November 19, 2013

Back to Basics

Have you ever been the recipient of an evil eye? You know, the look that is sharper than a dagger and more damaging than a rattlesnake bite? The angry glances intended to kill, if not the body, at least the spirit? In fact, if looks could kill, we would be a nation of dead men and women walking, because we are all angry with ourselves or others—some for a lifetime.

We see it in government dysfunction at the national level, in random acts of domestic and societal violence, and in divisive discourses from the pulpits of so-called Christian churches where pastors malign and threaten to maim those who believe differently.

However, before we jump on the bandwagon of blaming the other side, let me remind us that this national behavior is a reflection of the personal brokenness that exists in all our lives today. This brokenness results from a disposition of sin inherited by every human born after the Fall (Ps. 51:5), and is most often manifested in actions that emphasize the belief that “I am my own god.” It has been perpetuated from generation to generation. As those living in the last days, we have inherited the cumulative effect of humanity’s repudiation of divine directives for reconciliation.

Condemnation for this disposition of sin comes when the Holy Spirit brings to our attention the fact that Jesus came to deliver us from it. Yet we refuse to allow Him to do so. From that moment, followed by persistent rejection, we begin to receive the seal of condemnation. “This is the verdict,” said Jesus about that critical moment: “Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light” (John 3:19).

So where do we go from there? We must immediately decide to let God heal our personal brokenness, then obey His divine directives and be reconciled with one another.

In the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:3-12), also known as the Christian Magna Carta and constitution of the kingdom of God, Jesus told His disciples—then and now—that His kingdom code is deeper and more personal than the laws of the scribes and Pharisees. For instance, His kingdom code is to honor God, not just with behaviors that can be observed and measured, but with thoughts, motives, and attitudes, the unseen evidence of being. Jesus calls us, His followers, to commit ourselves not simply to external requirements that make it appear as if we are doing the right thing, but to an inner allegiance to His kingdom code that includes our thoughts, motives, and attitudes toward things such as anger (cf. Matt. 5:21-26).

Jesus didn’t say that anger—the normal, agitated outburst to offenses or reaction to hurt, harm, and hostility—is a sin. He Himself was angry when He saw how God’s house of prayer had been transformed into a den of robbers.

The apostle Paul, who wrote more about anger than anyone in the New Testament, urged, “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” (Eph. 4:26, 27). James adds this caveat: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (James 1:19, 20).

Here’s the lesson for us today: It’s OK to get angry, but not to let it seethe and simmer until it boils over. Instead, practice the “go” of reconciliation, because it’s a divine directive (Matt. 5:23, 24). It’s also important and urgent enough to interrupt our worship of God. This is usually the last thing we want to do, especially when our pride causes us to assert that divine principles are at stake. But we must be reconciled with one another because unresolved anger is sin; and like all other sins, it destroys us.

Our lives should be guided by Alma Bazel Androzzo’s classic lyrics:

“If I can do my duty as a Christian ought,
If I can bring back beauty to a world upwrought,
If I can spread love’s message, as the Master taught,
Then my living shall not be in vain.”