A soft answer turneth away wrath
Why doesn’t God simply forgive us our sins? Why do we need the mess and the agony of the cross? Why is atonement so elaborate: prefigured through millions of animal deaths, and then purchased with the blood of God?
Surely Jesus could go to our sin folder, hit “Select all” and drag it into the Recycle Bin? That way, the whole sorry mess could be quickly and clinically deleted forever.
Yet if we think that’s how forgiveness works, we’ve clearly never tried it for ourselves. Forgiveness is always deeply sacrificial – painful, costly and messy. As Proverbs observes:
A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger. (Proverbs 15:1)
Have you ever been in an argument where you’re exchanging grievous words with another? As this verse describes it, anger is being “stirred up”… and stirred up… and stirred up. A vicious cycle develops as you both descend into increasing harshness. In this situation, what does it mean to answer the other person with genuine gentleness? If they have spoken “grievous words” which Proverbs 12:18 says are “like piercings of a sword” – what is it like to make “a soft answer”?
It is painful and hard. This is not like dragging some “sin files” into the Recycle Bin. It is not a simple matter of forgiving and forgetting – it involves heart-wrenching sacrifice.
And that’s exactly how this proverb describes it. You see ‘turneth away wrath’ is a phrase in the Bible that’s always associated with sacrifices. It is blood sacrifices that ‘turn away wrath’. That’s how atonement works. Anger is turned away from you because it’s turned on the sacrifice instead.
And Proverbs says: if you’re in an argument and you answer someone gently it’s like being a human sacrifice! If we’ve ever tried it, we know that’s how it feels. Forgiveness is always sacrificial.
And nowhere is this more true, than at the cross. In the Bible, the cross is described as the place where Jesus turns away God’s wrath (Romans 3:25; 1 John 4:10). At the cross the wrath of God is turned away from us and turned onto Jesus.
So here’s a way of thinking about the cross. Imagine all our harsh words against heaven. Imagine our grievous rebellion, like sword-thrusts that pierce the heart. And now think of the “soft answer” of Jesus. He receives the blow, He refuses to lash back, He opens wide His arms and absorbs our hatred. In this way He turns away wrath.
Christ’s grace heals and restores us. But it’s so costly to Him. To give us peace, He takes wrath.
There no such thing as simple forgiveness. It is always sacrificial. So it is with the ultimate atonement – and so it will be with every reconciliation we seek.
Are there ‘soft answers’ you need to make? As we look to Christ crucified we can make peace in His strength. Our soft answers will hurt but they have incredible power to redeem:
Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21)
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