We seem to have entered the phase in human history when everyone gets viscerally angry about everything. I wish it were at least limited to the realm of politics so I could quietly sip my tea and talk about those lunatics in Washington without sounding hypocritical or myopic. “Partisanship has gotten so bad,” I would say, “nothing gets accomplished. They just yell and squabble and bicker and vilify. About everything.”
And so they do; I can’t deny that. But such prominent displays of outrage are increasingly ubiquitous, no longer confined to the Parliament — er, Senate floor. If you disagree with me in opinion, I’m entitled to my rant on social media. If you’re at variance with me in facts, I get to rave. If you quote foundational historic documents, I can scream at you. If I can make the focus of a thing about a tangential issue, say racism, sexism, or privilege, then I can get other people to share my outrage. (Granted, some things are about racial and gender inequality, but I daresay a lot of things cast in those lights simply aren’t — but they wouldn’t be as incendiary without that particular element inflated.)
It’s gotten to the point a lot of people are mad at everyone being so mad. Meta-anger.
Scripture teaches us anger isn’t inherently sinful. If it were, Jesus wouldn’t have cleansed the temple and cursed the fig tree, nor would Paul tell us to be angry without sinning. The kind of anger we see on display most often, however, seems to cross that line. Remember the death threats against people who wouldn’t provide services for same-sex “weddings”? The riots and looting following police shootings? Or perhaps anger-induced sins of omission, letting justice be undone just because the victim or someone around him/her angered those in power? Somehow we can no longer “be angry and sin not” (Eph. 4:26).
To me, this speaks of a deeper issue. Yes, it can easily (and perhaps even rightly) be argued people simply want things about which to be outraged. In a world of false love (pornography), false sorrow (“I’m fine”), and false friendship (Facebook), maybe we’re instinctually trying to hold on to a genuine emotion, and the easiest to grasp is rage. Maybe we need to be livid just to feel human. If so, God help us all. But I don’t think that’s really it. I think, at base, our restraint of outrage is simply the latest victim in the war against self-control.
Make no mistake: there is most certainly an ongoing war against the virtue — the fruit of the Spirit — known as self-control. The onslaught comes from media (Hollywood, television, books, music, news programs); from science (when unchained from the norming forces of biblical morality and used as a justification for all manner of things); from simple selfishness and pride; and from a host of other factors we collectively call the world, the flesh, and the devil. Self-control gets in the way of “fun” and consumerism, while a lack of it evades and erodes that nagging sort of religion we all know does nothing but impedes progress. The Galatians 5:23 self-control, in context, opposes “sexual immorality, impurity, and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like” (Gal. 5:19-21). It further opposes materialism, debt, and bad attitudes about job satisfaction, the size of your house, and “my church just isn’t feeding me.”
When we lose self-control, yes, we gain things like massive credit card debt and adultery and outraged rants on Facebook. And yes, we lose decency and civility. But we also lose a proper view of both the self and the other. Id and ego become terrible twin gods, and we worship them at hundreds of altars for thousands of dollars. The other becomes, not a fellow human being, but just another object to be consumed, sacrificed on one of those altars to the self. Instead of controlling the self, the self is in control — which means God is not.
And that’s just outrageous.
We need to reclaim self-control. Simple willpower is not enough, for our fallen human wills can never choose the good every time (or at all in the absence of God’s grace). We must rely upon God, upon a Strength made perfect in our weakness (2 Cor. 12:9). May we return to worship, to prayer, to the word and the Word who stands behind it. May we place God upon the throne of our hearts once more, and experience, not rage, but shalom, a peace which surpasses all understanding.