Thinking It Through: Living in the Age of Rage
By Allan Wilks
Recently, much has been made of the polarization of our culture in the USA. Political debates reveal little common ground, protests turn violent, conversations quickly become heated, relationships break over differing opinions—these are but a few of the ways this polarization manifests itself. Certainly, such behaviors have existed throughout history. What is new is the frightening rate at which they accelerate in our age, to the point that today’s polarization is worse than five years ago and much worse than 50 years ago.
Unfortunately, this cancer has not failed to be felt within the church. Often, believers in the Lord Jesus Christ—those who are meant to be salt and light in the world—are anything but that as they react to the current news cycle with fear, anger, and aggressiveness. This behavior then affects relationships within their church community and, eventually, their wider communities. How has this happened?
We could argue about the source of modern aggressive behavior. But its increasing impact on our church life does seem to follow a general pattern: constant cultural pressure eventually takes its toll on even the most diligent. As time goes on, we become acclimated to the increasingly acidic rhetoric around us, and we gradually succumb to the cultural pressure, eventually exhibiting similar behavior ourselves. The change in our behavior is slow enough that we might not notice it from day to day; only when we look back in time can we recall that we were once gentler and kinder in our interactions.
Polarization is nowhere more apparent than in social media, where it is possible to react quickly but at a distance so as not to feel the consequences of our anger. I believe, in these situations, we sometimes feel we are defending God’s kingdom when, in fact, we are reacting and speaking in unbiblical ways, causing damage.
We find a good example in 1 Samuel 25. When Nabal slighted David, David’s anger immediately flared, and he said to his cohorts, “‘Every man strap on his sword!’” (v. 13, ESV) Only through the gracious, humble, and kind (though still challenging) words of Abigail, Nabal’s wife, was slaughter avoided. One of the things she helped David see was how his behavior would work against God’s long-term plan for him, even though he felt that he was about to deliver God’s righteous judgment on Nabal.
Righteous anger has a place: “‘Be angry, and do not sin,’” Paul quotes in Ephesians 4:26. But we have become so accustomed to anger in our culture that we often mistake sinful rage for the sort of anger Christ showed when purging the temple of inappropriate commerce (Matthew 21:12–13).
What can we as Christ’s followers do? Let us first recognize that God is inexorably building His church and that it is not up to us whether or not the gates of hell will prevail against it (Matthew 16:18). Let us keep our focus on the big, long-term picture. As Peter writes in his first epistle: “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:13, ESV)
Let us also renew our determination to filter all of our words, spoken and written, through the wisdom of the Bible, in which much is written on this subject. Solomon says, in Proverbs 15:1, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” and, in 16:24, “Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the bones.” In Colossians 4:6, Paul enjoins us, “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.”
Lord, I pray that you will constantly remind me of the great power of my tongue. You know I get angry at what I see around me. Help me to suppress that anger and to respond as You did when You were on earth: kind, gentle, and gracious. Help my words not to be caustic but, rather, be a salve that is sweet like a honeycomb. ■
Allan Wilks is the CMML vice president, technology.