Afraid and Angry
They are a fairly frequent occurrence in my email inbox—impassioned descriptions of some imminent crisis threatening our Christian faith. Sometimes it’s the alleged FCC petition that atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair is aggressively pushing to end Christian radio. (It doesn’t seem to matter that O’Hair has been dead for years and that this whole thing is a hoax. The e-mails keep coming.)
Other times, it’s a video presentation describing the birthrates of Muslims and how, within decades, our world will be taken over.
And then, of course, during election seasons, it is the repeated assertion that this is “the most important election of our lifetime.”
These e-mails are usually forwarded to me by a sincere Christian who is extremely upset and worried. These days, anger and fear seem very much a part of many people’s Christian experience, including Christian leaders.
Prior to the fall 2010 election, I listened to a sermon CD someone had given me. In this message, the pastor’s two main points were: One, why I am angry and two, why I am afraid for our nation.
He wore those two things like a badge of honor as he railed against big government, federal deficits, health care and the president. His words made me feel neither angry nor afraid. They made me sad—sad that this “sermon” offered nothing more than what a talk radio host might offer by stirring anger and fear in order to get a response.
All of this has left me wondering, Are we missing something here? Does God really want us living in anger and fear?
The antidote to fear: looking upward
When we find ourselves feeling fearful about things in our society, it’s important to remember that a large portion of Scripture was written to people living under an immoral and oppressive government. And we never see God urging His people to respond in fear.
When the people of Judah were suffering under the godless reign of Babylon, God spoke to them through a prophet named Isaiah. At the heart of this incredible message given in Isaiah 40 is one word—a word we often overlook, and yet it is the key to breaking the stronghold of fear: behold.
“You who bring good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, ‘Behold your God!’” (Isaiah 40:9).
The antidote to our fear is quite simple: Behold your God. Look, really look, and see how awesome He is.
This look is not one of casual indifference. The word used here speaks of an urgent, intense, life-changing gaze. It is a look of absolute awe and trust.
The passage goes on to describe this God we are to behold: His incredible power (vs 10), His tender mercy (vs 11), His unfathomable wisdom (vss 13,14), His sovereign control over nations and rulers (vss 15,23,24), His unsurpassed glory in creation (vs 26).
In the midst of wrestling with fear about our nation, the future or our financial stability, the answer is clear: Change the direction of your gaze. Look to this amazing God who is yours. You really can trust Him. You really can rest in Him. He is not wringing His hands over the religious demographics in Europe or the results of an election. Perhaps we shouldn’t be either.
When I receive one of those panicked e-mails that used to get me worked up, I now find myself having a much different response: So what?
So what if we lose our tax-exempt status? So what if we are persecuted for our faith? So what if our government makes decisions we don’t agree with? God is still on the throne. He is still orchestrating His purposes.
Perhaps the Lord is asking us the same question He was asking the Israelites in Isaiah 40: “Do you not know? Have you not heard? . . . He [God] sits enthroned above the circle of the earth. . . . He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing. . . . Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these?”
The antidote to anger: moving toward
I’m sure there are some who, after reading the last few paragraphs, are asking, “But shouldn’t we be angry about certain things happening in our society?”
Absolutely. However the critical question is: What should we be angry about? Jesus lived in a society ruled by the Roman Empire (talk about big government!), which was not sympathetic to His cause. Do we see Him filled with outrage toward the government?
No. Even when they were crucifying Him, He forgave. His entire mission was about seeking and saving the lost—whether centurion, Samaritan or prostitute. Jesus’ approach to those who were on the opposite side of Him politically, morally or socially was to move toward them in mercy. That movement was rooted in the cross, the gospel of the kingdom.
So what did Jesus get angry about?
Religion. He was outraged at those “who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else” (Luke 18:9). And those two things go hand-in-hand. When we are trusting in our own effort and goodness to gain God’s acceptance, we tend to look down on those who aren’t as “moral” or committed as we are or who vote differently.
So often what we think is “righteous” anger at the evils in our society may actually be unrighteous anger, because it is moving us away from lost people. It is moving us away from mercy.
A personal example
For years, I have heard Christians express anger about prayer being removed from public schools. Often there is an adversarial relationship between churches and schools/school boards because of the removal of Christian influences.
Several years ago, our church started a tutoring program called Kid’s Hope, for at-risk children attending the school across the street. At first, there was some skepticism on the part of the school administration. But soon, when they saw the dozens of volunteers spending an hour a week with their students, the relationship changed.
One morning, a few of us from the church were invited to a staff meeting at the school to talk about a parking issue. When we arrived, the faculty spontaneously stood to their feet and applauded out of appreciation. Since then, we have redone the teachers’ lounge, purchased playground equipment, provided school supplies for the under-resourced and helped landscape the grounds, as well as continued to mentor dozens of children. Some of the faculty as well as some of the students’ families have begun attending church and exploring Christianity as a result.
When we get angry about an issue like prayer being removed from our schools, we miss an opportunity to move toward people in mercy and to see the kingdom advance—not through protests and letters to the editor, but through loving acts of kindness and meeting real needs. This is the gospel at work.
When we truly understand and embrace the mercy God has extended to us on the cross, we are freed to move toward others in mercy rather than anger. That gospel approach will change our society far more than our anger ever will.
So the next time you find yourself getting worked up and anxious about things happening in our society, let me encourage you to pursue a different course: Open your eyes to see who God is and open your heart to the mercy He has extended toward you.