We live in an angry world, both inside and outside of the church. Everywhere you look or listen people seethe and smolder over the many things that displease them. Church people rage against the culture, of course. But also against each other whose differing views of the culture and how to respond to its non-Christian values and practices cause bitter divisions. Out in the world, away from the church, it is the same story. Political and social divides cut across every segment of the population and every sphere of endeavor.
In view of that context, let me tell you why I am refusing to be angry. First, though, I admit that I am sometimes a little, and sometimes more than a little, angry. But I am not often angry, and when I am, for whatever the reason, it is always a problem, most of all my problem.
There was once a day when the righteous, or would be righteous, were angry. They would have considered themselves righteously indignant, and felt so as a matter of conscience. It would have seemed wrong not to be angry. And, of course, there was much that angered them. Just start listing the sins of the day and watch the steam rise. Then, imagine the sins of the inner life and hear the pounding of all hearts—the guilty out of conviction and the righteous out of fiery passion.
Speaking of passion, there was a special kind of internal inferno that flared up when considering the licentious, lustful urges and itches that the ungodly relieved under cover of dark. Not to mention the demonic hold that alcohol, drugs, gambling, and other vices held on people everywhere.
In that day, it seemed the preacher’s job to champion what was righteous, rage against what was wicked, warn the rebellious, wake up the slumbering, and stir the saints up in warring against … well so many things. Any gathering of serious church-members would feature reminders and rundowns on the great sins of the day.
That was once, a different day and time, so different that a time-traveler from then to now might wonder how this could possibly be the same world, whether one cared about God or not. That was once, and a lot of good and godly people didn’t think anything of it, and even folks outside the church didn’t either, though they usually just ignored whatever ranting and raving they heard.
Of course, despite the anger, there were good and godly people then, who loved the Lord with all their hearts and minds, and lived with such vibrant faith that Jesus, the love of their lives, became evident to others. And many others came to faith and Jesus built his church just as he has in every other age.
In this past-world the society became accustomed to hearing the church denounce the great sins of the day and declare there would be hell to pay. In that day, the culture was friendly, if not actually supportive, toward the church, and perhaps looked to the church for a sense of conscience. Thus, anger over sinners and their sins (inside and outside the church) seemed central to much of the church’s teaching and preaching. Some today lament that the church no longer exhibits such “righteous” zeal.
For my part, however, I cannot see any justification for this anger that once figured so prominently in the church’s message. Instead, I must confess that when I am angry it is almost always a problem, most of all my problem.
Before I tell you why, let me assure you it is not because I see nothing that angers me. Far from it. Personally, socially, culturally, relationally, politically, spiritually—whatever the realm may be, I assure you I find plenty grist for the anger mill. Only to begin the list: when God’s way is distorted, perverted, denied or dismissed, when people are hurt or when they hurt others, when evil assaults, when injustice occurs, when racism manifests, when bad people win and good people lose, and nobody can or will do anything, when systems designed to help actually hurt the ones who need help the most, when tragedy strikes, when terror reigns on anyone, anywhere, when people say what isn’t true, or even what is true but for no better reason than to talk, when we are careless and callous, when the overlooked are left behind, when the cast-away is charged with being aloof, when perpetrators blame their prey, when the powerful think the law doesn’t apply to them, when people are rude, not once but again and again, and when enough is enough. I could go on, but it’d just make me mad.
Granted, so many things are so very wrong, and so very angering. Still, here is why I’m refusing to be angry, and why when I fail it’s always a problem, above all my problem. I am refusing to become angry because I am a follower of Jesus. I know how “nice” and perhaps trite that sounds, but bear with me for a few minutes. I am not saying this to appear pious or to deny the anger, indeed rage, that sometimes lies beneath the service. I am saying this out of a serious consideration of the person of Jesus who calls us to enter into his way of living.
Consider this Jesus: The Gospel writers call him the “son of man or humanity.” Which means he is the ultimate expression of what it means to be human, the very image in which we’re all made. He is the gold standard and criterion for all things human.
The writers also name him: The “son of God.” Which, among other things, means he is the image of the God otherwise invisible to all. He shows us God bodily. In Jesus we see what God most wants us to see and understand about God.
Here is a fact: This Jesus, son of humanity and son of God, was not an angry bearer-of-human-being, nor was he an angry-bearer-of-the-Godhead in bodily form. Jesus was not angry. He did become angry, at times, which I’ll come to (in my next post), but if you read his story, walk with him in his Spirit, and call to mind all the words that might express who he was/is, how he was/is, the way he did whatever he did/does, “angry” will not be on the list. I am sure this is indisputable!
It is also remarkable! Jesus—God in flesh, like no other, holy, righteous, true, good, and pure—walked into a world that had been ruined, compared to what God had in mind, and had become a shadow of its former glory, and Jesus was not an angry person. He was holy but not angry.
Then consider this: Jesus was able to discern all that was wrong with people and the world. He needed no one to tell him what was happening with any human person, but was alert to exactly all the ways what was wrong was wrong. Jesus was able to imagine with precision all the damage that would follow from every evil occurring when it occurred. Still Jesus was not an angry person.
Disturbingly, however, many of his followers are just the opposite: they are angry but not holy. The one most holy (who might deserve to be) was not angry, and some followers—habitually angry—are not holy.
Followers of Jesus profess to love Jesus, commit to him as the way, the truth and the life, trust him for their eternal well-being, and are called to be like Jesus. They must therefore refuse to be angry for long, when they become angry, and must flee the anger that stalks their souls and, in these days, our land. If for no other reason than the Jesus they say they love and follow was not an angry person.
Jesus was a loving person. And loving persons are not angry persons. Loving persons can become angry, to be sure, but anger does not control or define them. In fact, the more deeply and characteristically they love, in the Jesus way, the less angry they will be and the less anger as such has a hold on their lives. Jesus embodied extraordinary, self-sacrificing love. His loving self-sacrifice became the ultimate disclosure of the one true God. For that reason, followers of Jesus cannot be angry people, but must follow their Master and Leader out of and away from their anger.
Jesus teaches them another way to respond to the people and the circumstances that can make them angry people. In the next post, we will explore this other way.