As I got home the other night, I found my wife watching "How to Make a Murderer" on Netflix. I asked her what it was about, and the short-version, at least up to this point in the show, it seems that the local police department was so focused on this one potential perpetrator, they mishandled evidence and testimony so that it all pointed to him, despite the fact that all of it pointed elsewhere.
I was struck by the inaccuracy of their observation, and how they quickly misinterpreted facts. And yet, when confronted by their mistakes, they refused to acknowledge them, believing they were in the right.
"How could that happen?" I wondered.
It didn't take long for me to realize how. I suffered from the same sinful pattern the next night. I perceived that someone had did something against me. And within a minute I had a very long, detailed rap sheet scrolling in my head of how this person had wronged me over the past number of years. And my anger was exacerbated. I couldn't stop scrolling. I couldn't stop thinking. It was so severe that I could not sleep.
As Heather, my wife, asked me questions I raised my voice, accused this person of a number of wrongs, and even wondered, "should I even be friends with this person anymore?"
How could I come to that conclusion in my heart within a matter of minutes? Easy. I told myself one story, followed by another, followed by another, until my slight annoyance became a blinding rage. A friend became a bully. A fellow believer became a self-centered jerk. I made myself into a victim. And I was ready for justice.
Now, there are a number of things that were wrong with this that we could address. But what struck me was how easy it was to neglect all the good of this person because of my anger. I knew I wasn't thinking clearly. I knew I was being unfair. And for a while, I didn't care. I wanted to believe my stories, my made-up resume, and give into my rage. I wanted to be angry.
It was blinding, and I was captive to it. Forgive? Why should I? Love? Why should I?
"They don't deserve it!" I would think to myself.
The scriptures argued back, "neither did you." Checkmate.
How can we be freed from the captivity of anger? By looking at the King who had every right to be angry, and yet poured His wrath out on the Son for our sake.
Jesus tells a parable that helps us. In Matthew 18, a man is indebted to his king. His debt? 10,000 talents. In modern day American dollars, that's roughly 7 billion dollars! There's no way that he, a day laborer, could pay that back! But the king forgives the debt. Afterwards, the forgiven servant goes and finds someone who owes him 100 denarii, which was roughly one-third of a year's wages. Think somewhere in the ball park of $10,000-$15,000. Now, this man could not pay back the forgiven servant, so he had him sent to prison until he could pay it back.
Certainly, this was a large debt. In some ways, it's understandable that he would be upset. But how absurd is it that he wouldn't forgive it, knowing how much he had been forgiven?
Jesus tells this parable as a response to a question Peter asks. "“Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times"" (Matthew 18:21-22)
Do you notice where Peter is going with this? Peter is saying, "I'm pretty good if I forgive someone seven times, and then I stop loving him, right?" Jesus responds by saying it's not enough. He's essentially saying your position and direction are always to forgive. Why? Because it's a response to how you've been forgiven!
The Gospel is what can free us from the captivity of anger. I can forgive someone for a while if I really love them, but sometimes I find myself having the "last straw." But if I look at how Jesus loved me in spite of my sinfulness, then I really lose any power to be consumed by rage and anger. I can make the choice to forgive, even when my emotions say otherwise.
It's not easy. It's not rewarding in the short-term. But it's life-giving rather than life-taking. It's freedom, not slavery to the whims of our anger. It's the freedom that Jesus promised us, and in turn He helps us to engage those who wronged us, spoke ill of us, or persecuted us with love and mercy. Just as He did with us.