I just read a great blog piece recently by Kevin DeYoung who addressed the issue of getting after others’ sins while ignoring the deep sin in one’s own heart. You can read his post here about gluttony (maybe it’s more about cannibalism based on the picture of the marshmallows). What starts to get clear is that we tend to pick and choose sins to focus on in others while at the same time tending to gloss over the depth of our own sin and how it culturally manifests itself. This strategy allows us to conveniently focus on how bad others are are while giving ourself a pass.
While DeYoung focused on gluttony, let me focus on what I commonly observe today. What about wrath? Why have we given a pass to Christians who are angry? My observation from blogs, comments, and listening to people is that there are a lot of angry people who appear to be followers of Christ. Why are some Christians vehemently uncharitable in their comments about those who don’t share their beliefs? How could it be that people who follow after Jesus are some of the most angry people on the planet? To paraphrase my senior pastor, Lionel, the world is not looking at angry Christians thinking that looks so attractive and representative of Christ.
My use of the word “wrath” is a reflection of how the early Christians adopted seven broad, overarching categories of sin. So wrath, anger, or rage, encompasses a range that is more than just blowing up at a person. Robert Sternberg in his book, The Psychology of Hate, identified 3 main components of hate: (1) the negation of intimacy, which originates from feelings of disgust; (2) passion, which is expressed as intense fear or anger in response to a threat; and (3) contempt, expressed through the devaluation of another. Sternberg says these three components generate, in combination, a range of expressions all the way from cool hate (disgust) to hot hate (rage/anger) including everything in-between – detesting, loathing, revilement, seething, and impatience. Sternberg’s point is that the emotion states of hate runs a wide spectrum and are not just expressed as exploding in rage. While anger and hate are somewhat different, festering anger is a necessary condition of hatred. Could it be that the anger that comes out of Christians toward others is actually a low level hatred?
Anger, in general, is the emotion that rises up out of the heart when one senses that their will is being crossed, they aren’t getting their way, or something is being taken away. It seems to me that much of Christians’ responses today is a much deeper reflection of pride and narcissism that reside in the heart? Like a child who doesn’t know how to respond in an appropriate manner, this kind of anger seems to be more directly linked with a sense of entitlement or privilege that is completely out of line with the gospel.
But there seems to be more to this anger. It was Nietzsche who taught that people suppress their anger only to express it either as resentment or indignation as a way of morally disapproving of others. Much of this anger expressed by Christians takes on a triumphalistic tone. Trimumphalism is the belief that one’s belief is morally superior to another’s and should triumph over every other belief out there. It’s not just, “I have a set of true beliefs.” It’s “I have a set of true beliefs and you are are incredibly wrong” with the spirit of “you are incredibly stupid for believing what you do.” This is the tenor of the attitude that characterizes many comments from Christians in blogs and articles that we read every day.
I’m certainly not saying that we can never determine the rightness or wrongness of a belief. What the triumphalistic attitude communicates is a moral superiority that trumps anyone else. Simply put, it’s a way to shut any discussion down through the wrathful devaluing another by belittling them or reducing them to lesser human status. It seems as though the wider the divide between people the more some people just want to argue. In the midst of angry volleys back and forth, I do not personally know of anyone who ended up seeing Christ as more beautiful because they were devalued or treated poorly in a verbal exchange.
This manner of speaking to people is not in line with the gospel (Gal. 2:14). If the gospel is good news then I don’t have to be insecure of losing power, position, and influence. I don’t have to grind on the fact that my will is being frustrated. Deep charity toward others is in line with the gospel, even if I disagree with them. The reason is Christ suffered complete devaluation on my behalf. I have nothing to prove. I have nothing to fear. I certainly am not in any position to elevate myself above others. This is the only way that we can actually respond humbly to others.