Anger, Bitterness, & an Election

Of all the consequences of this presidential election, the one that dismays me most is the rupture between those who have been friends and allies in a cause. It has happened in the political/cultural conservative camp in general and among conservative Christians also. The latter is the more grievous.

Some are now questioning whether the breach that has been created can ever be healed. I believe it can be, but I don’t know if it will.

angerI have been distressed from the start of the campaign, in the primaries, as I’ve witnessed so much anger being expressed through support for Donald Trump. It’s as if he became a magnet for many who have been so frustrated with the developments in the Obama years.

I understand that frustration. More has changed negatively in the last eight years than in previous decades combined. But it’s always a sign of danger when anger drives actions. It’s very dangerous when anger becomes the primary determinant in voting. When emotions control the mind, we usually go astray.

The Scripture deals directly with that problem. In James 1:20 we’re admonished,

But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.

When we give vent to our anger, we may think we are doing God’s will, but James’s caution should remind us that He has a better way.

Anger that is allowed to fester goes one step further into a bitterness that spreads its malignancy to others, as the writer of the book of Hebrews, chapter 12, warns us:

Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled.

The first piece of instruction in that passage is that we are to do whatever we can to maintain peaceful relations with all. Shouldn’t that be especially true of brothers and sisters in Christ?

Second, there is a stiff warning about sanctification in the Christian life: without it, we may be cut off from the Lord. That, by itself, should stun us into being careful in our words, actions, and reactions.

bitternessThen the writer focuses on what he calls a “root” of bitterness. If bitterness does take root in our minds, it has the natural tendency to see all things through that bitterness. Not only will it affect our very souls but it will infect the lives of others.

The Biblical message is clear on this issue. Probably the best overall teaching on this is found in Ephesians chapter 4, in which the apostle Paul says,

Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity.

screwtape-lettersPaul recognizes that anger is natural and not necessarily wrong; after all, God gets angry. However, one can be angry without the anger leading us into sin. There is a line that can be crossed, but must not be. When we cross it, we are giving Satan a playground of his own; it allows him the opportunity to destroy lives. For a quick refresher on that, I recommend C. S. Lewis’s masterful work, The Screwtape Letters, which exposes exactly how the hellish realm seeks to lead Christians on the wrong path.

Here’s the end of Paul’s admonition in Ephesians 4:

Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.

Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.

There are times we are to speak forcefully about something, but it must always be in love. We can share our hearts about the issues we face in this nation, but we must never allow even the most earnest sharing to descend into name-calling and/or false accusations against another.

We are to speak the truth, and it can be with energy and urgency, but it cannot be spoken in anger, and we simply cannot let bitterness take over.

Perhaps we all need to check our spirits today. What are we communicating and how are we communicating it?

Defining Social Justice

Good words and phrases sometimes get hijacked. I think “social justice” is one of those. Justice is synonymous with righteousness; the concept comes straight from the heart of God. Justice in social relations, justice in society at large, should be what we all aim for.

What, though, qualifies as justice in a society? Here are my ideas.

image-of-godFirst, social justice should mean we recognize the inherent image of God in each person and treat one another accordingly. It should begin with the most vulnerable and innocent—the pre-born. True social justice will do all that is possible to protect our future generation by abolishing abortion.

Second, social justice will recognize the commonality of mankind as one race. Lately, it has become unacceptable in some circles to say there is only one race: human. Yet, as we’re told in Scripture via the apostle Paul,

He [God] made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth.

That should wipe out animosity toward one another based on ethnic differences. We all descended from one human father and mother. God likes variety.

marriageThird, social justice will want to encourage a loving environment in which to raise children. That means support for the one man-one woman arrangement called marriage as established by God. It’s right on its face, but beyond that, studies show that children raised in a stable traditional family will feel more loved and will have a better future.

Single-parent situations, especially for single mothers, engender instability and increase the number of children who will live in poverty. Those children also will be more likely to follow the same pattern in their lives. That’s not social justice.

Fourth, social justice is achieved more often through a vibrant free-market, private-enterprise system that allows people to advance according to their merit, removing stumbling blocks for success that are often placed in their way by the government. If we really want to help people out of poverty, we will support this kind of economic liberty.

churchill-private-enterprise-quote

Think of our racial divisions at the moment and the poverty that is endemic in inner-city neighborhoods. What else do we find there? High abortion rates; 70% of children living in single-parent homes; government “help” that only creates greater dependence and makes people think they have no options in the free-market, private-enterprise system that works all around them.

ferguson-riotsThose factors are then magnified by inflammatory rhetoric that increases bitterness toward those who are successful and disdain for a society that has offered the greatest advantages the world has ever seen.

This is where the Christian faith steps in to point us all in the right direction. Those who are embittered need to understand that sin is sin, no matter how justified one might feel in that bitterness. Repentance from bitterness and racial rage is imperative.

Those who have material success also must understand that the Christian mandate is to reach out to those who are in need and use the prosperity God has granted to help others. It’s that personal connection—showing the love of Christ to those who think God’s love is missing—that leads them to the Truth.

As with the phrase “there is only one race—human,” so the comment “all lives matter” has come under attack. Supposedly, to use that phrase marks one as racist. Yet I see the opposite in Scripture.

I think of the most well-known verse, in which Jesus states,

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

There’s also this reminder in 2 Peter, which states that the Lord is patient toward us, “not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”

Both of those verses make clear to me that all lives matter to God.

lives-matter

There’s also this in the book of Colossians, in which the apostle Paul writes of a spiritual renewal through Christ “in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.”

Ethnic distinctions mean nothing to God when it comes to relationship with Him. They should mean nothing to us as well with respect to our relationships with one another.

This passage from the book of Ephesians should be our guide:

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.

If we do that, social justice will be achieved.

Snyderian Truism #8

There is no particular order to my truisms. As I think of one, I write it down and it takes its place numerically. We are now up to #8, which is one I’ve had to learn from experience and also one I’ve seen in history; that’s one reason I share it in class. It goes like this:

Bitterness may make you feel good temporarily, but it leads to personal destruction.

Richard NixonOne of the prime examples I use in American history is the case of Richard Nixon. I believe Nixon was treated badly by the press during his time in office, from his first days as a congressman, to his selection as Eisenhower’s vice president, to his supposed loss to JFK in the 1960 election, and then his failure to win the governorship of California in 1962. Over time, this unfair, biased treatment got under his skin and, it seems to me, developed into a bitterness that eventually was his downfall in Watergate.

The point is this: Nixon had reason to be upset with the way in which he had been sullied by the media of his day. Many of them had an agenda to smear his reputation. That was inexcusable. Yet Nixon didn’t handle the personal campaign against him in the proper spirit, at least not after the gubernatorial loss. His words to the press when he delivered his concession speech give a clue to the growing bitterness within: “You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.”

Richard Nixon & Watergate TapesThe bitterness eventually led to an enemies list, particularly of reporters who were hostile against him. While the perception of their hostility was accurate, his reaction to their hostility only fanned the flames. When Watergate erupted, they got their revenge. Nixon’s unwillingness to acknowledge any wrongdoing on the part of his chief aides and supporters and his attempt to hide evidence were inextricably linked to his personal embitterment toward the press.

In the case of Nixon, not only was bitterness the cause of personal destruction, but it was the catalyst that almost sent the nation reeling over a constitutional crisis. It definitely helped create an atmosphere of unease and uncertainty as we were seeking to work our way out of the Vietnam morass.

The original source for this principle emanates from Scripture. In the book of Hebrews, we’re told,

Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled.

When we allow bitterness to take root, it not only hurts us, but the ripples of that bitterness reach out to many others. The warning in that passage of Scripture is quite clear: bitterness separates from God; without sanctification, no one will see the Lord. We need to take the warning seriously.