Photo Credit: The Blue Diamond Gallery
A friend of mine reached out to me this week with this dilemma. A Christian friend of mine finds herself in the middle of a stand-off between pro-choice colleagues and pro-life friends. Each side angry at the other, without even knowing each other, just on principle alone.
I’ve been puzzling over her situation all week, and then yesterday, thanks to a pastor friend, an answer came. In fact, it is the most definitive answer to so many conflictive situations in our lives. Is it easy, no? Simple, yes.
The answer…or the path to the answer…is to refuse to get angry. OK, maybe we can’t refuse to get angry, but we can determine our response to anger. Here’s where we can act: refuse to think ill of another. Refuse.
I’m not talking about stuffing our anger somewhere inside, keeping it pressurized until it explodes sometime later. Refusing to act in anger is actually a step toward defusing it. Anger demands action. We take the energy of the anger and do something altogether different with it.
Jesus of Nazareth once delivered a short sermon known as the Sermon on the Mount. No matter our current faith, if we applied his teaching to life and politics, we could change the world for good. In the crowd that day, many religious leaders saw him as a threat, and would seek to destroy him in the months to come. However, that day…the wisdom and authority of Jesus’ words hit home to those in hearing, and they “were amazed”.
Here’s what Jesus said about anger:
“You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.” – Matthew 5:21-22
See the contrast…we would never even think of murder as the solution but we allow ourselves to stir up anger like it’s nothing… especially if “deserved”. Jesus sees it differently.
When someone cuts us off in traffic, puts us down at work, or sets in motion legislation against a cause dear to us, we get angry. What is our response?
Anger too often goes to a place which escalates the situation rather than altering it in a positive way.
If we take to responding to anger, with a quietened heart, this is far from passivism. This is about as intentional and reasoned an action possible for us to take. Refusing to act in anger…refusing to think ill or speak ill of another.
Our strong opinions about politics today (especially, this being an election year) drive us to put relational wedges between ourselves and those with whom we disagree. What if we responded differently to those with whom anger becomes the first emotion?
We would listen, with our finger on the pulse of their hearts. We would seek to understand. Our disagreements become a launch pad for positive action. Anger would cease being a call to retaliatory or retributive action. It would become a flag, a button, a cue to respond in love and forgiveness.
Not as satisfying as “righteous indignation”, right? Not as definitive as my definition of justice…my, my, my.
What if there is another path to justice or rightness? We have another example from the life of Jesus…well, maybe examples, but here is one that peels away any sense of my right to express anger.
Jesus’ enemies would press to prevail against his life. It wasn’t really about the Jewish religious leaders or the Roman political authorities. Jesus gave his life for us. He was always in control, and his purposes were fulfilled, not thwarted, on the cross.
At any time, Jesus could have turned the situation around that day. When he was beaten, ridiculed, and falsely accused, he could have walked away. When he was attached to the cross, he could have taken himself down (Matthew 27:40-41). When he saw the sorrow on Mary’s face or his friend John’s torment, he could have acted in anger against those causing so much pain.
He did not. How he responded was an altogether different way:
“Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing.” – Luke 23:34
When we find ourselves getting angry or having reason for anger, we can take another path through it. Instead of hardening our hearts toward those who cut us off or block our goals, we can take the anger a different way. We are not obliged to cultivate hatred and contempt…for reckless drivers, power brokers at work, or politicians or political parties.
Remember that “righteous indignation”? It goes unrighteous in milliseconds. Unless we alter course.
What if anger sparked in us an intentionality to love and forgive. What if, instead of railing in Facebook posts or blogs or office conversations, we work toward solutions about the things we care most about?…the things that suffer when we do nothing but express anger about them. What if we prayed more for our President, for instance…for Congress…for our governors and State legislatures. What if we thought deeply about solutions and then wrote them to those decision-makers? Rather than just talking to friend (or enemy) about how we disagree with them…or to those with whom we agree and then agree together to hate the other side.
What if (for my friend above) we took our anger at abortion or protecting choice on the other side of the conversation, and we worked to make access to birth control and health care truly available for those most vulnerable?
What would the world look like if we refused to act on anger in hateful, punishing ways? What if we remembered we are all frail humanity? No matter how we come across to others or how powerful or powerless we may be, we can alter the course of anger… in ways that heal instead of hurt.
There is another verse in the Bible where the Apostle Paul says, “Be angry but do not sin.” (Ephesians 4:26). We, as Christians, sometimes justify our anger by calling it righteous, when our actions say otherwise. When we act out of anger, we can’t reflect the One who lived a life without sin…unless we act in love, tempering our anger into something that elevates rather than diminishes.
Thanks, Cliff, for that sermon, and thanks, Sherry, for reaching out to me…and making me think about this.