May 23, 2019

Wednesday with Michael Spencer: What’s Growing in the Shadow of Anger?

Wednesday with Michael Spencer
What’s Growing in the Shadow of Anger?

Sometimes someone else’s sins become the light of seeing our own.

Several years ago I was working with a particularly difficult young church staff member. His pattern was to do everything his way, and when negative consequences arrived, to be completely defensive. Insight into his own character wasn’t much of an interest. Finding others guilty was. His personal drama usually involved anger and outrage, always featuring his own innocence as the main character.

Keeping this young man placated became a full-time job. As his own ministry deteriorated, his skills at blaming others never lost steam. He was a master at claiming to be persecuted when, in fact, he simply was not doing his job.

On one occasion, one of his older family members (not from our church) passed away. During the visitation at the funeral home, this young man called me in his usual tone of practiced outrage, this time because only a few members of our church had come out to visit at the funeral home. He was right. Probably less than ten people had visited this relative, who wasn’t part of our church or community.

Why am I telling this story? Because of something I noticed in the middle of that young man’s outrage.

I had worked with him on staff for a couple of years, and I’d never seen him at the funeral or visitation of anyone. He was outraged about something he did all the time.

When I realized this, I thought about the hypocrisy of his outrage, but I soon found myself wondering about my own “outrages.” How many of them were conducted in the shadow of my own obvious sins?

James says that the anger of man does not create the righteousness God requires. (1:20) I think there’s another aspect to what the anger of man does (or doesn’t do): it masks and hides other obvious sins, and despite all the “insight” that we claim when we are angry, we’re often the blindest at that moment we’re most angry and most certain we’re not wrong.

Perhaps this is why the angry man is the fool in Proverbs and elsewhere. My young staff member was outraged and thought he saw an outrageous truth. What he didn’t see was the truth of his own life. He was the fool blinded to his own sin by his raging anger.

In playing the part of the “righteous” judge- which is required of the angry person- you must claim the mantle of correct insight. But a knowledge of sin comes in the quietness of humility; in those moments when God shows us what we usually do not see.

Is this why Ephesians 4:26 counsels us to not let the sun go down on our anger? Before the end of the day, we need to restore a truthful, humble view of ourselves and lose the self-righteous assumption that our anger guarantees that we are right.

When Jesus was angry at the moneychanger in the temple, he was insightful about the truth of the situation and the truth about himself. Put yourself in the same situation: would you have the combination of truthful humility and righteous anger that Jesus has at that moment?

What you are looking at in that answer is your own fallenness. It’s the difference between yourself and Jesus, and why you should be careful of thinking that your imitation of him insures that you are right.

What sins lie obvious to God and others, but invisible to me in the shadow of anger or other emotions?

In past months, I’ve learned that believing I am right has little do with the sins that may have taken root in the soil of my “rightness.” I’ve learned that I’m quite good at excusing sinful anger, cruel words, gossip and worse sins with my conviction that I am right about something that matters.

As I’ve seen this pattern in many, many others, I’ve learned to expect it in myself. Sometimes I feel that a creeping sense of conviction of my own rightness is a sure sign that I am sinking down into the deceptions of arrogance. I realize that all those times I, like so many preachers, have given an indulgence to my flock for their anger towards persens, groups and events, I have likely simply led them to sin with impunity.

These days, Christians are often a very angry group. (And so, btw, are their critics.) We’re certain we’re right on a whole catalog of issues, and I believe we usually are right on many of those issues. I’m also certain that in the shadows of our anger about cultural and political issues, there are many of our own sins, putting down roots and growing more powerful.

Jesus, I am not like you. It’s the enemy that leads me to believe my own “righteous anger” flies clear of petty sins and hypocrisies. Open my eyes to the duplicity and delusions attached to my sinful nature. Break those chains and give me true humility. Work in me so that conviction is not the enemy of humility. Show me the seductions of believing I am right and righteous in any way apart from you. Amen.

Comments

  1. No comments yet? What’s everyone’s problem?

    So many great lines in this!!

    “He was outraged about something he did all the time.”

    “I soon found myself wondering about my own ‘outrages.’ How many of them were conducted in the shadow of my own obvious sins?”

    “What you are looking at in that answer is your own fallenness. It’s the difference between yourself and Jesus, and why you should be careful of thinking that your imitation of him insures that you are right.”

    “These days, Christians are often a very angry group. (And so, btw, are their critics.) We’re certain we’re right on a whole catalog of issues, and I believe we usually are right on many of those issues.”

    “Jesus, I am not like you… Show me the seductions of believing I am right and righteous in any way apart from you.”

    • Ronald Avra says

      Yes, it makes many good points. Somewhat overwhelmed where I’m at today; some days it’s easier just to be a lurker.

    • Dana Ames says

      There’s nothing to have a problem **with** in the post – at least for a reasonably aware person.

      Dana

    • “These days, Christians are often a very angry group.

      From what I can tell, Christians have for centuries adding up to nearly two millennia been “a very angry group.”

  2. John Schroeder says

    Well said. Self-deception is a silent killer. Every day is a day for self-examination about this. Peace.

  3. Christiane says

    ” Work in me so that conviction is not the enemy of humility.”

    a cry to be transformed . . . . and we all need this transformation, yes

    but those two words aren’t understood the same way among Christian people, no:
    “CONVICTION’ and ‘HUMILITY’

    and therein lies much difficulty in relating to those who feel empowered by self-righteousness to throw stones down on others ‘beneath’ them

    and therein lies the great difficulty of those who witness such judgment and contempt to see it as ‘biblical’ except that it is said by their biblical fundamentalist brothers that ‘the God of Wrath’ of the OT set the example for such anger and contempt . . . . and then ask those fundamentalists if ‘Jesus Christ’ IS ‘God’, and watch what kind of answers you get . . .

  4. johnbarry says

    As noted above by others there is little in substance to disagree with this article. Christians more than anyone should know that they are imperfect in many ways and are only made perfect thought the blood of Jesus. As usual the old school, demon rum haters, the :”morality” police of the rural/fundamentalist evangelicals and fundamentals have most disappeared though they still exist and get attention. Again , I know this site is aimed at those who left the wilderness of the frustrating evangelicals (credit to C. Couch, for description but this historically can apply to all true believes at some point in the history of religions.

    The Inquisition would be a project of anger against the non believers, the various progoms of hate/anger to the Jews in Europe over the centuries.

    As in American evangelical time , culture , society and “attitude” adjustments happen and since M.Spencer wrote this the “anger” has lessened to large degree. Bear in mind , one person’s anger may another man’s principal stand.

    I like to read the “vault” of articles of M. Spencer and many times , and I think, this is one where the situation he correctly described has gotten better.

    Of the three major religions of todays world which religion has more anger, intolerance and acts upon those teachings? or are all major faiths guilty of uncontrollable anger that leads to action?

    • Michael Bell says

      “I know this site is aimed at those who left the wilderness of the frustrating evangelicals”

      Not so. The site is aimed at those who are in a spiritual wilderness, wandering with out a home they can call their own.

      From Chaplain Mike’s Bio: “His journey ultimately led him into the post-evangelical wilderness, where he has found a few oases (including this blog) but wonders if he will ever find a true ecclesiastical “home” in this world.”

      • –> “I know this site is aimed at those who left the wilderness of the frustrating evangelicals”

        –> “Not so. The site is aimed at those who are in a spiritual wilderness, wandering with out a home they can call their own.”

        Yes.

        Confession: I’m not here as one of those wandering the wilderness–heck, I can’t even claim to ever have been damaged by bad, unhealthy Christianity–but rather I’m here as someone who is horrified at knowing people HAVE BEEN damaged by bad, unhealthy Christianity and wanting to make sure I don’t become a bad, unhealthy Christian to OTHERS.

    • Christiane says

      another reading of the post and comments, and I remember a novel by Flannery O’Connor, “The Violent Bear It Away” . . . .

      “The Lord out of dust had created him, had made him blood and nerve and mind, had made him to bleed and weep and think, and set him in a world of loss and fire . . . ”

      and so we find yet another young person attempting to use anger and outrage as a coping mechanism in a world that he didn’t create and cannot abide . . . . there is something of this pattern in all of us at times, if we are honest, and when it comes forth, we know instinctively that we not being honest with ourselves and that there are no easy ways out of ‘a world of loss and fire’ and no amount of blaming others will absolve us of pain

    • Of the three major religions of todays world which religion has more anger, intolerance and acts upon those teachings? or are all major faiths guilty of uncontrollable anger that leads to action?

      Well, the other two major world religions would have to go a long way to catch up with the 60,000,000 or so people that European/American Christians killed in WWII, even if we didn’t count anything else. Maybe we can give them a handicap?

      I would also wager that we Western Christians have killed a hell of a lot more members of both of those other major world religions in the 20th/21st centuries than they have of us, by a very wide margin.

  5. johnbarry says

    Mike Bell , thanks for the clarification and it is a good one. I did get it wrong my description and I appreciate your reply.

    • Michael Bell says

      You are welcome John.

      I (almost) always appreciate your input. Even on those topics where we are not in agreement.

      I (sometimes) try hard not to be the person this post is written about, but am not always successful. 🙁

  6. Writing a song right now that starts out with, “You got my goat”. It will explore anger and finding a way to resolve it without killing the person. It’s taking a long time because it’s a bit of a process to let go of the anger and then finding a way to create lyrics that do it justice as well as sounding rhymey, well it’s taking awhile. Somehow it will end with giving the goat away. You got my goat and you can keep my goat. I’m free. You can clean up after it and feed it, it’s yours.

    • Michael Bell says

      Would love to see the lyrics for this when you are done! Feel free to post them on one of my Friday posts.

      • Thanks Michael! Lol! It’s going to be long on bluesy riffs and sparing on lyrics. Just enough to get the message across but not sure how it will come across without the melody. We’ll see. I’ll put it it up anyway. 🙂