Broken But Blessed: Righteous Anger?

January 20, 2017 by

A mother, whose eight-year-old son has special needs, responded to my latest blog posting on mercy, “I cannot say a heinous act would not cause anger, resentment or hate in me.” She continues, “For example the young mentally disabled teen that was just tortured for hours by four young men and women in Chicago. I feel overwhelming disgust for them. If that had been my son, I would kill them personally for the brutal treatment of an innocent child and have no remorse for doing so.”

This woman raises an important question: are there limits – or exceptions - to Jesus’ command to us to “be merciful?”

“I could forgive the thoughtless act committed by a drunk driver, but I could never forgive a rapist, pedophile or a serial killer,” continues the mother quoted above. Having a sister with Down Syndrome myself, I can identify with her completely. Those of us entrusted with these trusting innocents are fiercely protective, and rightly so.

To examine the Beatitudes, we must set them into Jesus’ own life and circumstances; what attitude did Jesus himself demonstrate when confronted with murderers and the like?

Brother Juniper
Bartolome Esteban Murillo, Brother Juniper and the Beggar

The origin of sin and its effects on human civilization are oft-debated themes among theologians and philosophers, as is retributive justice and its moral implications for Christians and pagans alike. The Old Testament clearly spells out laws of retaliation demanding that a person who has injured someone be punished to an equal degree (Deuteronomy 19:21). It was because of this ancient religious law that the Pharisees brought the woman caught in the act of adultery to Jesus.

‘Teacher,’ they said to Jesus, ‘the law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?’ Jesus replied, ‘Let the one of you who has never sinned throw the first stone!’ (John 8: 4-7)

It is not in my power to elucidate God’s judgment of sin, nor am I able to suggest the appropriate actions that should be taken in the face of abominable acts such as rape, murder, and the torture of innocents. But Jesus clearly overturned the Mosaic laws when he promoted mercy and the unconditional pardon of criminals. I can only reflect on Jesus’ response to those who inflicted unspeakable pain and torment on him, the epitome of innocence. The first of the seven sayings of Christ while on the cross is revelatory. Here he implores his heavenly father to “forgive them, for they know not what they do.” This prayer to God is followed by Jesus’ word in which he welcomes the repentant criminal on an adjacent cross to “be with me in Paradise.”

I, too, struggle to reconcile the paradoxes hidden in Christ’s teachings and offer no simplistic answers to thoughts such as those expressed by the woman quoted earlier. Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats clearly suggests that we will be accountable to God for our actions as well as the deeds of love we have failed to perform (Matthew 25). But the story of the prodigal son portrays a father who, before his wayward son reaches him, falls on his face with joy at his son’s return, forgiving him unconditionally. I wonder if we might be limited in our abilities, as humans, to fully comprehend the heart of God. A favorite passage of mine from Paul’s letter to the Romans, supports this thought when it says, “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How impossible it is for us to understand his ways!”

In the first letter to the Corinthians, Paul also points out that our earthly vision is incomplete. One day, however, we will know and fully understand the incomprehensible ways of God.

Regarding Jesus’ seemingly unrealistic suggestion that we must extend mercy – in all circumstances – before we can obtain God’s mercy, I am reminded of some words recounted by J. Heinrich Arnold in his book Discipleship. We may do well to ponder this thought as we continue to concern ourselves with the theme of becoming people of mercy:

If a man is confronted by a criminal, he will either judge him or show him mercy. Only God can do both in the same moment: judge him and flood him with compassion and mercy.

Read more posts in this series.


About the author

Rebekah Domer

Rebekah Domer

Since Rebekah’s upbringing at the Woodcrest Bruderhof in New York, life has taken her on many diverse assignments, from the...

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  • This is very good. Righteous indignation IS also in order when there is a heinous act of violence, but we have to always pray for that person's soul and HOPE that one day they are confronted by their sin, but our attitude in the end has to be for mercy. It is a tough one though.

  • Thank you for the blog, Rebekah. I like what you write - I particularly liked the quotation at the end! Blessings, Sally

    Sally Phalan
  • Thanks Rebekah… I personally can only hold on to the deep thoughts of the new testament that “Jesus clearly overturned the Mosaic laws “ – perhaps in a deeper thought the He has fulfilled the Mosaic laws through His suffering and death. Without the living Jesus we would perhaps all have not the strength to forgive and show mercy – at least not I.

    Detlef & Jutta Manke
  • Rebekah Very much enjoying receiving your blog.

    Caroline Taylor
  • Rebekah, Very nice; I really enjoyed reading your blog.

  • Another beautiful and very inciteful blog, Rebekah. Yes one day we will know the incomprehensible ways of God, when we stand before Him and see His face. Oh what a glorious day!!!! Then we'll know all that we want to know, but somehow, I don't think we will really care anymore. I love your response to Rosalie. Everyone chooses their own path, but God is eternal, the same, yesterday, today, and forever. Lov you all and miss you all everyday. Emily

    Emily russo
  • In response to Rosalie Gambino's question: Dear Rosalie, I believe that all the good virtues are given to us as gifts from God – mercy, peace, purity, and faith. But God gave us free will. So it is up to each of us, again and again, to choose God’s ways rather than to react out of human emotions of anger or fear. There are many times when I have turn to God in prayer, asking for His help to forgive someone who has misunderstood me, or to overcome deep fears that threaten to influence the way I react to a situation. So, I believe the two components work together – our own decision to turn to God, and the grace He gives us to act according to His spirit rather than by our human understanding. What do you think? Rebekah

    Rebekah Domer
  • Hi Rebekah, This is well written. It is truly a concept with which I struggle because, while I can forgive and show mercy to others, my mercy is conditional to the act. Like the mother in your article, I can not in any way shape or form extend mercy to those who would hurt innocents. For the longest time, I really struggled with the story of the Prodigal Son because I could only view it from the prospective of the brother. Once I viewed it from the lens of the parent, I understood the joy of a parent whose child returns to him. As always, your work is very thought provoking.

    Chris Armstrong
  • Dear Rebekah, I just thought of something I was taught since childhood. Faith is a gift. When I would question how not all of my siblings share the same devotion to our faith, I wondered how it could happen raised in the same family. This teaching helped me to understand. If I apply it to this blog, what if also the ability to be merciful in all circumstances, that purity of spirit, is also a gift from God? What are your thoughts?

    Rosalie V Gambino