I will always remember a conversation with an exorcist in which he stated that the devil is full of impotent and irrational rage. His fury against God and all that is good is impotent because he has no power against God. It is irrational because Satan is the Father of Lies, and where there is no truth there is no reason or rationality. When this impotent and irrational rage surges up in our own lives it shows the face of the deadly sin of wrath.
In one of the wisest observations in sacred Scripture we read, “Be angry, but sin not.” In other words, anger is permitted. Psychologists say that depression is often caused by repressed and unacknowledged anger. Righteous anger is the desire for justice being expressed. It is permissible, therefore to be angry but we are to express anger in a rational and powerful way. Anger should be expressed with an aim to resolve the injustice and move toward forgiveness, reconciliation and a positive solution to a problem.
Wrath, on the other hand, has no desire to bring about justice. St Thomas Aquinas said wrath was the desire for justice distorted into a longing for revenge. Wrath therefore surges forth from impotence and irrationality. Wrath is pointless and destructive anger. It lashes out intemperately without reason and without any desire for a positive, pure and powerful solution. When this kind of volcanic rage explodes from us the borderlands of hell—where irrational and impotent rage rules all—is glimpsed.
What can be even worse than this explosive rate is when the wrath is repressed within. Then we mull over our anger. We plan revenge. We think what we “should have said.” We rehearse our anger, lick our wounds and pick at the scabs of our injuries. Sullen, introspective and dark brooding is wrath turned inward and the poet Dante observes that suicide is the ultimate expression of wrath turned inward. In an act of suppressed irrational rage the human person takes the final act of desperate wrath and destroys himself.
The virtue that counters wrath is patience. Patience is not simply putting up with an offense with a kind of determined forbearance. Instead patience is a fruit of the spirit growing in the human heart. Patience is evidence of true charity in the human soul. Do you remember that old saying, “Be kind. Everyone you meet is carrying a heavy burden.”? That is an example of true, grace filled patience. The patient person does not respond in irrational rage and impotent wrath. Instead they live a daily life infused with rational patience and powerful love.
This kind of patience can only be experienced through the alchemy of forgiveness. Through the transaction of first receiving forgiveness than extending that forgiveness to others we experience and extend patience in the world. Patience is a virtue that the dark forces of hell cannot even comprehend, and its existence in a believer’s life is one of the sure signs that God is doing that work of inner transformation that finally brings the soul to the beautiful shores of heaven.
Editor’s note: This is the fifth part in an eight part series exploring the Seven Deadly Sins. Check back each Wednesday and read previous articles here.