Thursday, November 15, 2018

One Letter Short of Danger

I’m mad. Because there seems to be so much anger these days, and there doesn’t seem to be anything that anyone can do about it.

It’s apparent this pervasive, perplexing problem isn’t going away any time soon. Curiously, even though there’s so much anger being expressed and exhibited in our society, if we were to ask folks exactly why they’re mad, some would be quite hard-pressed to give a reasonable answer. Just the same, they’re angry. Maybe you are, too.

We have angry protests. And people angrily protesting the protests. And irate protesters opposing the protesters of the original protests. We see talking heads on the news networks, exchanging harsh words with guests and one another. These “talking heads” aren’t really talking; they’re definitely not discussing. They’re yelling, screaming, cussing and carrying on, often totally unaware of – or unconcerned about – how much they’re embarrassing themselves and irritating everyone else.

Social media, which began as a good idea, a convenient means for people to reach out to other people they otherwise wouldn’t contact because of distance or other obstacles, has largely turned into a catch basin for anger, hatred, and vitriolic verbal barbs. Our homes, schools, workplaces, highways, even churches have no immunity to the explosive epidemic of anger besetting our society and the world.

It would be nice to explain away the prevailing negativity as just people letting off steam. But it’s more than that. Recently I heard someone make an observation about why we can’t just dismiss angry outbursts and demonstrations as just a passing fancy. She said:
“Anger is one letter short of DANGER.”

I can’t help but believe this is a reality we can’t simply ignore. Dangers presented by surging anger are becoming increasingly more evident. We even have some prominent celebrities endorsing dramatic and hostile displays, apparently convinced that’s the only way they can advance their respective views and ideologies. 

How are we to respond? Well, we could fight fire with fire, as the adage suggests. However, there might be a better way. Perhaps as much as any time in the past, we need to think and act in ways counter to the prevailing culture. 

One way is to eliminate angry responses from our behavioral “toolbox.” As Colossians 3:8 teaches, But now you must put aside all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your mouth.” Easier said than done, you say? I understand – all too well. Anger and I have been close companions for most of my life. But the same chapter presents the “how-to” for overcoming our tendency to answer anger with anger.

It talks about “putting on the new self,” the life we received when Jesus Christ came into our lives. Therefore, since you have been raised with Christ, strive for the things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:1-3).

Later it elaborates, since you have taken off the old self with its practices, and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator… Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with each other and forgive any complaint you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:9-13).

Following these admonitions isn’t easy. But then again, nowhere in the Scriptures does it say living as God requires should be easy. In fact, it’s impossible – in our own strength. We can’t do these things, and in reality, we don’t want to. When people make us angry, we want to make certain they know it. 

But that’s not what Jesus expects. This “new self” is the term the Bible uses to describe the “new creations” we become when He comes into our lives spiritually, beginning His lifelong process of transforming us into the men and women He wants us to be. In the Scriptures, the only time we see Jesus demonstrating anger is toward religious leaders oblivious to their own hypocrisy. He didn’t even offer angry responses to His accusers and executioners.

In a passage about relationships, we’re told, “’In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:26-27). These verses are often applied to the context of marriage – don’t go to bed mad. But they easily relate to interactions with other people as well, whether at work, our neighbors, or antagonistic commentators on TV.

In serving as “Christ’s ambassadors,” as 2 Corinthians 5:20 describes us, we can shine light in dark places if we just learn that we can disagree, but do so without being disagreeable. Then we can steer clear of danger.

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