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.