"You have heard that the ancients were told, 'YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER ' and 'Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.'
"But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, 'You good-for-nothing,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, 'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.
MATTHEW 5:21-22 NAS
There is a scene in The Silence of Lambs where Hannibal Lecter played by Sir Anthony Hopkins bludgeons a guard to death with the guard's baton. He has this fierce look on his face as he commits the act. Then, he savors what he has done as he listens to the classical music playing in his cage. He would go on and eviscerate the man and display the corpse in an angel pose.
Hannibal Lecter is one of the most memorable and notorious movie villains of all time. He captures the imagination because we find it hard to fathom his reasons for committing these acts of atrocity. Unlike some run of the mill sociopath, there seems to be a morality and justice to Lecter's madness which makes it even scarier. In some way, all of Lecter's victims deserve what is coming to them. Lecter is a mixture of justice and savagery. He is reason and insanity. He is a lover of beauty and barbarity. Yet, despite his complexities, Lecter is motivated by the most common of impulses. Lecter is motivated by wrath.
Wrath is the most complicated of the deadly sins. This is because it springs from a sense of justice. To hear a man say he would like to kill another man is to make us think poorly of him. To hear a man say that he would like to kill a child killer makes us think differently of him. This difference is what made the Dexter TV series so compelling and even fiendish as the audience ends up rooting for a serial killer to not get caught. This is because the killer murdered other killers. We excuse the killer when we see him serving our sense of justice. But is this right? Should we delight in any person's destruction even if that person is evil?
There is a difference between mere anger and wrath. Anger is not a sin. It is a natural and reasonable response to evil. Jesus became angry. The most memorable of those times was when he cleansed the temple of the moneychangers who had turned God's house into a den of thieves. Wrath is a different thing from anger. Wrath wishes to destroy the other person. Wrath wants to murder. But before it murders, it wants to torture and torment and inflict great pain. After the murder, it eviscerates and mutilates. Wrath delights in the destruction of others.
Most people are not able to give full vent to their wrath. This is because murder is illegal. So, they opt to murder people's character. Or, they will enact other forms of revenge such as using the system to destroy that person's life such as getting them fired from a job or having them incarcerated. This is why power is so seductive because it gives us power over our enemies. But even the powerless fall prey to wrath as they contemplate and savor what they would do if only they could wrap their hands around the throats of those who do them wrong. Whether potent or impotent, wrath works on the soul and destroys it. This is because wrath makes the person like the wrongdoer or even worse.
We can tell the difference between anger and wrath when someone we love does wrong and when someone we hate does wrong. When our loved ones wrong us, we are disappointed. We may even express that disappointment. When our enemies wrong us, we just want them to pay and pay in some violent way. But we are not commanded to hate. We are to love others, and this includes those who wrong us. You don't have to like them or like the things they do. But love is to wish the good of the other. Wrath wishes the destruction of the other.
We are called to be merciful. We are not allowed revenge. As Romans 12:19 puts it, "Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, 'VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,' says the Lord." Wrath usually comes when we think justice is denied and non-existent. In a world without justice, we seek to create our own justice. But this comes from a lack of faith in God and a lack of patience in His ways. It also comes from a hatred of His mercy. But God is perfect in both mercy and justice. We should want mercy for all people. This is because God is merciful to us. We should be forgiving in light of the forgiveness God extends to us. But we should also pause and contemplate the fate of those who reject God's mercy. That alone should put the fear in us. Hell is a terrible place, and the torments there are beyond our imagination.
Hell is a frightening concept, and some universalist theologians would like to do away with it. But Hell is a real place. The Bible and Jesus Himself leave no doubt of Hell's existence. Jesus says in Matthew 13:49-50, "So it will be at the end of the age; the angels will come forth and take out the wicked from among the righteous, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." Jesus mentions Hell more times than any other figure in the Bible. He repeatedly warns people to repent and not go there.
I think people should meditate on Hell on a frequent basis. Think of the worst person you know. That person could be living or dead. It could be a figure from your own life or a colossal villain from history. Think of their crimes and great evil. Then, think of what these crimes deserve in terms of punishment. Use your imagination. Then, shudder as you realize that the worst thing you can imagine comes nowhere close to what Hell is like. When you do this properly, you should feel great sorrow for these people. Hell is the antidote to wrath. Hell restores to us a love for those who do us wrong.
Some people may wish to claim that God is unjust for sending people to Hell. But no one is in Hell except by their own choosing. That is the sad part of it all. God abounds in mercy, but those in Hell rejected this mercy. They chose to do evil and also chose to not ask for forgiveness for their sins. In addition, they also could not forgive those who had wronged them. Finally, no one in Hell is punished more than he or she deserves. The punishments of Hell will fit the crimes.
The reason we should let God have vengeance is because God is good at it. We are not good at it. Even the best of human justice is a joke. Serial killers and mass murderers can only pay once with their lives. Their fate will often be more humane than what they inflicted on their victims. Finally, an execution only hastens what will befall us all. Everyone will pay with their lives. And to make it even more absurd, innocents are punished while guilty ones go free. This is was what happened at the Crucifixion of Jesus as God Himself was executed while a criminal was let off.
The best that human justice can ever be is a restraint and a warning. Human justice merely keeps evil in check. It does not correct it or avenge it. The main reason people go to jail is to keep them away from us and to keep us way from them and their evil. Beyond this, there is no justice in this world. But there is mercy.
We are called and commanded to love our enemies. We are to love those who hate us and do good to them. This is because mercy achieves what justice does not. Mercy is redemption. When you turn your cheek to your enemy, you are giving them the opportunity to repent and do good. To refrain from hitting you twice is an act of goodness and represents the first step towards repentance. If you really want to get back at your enemies, do good things for them. Sometimes, the only good thing you can do for people is to pray for them. But this is enough. By doing good, we do not become like our enemies. Conversely, by doing good, we give our enemies the opportunity to become more like us.
This is the essence of the Atonement. By consenting to death on the Cross, God turned the other cheek to us. Likewise, this great act of forbearance and charity is played out again and again in the lives of those who follow Jesus and suffer persecution and martyrdom for His sake. This is the beguiling nature of love. It shows us our own blackened hearts and moves us to repent.
There are those who are beyond the reach of charity. When someone's soul is so dark that even charity will not move them, they are lost. This is spiritual death. Acts of charity directed towards them only drives them further into the darkness. Either way, the wheat is separated from the chaff. Those who respond favorably to God's love will continue in that love and bear fruit in themselves. Those who reject God's love will respond unfavorably and will reject it. This will lead to darkening hearts. Sometimes, the most charitable acts you can do for people is to pray for them and just let them be.
Marcus Aurelius said, "The best revenge is to not to be like your enemy." Just as we invite people to become like us when we perform charitable deeds for them, those people wish that we would become like them when they do evil to us. This is essentially what Satan wished to do to God and explains his perpetual war against Heaven. It is madness, but madness has its reasons even if they make no sense. This was how Emperor Palpatine worked in the Star Wars movies. He invited Luke to strike him down and give in to the anger. Evil actively provokes others to come and destroy it. This is how it spreads. This is because evil knows that it can take you down with it. Evil wants to be destroyed, but it does not want to be destroyed alone.
Palpatine knew that wrath was a path to the dark side. Once you want to destroy a bad person like himself, it is only a small step to wanting to destroy good people after that. But wrath consumes itself. Wrath is never happy. It is never satisfied. Once the fires of wrath flame out, they are replaced by a coldness. Hot blooded killers grow to become cold blooded killers. This is where monsters are born.
Hannibal Lecter is a fictional monster, but his creator Thomas Harris would eventually give a reason for the creation of this enigma. As a child, Lecter suffered atrocities during World War II in Lithuania as he and his sister were victimized by monstrous men. They would kill his sister and feast on her. To make it even more profane, they forced Lecter to eat his own sister. Hannibal would go on to get revenge on those men but not without becoming exactly like them. His complexity was born from simple wrath and the desire for revenge.
Wrath is my besetting sin. There are two reasons for this. The first is that I was an atheist for a long time, so you get used to the idea that there is no God, no justice, and no Hell. I was fond of saying, "There is no justice, but the justice you make." This was my desire for revenge.
The second reason for my wrath is that I am someone who has suffered wrong. I can forgive those who have wronged me, and I pray for them. It brings healing to my soul to do this. But those people can never ask for my forgiveness or even give a simple apology. As such, they now destroy themselves in their misery. They can only repay evil for good, and I can only pity them. May God have mercy on their souls.
I don't want to become a monster. People ask me why I stopped being an atheist, and that is the most honest answer that I can give. I gave in to the evil and let it consume me for a decade. Then, God was good to me, and I was stricken in my conscience. I think I was hoping for Him to give me the final beatdown, so I could feel justified in hating Him forever. Everyone else had to get in their lick on me, so I was waiting for God to take His turn. It didn't happen like that. To be a monster is to hate God, and I can't hate God. If you can't hate God, you can't hate those He loves, and God loves everyone.
I still have a small glowing ember of wrath in me, and it is my hope that by writing this that I can root it out. I take all that I suffered and continue to suffer and put it in the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It is my hope that all of that wrath will be consumed in the burning fire of His holy love.
O my Most Loving and Gentle Jesus, I desire with all the affections of my heart, that all beings should praise Thee, honor Thee and glorify Thee eternally for that sacred wound wherewith Thy divine side was rent. I deposit, enclose, conceal in that wound and in that opening in Thy Heart, my heart and all my feelings, thoughts, desires, intentions and all the faculties of my soul. I entreat Thee, by the precious Blood and Water that flowed from Thy Most Loving Heart, to take entire possession of me, that Thou may guide me in all things. Consume me in the burning fire of thy holy Love, so that I may be so absorbed and transformed into Thee that I may no longer be but one with Thee.