootings.
The Boston Marathon bombing.
We can’t deny that that there is evil in the world.
So, how do we address this evil, especially in the light of our call to forgive?
This is a vital question, and one that I’ve asked myself all over again. My son is a marathon runner. I’ve stood at the finish line beside my beautiful daughter-in-law and grandbaby, watching for him to cross that finish line.
This isn’t a question that is answered easily, but knowing how to respond and forgive in such horrendous situations is, and will continue to be, asked by those whose lives or loved ones are impacted.
But first, let’s set a foundational truth on which all of this must rest.
Evil makes God angry.
Kay Arthur’s words from her book, When the Hurt Runs Deep, resonates deeply this week, when she says, “There is a time for anger”.
Our Heavenly Father is angry at evil. Sex and human trafficking type evil. Travesty during war evil. Babies ripped from momma’s arms evil. Incest with an innocent child evil. Taking the lives of innocent evil.
There are entire books written on the subject of evil, and I won’t pretend to be an expert on this subject. But what I do know is that when we lump all evil into one category, it’s confusing to the person who is asked to forgive the acts of an evildoer.
Evil occurs where and when sin is manifested in the human experience to thwart God’s will, and is at odds with God’s plans and purposes for the world. The majority of the references to evil in the Old Testament are defined as: to lead into trouble; calamity; disaster; harmful.
We see this type of evil in action in Genesis as God’s chosen people dance as they hold up worthless idols made from gold jewelry and wood and call them god. This is far from God’s plan for them, and far from the promises and love God spoke over the nation of Israel. The Israelites walk away from God’s purpose and plan, straight into bondage and eventually into a wilderness.
This definition of evil breaks God’s heart.
But there’s a deeper evil.
When the evil one, Satan, is described, it is more than the mere absence of good, or rebellion against God’s best. It’s a spiritual presence of corruption and depravity completely opposed to God’s nature and will. In Jesus’ own words, the evil one’s intent is stated like this: The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy (John 10:10 NLT).
It perfectly describes unrepentant, premeditated acts like human trafficking that scheme to enslave, rape, kill, or harm humanity for mere money or power, or the killing and wounding of the innocent. These acts bring us face to face with not only the evildoer, but the evil one.
And this kind of evil makes God angry.
Sometimes, because we believe so much in grace (I’m a grace, grace girl myself), we struggle with the image of an angry God. Yet we are foolish if we ignore the reality that the evil one exists or believe that God is ambivalent about it.
Christ describes Satan as a “murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44).”
He’s a deceiver. A liar. An accuser. And that’s the description of evil we often toss in with evil thoughts, broken behavior from broken people, temptation, or acting in a way contrary to God’s hope and purpose for mankind, which is just confusing, especially for those harmed by evil.
When people are wounded by the evil one through people, we often throw out a quick statement of, “You have to forgive.” There is merit in this call to forgive, but it places the entire burden on the wounded.
For many who are harmed in this way, it is only when you realize that God is angry in tandem with you over those evil acts, that you can began to address the underlying emotions, scars, and hurt.
When you realize God is angry for you, and with you, you are no longer required to somehow absolve evil.
In Shattered Soul, authors Patrick Fleming and Sue Lauber-Fleming, share that anger is a natural response to the aftermath of evil. But joining that anger with God’s anger is the first step to healing.
They write: Your anger feels so strong, even destructive. You have witnessed or been victimized by the destructive power of anger. You have buried, repressed, or hidden your anger for years. Your anger has been directed mainly at yourself. Or you have let your anger flare out towards others in hurtful ways. All these ways at responding to the anger of abuse has kept you from tapping in to the potential healing of anger and blocked you from joining with God’s anger. The purpose of God’s anger is to restore and cleanse, not destroy or harm yourself or others.
Jesus spoke about evil often. In Matthew 5:38-39 (NLT), Jesus said: You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also.”
When these and other verses are shared, there is a powerful principle behind them, but understanding this verse in context helps us know how to address evil.
Under the Law punishment should match the crime. But the Pharisees, in what seems to be a desire to live as holy a life as possible, had taken that specific rule and made it literal. If a person stole a loaf of bread, even if they were starving, the punishment no longer matched the crime; they cut off the hand of the man.
Jesus is shaking up the disciples thinking once again. Rather than an eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth, He says, when you met someone who is evil (and in this case that word can mean a person who is stingy, a bad friend, one who exerts authority over you in the wrong manner, someone with wrong motives) and they hit you on your right cheek, or ask you for your coat, or ask you to carry their baggage an extra mile, rather than meet violence with violence, you do the opposite.
You meet a stingy person with generosity.
You respond to a person who is overbearing with patience.
You meet malice with justice.
This was not only contrary to the Pharisee’s interpretation of the Law, but a peaceful response founded in love introduced self-control and gentleness into an offense. Most of us would hit back or at least ball up our fists if someone struck us on the cheek. The offender feels justified and the rumble goes on.
No, Jesus is saying. Don’t meet bad behavior with bad behavior. Don’t respond to evil with evil. When you turn the other cheek, your offender is presented with a choice. That surprising and peaceful response suddenly places their actions in clear view, whether they want to see them or not. Perhaps they’ll strike the other cheek, but perhaps they’ll be ashamed of their actions.
Regardless, you represented Me.
For a rough and tumble group of men, an eye for an eye probably felt much more comfortable a response.
But when scripture addresses the evil one himself, there is a change in tone. In Revelations 20:10 we are granted a peek at a final reckoning:
And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
This is the response of a Heavenly Father who loves, but who will recompense the evil one for the destruction and havoc and harm he poured out on the lives of God’s beloved creation.
This is holy anger. Righteous anger.
It’s anger that rises up in the heart of a Savior who speaks out when the temple is desecrated (Matthew 21:12), and how much more when the temple of His beloved creation is abused and harmed in such evil ways.
If you encountered evil, though few may understand what you’ve faced, there is sorrow that it took place. If there are people who have told you that what happened to you is God’s will, or that somehow that the end result was that God would somehow receive the glory, please understand that the evil one’s purpose has never been for God to shine.
Your Heavenly Father grieves over the pain you suffered. So much so that your Savior walked up the road willingly with stripes on His back, wore a crown of thorns pressed in His brow, and suffered on a cruel cross to offer healing and restoration because sin and the plans of the evil one make Him righteously angry.
God is angry on your behalf.
Perhaps it seems impossible to hand that anger to something or someone else. Can we be honest about anger that resides so deeply that the evil one continues to destroy, to kill, and to rob though the offenders are no longer anywhere in sight? The rebuilding and healing process can be shattered by that anger which is too heavy for you to manage alone.
Let’s return to the verse in Matthew because it is just as powerful in your situation.
It is said that an eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth. . .
Turning the other cheek in this instance is failing to meet evil with evil. This response is powerful resistance to the plan of the evil one. He thought he would steal from you, but you let God be angry for you and gained peace instead. He thought he would kill your spirit or your dreams, but you found renewed life and direction. He meant to destroy you, but instead God’s redemptive power was unleashed as you let God handle the burden of anger for you.
Anger can be either a powerful tool to overcome evil or it can destroy what remains of your heart. Neither is in God’s plan us.
That doesn’t mean that you aren’t allowed to be righteously angry. Righteous anger propels us to speak out against such evil. It leads us to join in with others who have bravely went into the darkness to rescue children who are trapped in any number of evil endeavors, through prayer, with funding, and with manpower.
It can create a boldness to speak out against such evil, to move complacent or unaware believers to pray, to support, to encourage, and to stand with those harmed by such evil.
Righteous anger also looses the bonds of evil. When you bind your anger with God’s, you are now free to embrace the truth that “that nothing can ever separate you from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angel nor demons, neither your fears for today nor your worries about tomorrow–not even the power of hell can separate you from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below–indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate you from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39 NLT, paraphrased).”
The plan of the evil one is thwarted. He thought he had destroyed you, but instead your life is a reflection of John 10:10 in reverse: The enemy came to steal, kill and destroy. . . but My purpose is to give a rich and satisfying life.
Where does this new life lead you?
The answer to that question is as unique and diverse as you are. For some, it leads to ministry to those in the same situation you once were in. For others, it leads to solid Christian counsel to mend the places that were wounded. For Corrie Ten Boom, who lost family members in the Holocaust, and endured starvation, imprisonment, and torture, it led her to 60+ countries where she shared the message that “there’s no pit so deep that God’s love isn’t deeper still”.
For some healing and direction comes quickly, while others offer up a layer at a time over years. Each are valid and beautiful as God walks with you through the process.
With “man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible (John 19:26).”
What might it look like to allow God’s righteous anger to take the place of your own when impacted by evil?
Forgiveness principle in the face of evil:
Allow God’s Holy anger to take your burden
Excerpted from The Unburdened Heart: Finding the Freedom of Forgiveness