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“…for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.“ – James 1:20 (NASB)
Putting Our Anger in Context
In this text from the book of James, the word anger is not speaking merely in terms of that human emotion which, at one point or another, we all have expressed (often to our regret, no doubt), but more so of the devastating effects that can result from our failing to manage such emotions in a godly manner, or, when we fail to allow ourselves to be led by the Holy Spirit of God.
This is not to say or imply that Christians are never to be angry.
The Bible is clear that anger is, in fact, permissible. However, God’s Word is just as unambiguous that our anger, regardless of whom or what may have served as the impetus for our being angry, should not only not lead to sinful behavior on our part, but be slow to manifest itself to begin with.
As followers of Jesus, whose hearts and minds have been transformed by His grace, we are to “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (James 1:20).” Every thought. The spirit of this command is no different from God’s warning to Cain prior to his volitional decision to murder his brother, Abel, “…sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.”
All this to say that in light of recent events involving police officers in Ferguson with Michael Brown, Baltimore with Freddie Gray, New York City with Eric Garner, and more recently at a swimming pool party in McKinney, Texas, I’m noticing that a lot of my black brothers and sisters are not only angry, but are expressing their anger in ways that are not reflective of the fruit of those who are called to be imitators of Christ in this sinful world.
I say this not out of a spirit of judgmental condemnation, but out of genuine concern that this matter of “injustice” is beginning to take on a decidedly angry demeanor among many who claim the name of the One who has called us to live a life that is noticeably distinct from the world. And though there is a context in which Christians are permitted to judge, only God Himself can condemn.
With this in mind, I want to say that it is not from some moral high horse that I say any of this. Not at all. The fingers that are typing these words right now are the fingers of a sinner so, far be it from me to castigate, criticize or disparage anyone. I’m simply one man doing his best to lovingly express an opinion based on my own personal observations, fully realizing that the perspective of others may differ from mine and that’s perfectly fine.
The Tail Wagging The Dog?
That said, the fact remains that the aforementioned incidents have served to provide many of us with a convenient excuse to exchange our Gospel-centered mandate for a worldly mindset that more closely resembles who we were before we encountered Christ. It’s as if the mere mention of a black person being approached, let alone arrested, by a police officer warrants a tsunami of outcries for “Justice!”, oftentimes before it has even been established that any act(s) of injustice ever occurred.
These impulsive responses remind me of one of my all-time favorite movies, the 2009 animated film ‘UP!‘, in which a loveable dog named Doug would, out of nowhere and for no apparent reason whatsoever, yell at the top of his lungs, “SQUIRREL!”, and anyone within the sound of Doug’s voice would immediately stop whatever it was they were doing and, immovable, stare like a laser beam in whichever direction Doug’s nose was pointing only to learn to their dismay that not only was there no squirrel, but that there was nothing at all to get all hyped up about in the first place.
This is neither to infer nor imply that police officers should not to be held accountable for actions that are in violation of one’s Constitutional or civil rights.
It would be ridiculous to even suggest that that is what I am positing here.
Nevertheless, we need to be careful to not be so reactionary to how things may seem to be on the surface that we let the “tail wag the dog”, so to speak, every time we’re presented with a video, an image, or hear of an encounter involving a police officer and someone who is black. Not every confrontation involving the police and blacks is race-induced, so, we shouldn’t be so quick to mirror Doug the dog, pointing at the police and yelling “RACIST!”, simply because the police officer isn’t black and the person whom the officer happens to be dealing with is.
Looking For Loopholes
If we were pressed on the matter, I believe most of us would confess to having bought into the idea that the Christian life is no bed of roses. We would accede that suffering “comes with the territory” (John 16:33). At least, that’s what we would profess with our mouth anyway.
But what about our heart?
You see, when it comes to the question of what is to be the Christian’s response to injustice what many of us want, but probably wouldn’t admit, is a Gospel with asterisks: biblical fine print that gives us the green light to push the envelope of the standard of behavior to which followers of Christ are called.
It’s what I’ve termed “Loophole Theology”.
Allow me to explain.
Loophole Theology is when we try to augment what God has clearly said in His Word by adding exceptions, like “but” and “if”, in an effort to justify our own sinful, albeit well-intentioned, response to what we’ve perceived to be an injustice done either to us or to someone else.
The thing is, though, there are no loopholes in the Word of God.
Try as we might, there are no “lost” Bible verses or yet-to-be-discovered Scriptural fine print that allows for certain situations and circumstances whereby we are free to express our anger or, if you prefer, “righteous indignation”, in any way other than what the Gospel prescribes. This frustrates us because, in our flesh, we want to strike back – and hard – whenever we see our subjective standard of righteousness, as opposed to God’s objective standard, being violated.
“For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps.” – 1 Peter 2:21
Dying To Self
This is where the Gospel gets hard.
What makes suffering, justified or not, so difficult for the follower of Christ is that we actually have to walk the talk.
As Christians, we are commanded by God – and expected by the world – to deal with suffering as Christ did.
Following in the steps of Jesus requires that we die to ourselves and to our own will and desires. In doing so, we must remind ourselves of the words of the German theologian and martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who stated, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.”
A sobering thought, isn’t it that, contrary to the so-called “prosperity gospel” being proffered by many today, the way of Jesus is the way of self-denial and total abandonment of our will in volitional submission to His will and His timing?
“For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake…” – Philippians 1:29
Dying to self is probably the most difficult discipline of the Christian life, especially when we feel we are being treated unjustly. Nevertheless, in those moments we must always – always – look to Jesus and to the example He set by His sacrificial death on the cross.
Anger that is rooted in a desire for revenge or retaliation is never the way of the Christian.
Regardless how others might treat us, whether it is at the hands of a police officer or a family member, it will never surpass the injustice Jesus willingly endured on behalf of sinners like you and me. If the sufferings God has ordained for us are to in any way be redemptive for His kingdom, we must, as Christ did, determine in our heart to die to our own will so that God, and God alone, is glorified.
Dying to ourselves is never easy.
No one said it would be.
And yet, my dear brothers and sisters, death to self is what Christ has called us to, “for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.”
Humbly in Christ,