Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Boston Bombings, Kermit Gosnell, and the Role of Anger
Speaking of things that are hard to write about, this week there has been a lot of chatter about Kermit Gosnell, the abortionist who is on trial for the brutal murder of seven live-born children. The gruesome details of Gosnell's abortion practices are stomach-churning. The subject of abortion is not new to me, but I have a hard time reading about the trial. I feel disturbed. I feel angry.
Those of us who are Christians can wrestle with the role of anger in our lives. Many passages warn us against anger:
James 1:19-20: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires.
Ephesians 4:26-27: "In your anger do not sin": Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.
Matthew 5:21-22: You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, "You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment." But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.
These passages can make anger seem like a open-and-shut case. Clearly, it seems, anger is sinful and it has no role in the life of the Christian.
At the same time, other passages seem to present the idea that anger has a place in our lives. We have Jesus cleansing the temple when merchants have used the Passover to oppress the poor and line their pockets. We also have consistent examples of God's anger and wrath. And we also have the first part of the Ephesians passage quoted above. The Apostle Paul doesn't tell us not to be angry, but not to sin in our anger.
Apparently, this is more complicated that it seems. But if we look to Scripture to guide us on the subject of anger, we can come up with some clear direction.
1. Anger is not necessarily sinful.
If we define anger as an emotion response to something or someone, then anger itself is not sinful. In fact, in certain cases anger would seem to be necessary. The utter lack of anger does not demonstrate that someone has reached some state of peace and spiritual tranquility. Instead it simply demonstrates indifference. It is appropriate to be indignant when terrorist bomb marathon runners, or when a licensed physician dismembers babies, or when any number of other atrocities (domestic violence, child abuse, rape, sex trafficking, etc.) are carried out. When we are angry, it proves that we care.
2. We should not automatically assume that our anger is well-founded.
Sometimes we get angry because of atrocities. Most of the time, though, we get angry because our plans are being thwarted. Someone else gets the promotion we want. Someone cuts in front of us on the freeway. Someone speaks a hurtful words to us. When we are slighted, anger often follows.
We must recognize that most of our anger is not the result of objective injustice and oppression. It is much more often the result of a personal offense. This kind of anger only shows that what is most important to us is . . . us. When we experience anger, we should always pause to check our motives, rather than automatically justifying our anger as "righteous."
3. None of us is the judge.
Sometimes anger is appropriate. That said, anger should not lead us to revenge or vigilante justice. This doesn't mean that it is wrong for us to have a legal system, to have prison, or even to have the death penalty. It simply means that it is not the job of any human being to dole out wrath. Scripture is clear on this. Perhaps the best summary passage on this subject is Romans 12:19: Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord.
Our appropriate anger over murder and rape and acts of terror should not cause us to conclude that we are qualified to take revenge on others. That is not our job. That is God's job. Paul gives us the comfort of knowing that the only perfect judge will sort all of this out in the end. God's wrath and judgment are always sobering realities, but they are also comforting realities. We can set aside revenge because someone else is going to sort things out.
4. We are not superior to others.
When I read about Kermit Gosnell or the Boston terrorists, it is easy for me to think of them as sub-human. Or at least to think of them as sub-Dan-Franklin. Since I have never done those things, I can disregard them as human beings and quickly condemn them to hell in my own heart.
It is not wrong for me to be angry, but it is misguided for me to forget that none of these guilty people need the gospel of Jesus any more than I need it. Russell Moore wrote a post about this reality last week. I confess that I did not enjoy reading it, but I needed it. In the post he reminds us all that the difference between us and Gosnell or the Boston bombers or Osama bin Laden is a matter of degree.
In other words, I must take a moment and remember that there are a lot of good reasons for God, and others, to be angry with me. I must be careful not to use the occasion of someone else's atrocity to make me feel like I am better than them. I am a broken sinner saved only by the sacrificial work of Jesus. We all come to God the same way, through the blood of Jesus.
If you find yourself responding to recent events with anger, you are not alone. You don't need to beat yourself up over it. At the very least your anger simply shows that you care. But you also don't need to assume that your mindset is completely justified. We all must humble ourselves and ask how God will guide us to respond to our anger.
And if we respond rightly to our anger, it will bring us exactly where we need to go: To the gospel of Jesus Christ.