A soft answer turneth away wrath

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Why doesn’t God simply forgive us of our sins?  Why the mess and the agony of the cross?  Why the elaborate nature of atonement – prefigured through millions of animal deaths, and then purchased by the death of Christ Himself?

Surely God could go to our sin folder, hit “Select all” and drag it into the Recycle Bin.  Surely the whole sorry mess could be quickly and clinically deleted forever.

Yet if a person thinks forgiveness can ever work like that, they’ve clearly never tried it for themselves.  Forgiveness is always painful, costly, messy, heart-wrenching. Forgiveness is always deeply sacrificial.  Consider this verse from Proverbs:

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 truly vicious cycle develops as you both descend into greater harshness.  In such a situation, what is it like 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, it is hard, it is a wrench, it is a sacrifice. It is not just water off a duck’s back. It is not like dragging some “sin files” into the Recycle Bin.  It is not a simple matter of forgiving and forgetting – it involves sacrifice.

And this proverb describes it is as a sacrifice. You see the phrase ‘turneth away wrath’ is a special phrase in the bible that’s almost 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.

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. The bible describes the cross 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.

His grace heals and restores us.  But it is so costly to Him.  To give us peace, He must take 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 make.   As we look to Christ crucified we draw strength from Him to make our own soft answers.  It hurts, but it’s the only peacemaking power in the world:

Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.  (Romans 12:21)

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