There’s a bumper sticker floating around–you may have seen it–that reads, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.” There are a lot of days when that phrase really resonates with me, and today has been one of those days.
Maybe “outraged” is a little strong. Maybe angry, discouraged, or frustrated are better words. But either way, today I woke up feeling kind of bitter. Perhaps it’s the fact that random people who never read my blog and don’t know anything about me somehow feel justified leaving mean, name-calling comments on my site. Perhaps it is this whole Chick-fil-a thing and how divisive it’s become (Which, by the way, I was not trying to make worse through my own post on the matter. I was trying to promote dialogue, not division or choosing sides, though I’m not sure I succeeded in that goal…). Perhaps it is our overall political climate, since both parties equally infuriate me. Perhaps it is the long list of injustices being perpetuated throughout the world with no end in sight. Or perhaps it was the guy who wouldn’t let me merge in traffic yesterday when my lane was ending.
It could be any of those things, or all of the above. Either way, today I’ve felt icky and bummed, and I hate that feeling. I don’t like feeling angry at the world, and I certainly don’t like the way it shapes my heart. Whenever I start to become cynical, it influences the way I see other people, treat other people, and talk about other people. It leads me to make sweeping dismissals of certain groups, to paint issues in ridiculously black and white terms, and to lash out at whoever crosses me. The fruits of those bitter seeds are not only ugly, but I also suspect they are the source of spiritual decay.
That is not to say that anger is wrong or bad. There are times when a lack of anger certainly reveals apathy toward those things for which God cares deeply. In Scripture, God Himself is shown to be angry at sin and injustice, so our hearts should be in sync with that part of His character. There are times when, if we are not angry, then we’re either not paying attention, or we are disconnected from the very heart of God.
However, I am grateful for the WHOLE picture of God as described in His Word. Without it I might get stuck in that place of cynicism and rage. Scripture, on the other hand, portrays a God who gets angry at injustice, yes, but who equally evidences love, mercy, hope, and redemptive intervention. These qualities hold one another in a perfect tension that keeps my spirit in check.
So this morning, as I woke up wanting to withdraw from the world, deactivate my Facebook and Twitter, stop watching the news, and sit outside in the grass thinking happy thoughts, all the while pretending that there isn’t a laundry list of things that get under my skin, I decided to open my Bible. The first verse that God brought to mind is John 16:33 and it reads,
In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.
There are a lot of ways that one could read/interpret this verse. Overcome could mean “conquer” or “do away with,” for example. But within the context of the Jesus story, “overcoming the world” seems not to mean the defeat of humankind in a Jesus v. humanity sort of way, but instead overcoming the powers of the world, such as sin, death, and destruction. Those wicked things which threaten to have the last word, Christ has overcome them and now the last word is peace.
For Christians, this means that our anger should be tempered with love, yes, but not as a self-generated gesture of good will and empty emotionalism. Love of neighbor is not a sentiment that we stir up in ourselves because of some vague notion that “God is love” and we should be loving too.
In order to love the world and avoid being swallowed up by cynicism, we begin not with sentimentality but with the cross. We remember that Christ has put to death the many ways we sin against one another each day. It is the reason he came, and the reason we have hope. So whenever I read a mean-hearted Facebook status, tweet, or blog comment, I am reminded of why we need Jesus. We are a profoundly broken people who cannot help but hurt one another, and that is why we desperately need Christ.
We cannot jump from anger to love without the bridge that is the gospel. In the death and resurrection of Christ we are witness to a transformative love and we are given a reason to hope for redemption. We are also given a reason to rejoice and be grateful that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).
All of that to say, I think there is something to that bumper sticker. Sometimes we fail to be outraged about the wrong things, and that apathy is a spiritual sickness. However, there are times when the absence of outrage is actually a choice. Some of us refuse to dwell in our anger because it is equally unhealthy to do so.
As for me, I will not suppress my anger but I will rightly direct it–or at least I will try to. I will turn my anger toward my own sin and remember my own need for forgiveness. Then, I will let that forgiveness produce gratitude, gratitude produce joy, and joy produce love. Hopefully that love will produce action in the face of injustice, and the right kind of redemptive action. As I seek a path that makes room for holy anger but is not imprisoned by despairing cynicism, that is the path I choose today.