24 October 2022

Angry Christians.

Anger’s a work of the flesh. If you didn’t know this, you need to check out Paul’s list again. It’s right there in verse 20.

Galatians 5.19-21 NRSVue
19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, 21 envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

A number of present-day translations have weaseled out of translating θυμοί/thymí (KJV “wrath”) as “anger” by translating it as a type of anger which sounds more brief. More temporary.

  • AMP, ESV, “fits of anger.”
  • CSB, ISV, LEB, NASB, NET, WEB “outbursts of anger.”
  • CEB “losing your temper.”
  • GW “angry outbursts.”
  • NABRE “outbursts of fury.”
  • NIV “fits of rage.”
  • NKJV “outbursts of wrath.”

But I’m pretty sure the KJV’s “wrath,” and its synonyms “anger,” “rage,” and “fury,” are fully accurate descriptions of what Paul wrote and meant.

Why are the translations trying to weasel out of it? Because there are a lot of angry Christians out there. A LOT. Too many. It’s everywhere. And just like gluttony in the United States, Christians are pretending anger’s not the profoundly serious problem it is.

Christians are pretending anger’s not the thing which regularly makes us least like Jesus. We’re mighty quick to point out Jesus himself got angry, more than once. Evil, sin, hypocrisy, and inhumanity regularly enrage God throughout the scriptures; heck, in Revelation entire bowls of wrath get dumped out in judgment for humanity’s sins. If God himself can get so righteously pissed off, why can’t we?

But when we know God, and know ourselves, we know exactly why not. God is love. We aren’t. We’re meant to develop God’s love in our lives… and don’t. When God gets angry, his love mitigates this; it’s why it takes a lot to get him angry. Ex 34.6, Nu 14.18, Jl 2.13, Jh 4.2 And when he does get angry, he doesn’t go berserk and do reckless things. He only concentrates on stopping evil.

Christians who’ve developed the good fruit of love oughta be just as slow to anger, Jm 1.19 and when we do get angry, we still keep our cool enough to keep from sinning, nor listening to devilish temptation. Ep 4.26-47

Oughta be. Aren’t. Instead we’re full of excuses. Our anger is a “righteous anger” because we insist we’re enraged by the very same things God is. And we need to stamp these things out now. Right now. Right the f--- NOW. Get your guns; we’re gonna go lynch some evildoers. We gotta eliminate them before they finally piss off God and he starts dumping wrath on all of us.

Really what angry Christians do, is justify their anger, justify never being rid of it, and justify incorporating it into their Christianity. Their anger, they insist, is biblical. Not mitigated by God’s love; these folks dismiss God’s love as irrelevant by pointing out, “But God is also just,” and therefore their his outrage at “evil” cancels out any love he might display towards sinners. Instead they do “tough love”—a type of casual cruelty towards sinners, which is supposedly “love” because they don’t straight-up murder them, like they feel they have every right to do.

Angry Christians’ anger completely wipes out any love, compassion, grace, and christlikeness they oughta have in their lives. It doesn’t look like Jesus at all. Since pagans are generally aware of what Jesus oughta look like, it means these self-described “Christ-followers” aren’t Christian; they’re hypocrites. Since there are so many angry Christians out there, these pagans often wonder whether all Christians are actually Jesus-denying hypocrites.

Heck, some of us Christians wonder that too.

Christians who hide the anger.

The reason there are so many angry Christians, is because there are so many angry humans. Paul calls it a work of the flesh because it’s a common trait among all humans—same as all the works of the flesh. Humans aren’t naturally good; we’re naturally selfish, and human selfishness pervades and corrupts everything else. And when we don’t get everything we selfishly want, we get, of course, angry.

Most of that anger is just a seething, below-the-surface sort of thing. We’re not just walking around raging at everything and everyone. You do that, you’re not gonna be long for this world—it’s gonna wreck your blood pressure. Neither do we necessarily have very short fuses, and any little thing can trigger an outburst.

Me, fr’instance. Back when I was an angry Christian, I didn’t fly into a rage. Back when I was a little kid I did, but I learned to stop doing that. Instead I’d just get very, very sarcastic. I’d ridicule everyone and everything around me. Even today when I get angry, sarcasm comes pouring right out of me, ’cause I go right back to it like an addict to heroin.

Unfortunately I also have a sense of humor, and humor plus sarcasm means my fellow Christians actually encourage me in this behavior. Ripping into other people, in a way they really wish they could do, makes ’em laugh. It’s why stand-up comics can make a very good living by roasting people. (Even when the jokes are actually mediocre or make no sense. Some people are laughing much harder at the cruelty than the wit.) The Holy Spirit had to convict me about sarcasm himself, ’cause my fellow Christians were no help at all. Still aren’t.

Outbursts of pure rage will tend to get you injured, get your stuff destroyed, even get you arrested. That’s why it’s so easy to extinguish Paul’s word thymí by translating it “outbursts of anger” instead of actual anger: Everybody’s agreed that losing your temper is bad, oughta be avoided, and those who regularly indulge in fits of rage have something seriously wrong with them. But if all you condemn are the tantrums, you’re not dealing with the simmering aggravation found in most people. Nor its causes.

And we can see plenty of evidence for this subsurface anger in many a Christian. It’s not just short fuses; it’s not just being quick to argue, quick to offend, quick to show every other emotion in order to cover up the anger beneath it all. The most obvious tipoff is the lack of grace—these people are too angry to dismiss unintentional slights, forgive people who don’t know any better, or practice radical forgiveness towards anyone who obviously knows better. Angry Christians don’t forgive. That’s how they stick out.

Anger is both fleshly and worldly.

Why are people angry? Duh; they want stuff and don’t have it. They feel they deserve stuff and aren’t getting it. They don’t get enough recognition from people above them, don’t get enough respect from people they think are beneath them, don’t get enough grace when they make mistakes, don’t get enough reward when they do well. They think life is a zero-sum game; that if someone else gets a win, they somehow lose. And if they’re pretty sure those people racking up wins don’t deserve their wins, it’s gonna really bug ’em.

This attitude has plagued humanity since the beginning, so it’s no surprise at all when we find it in the bible. And find it condemned in the bible.

James 4.1-4 NRSVue
1 Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? 2 You want something and do not have it, so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it, so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures. 4 Adulterers! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.

The stuff we want, the stuff we’re quietly angry about not getting, is all earthly stuff. Earthly recognition. Earthly respect. Earthly wealth. Earthly power. None of it has to do with God’s kingdom, God’s attitudes, God’s wishes, God’s will. None of it. Christians who are angry because the world “isn’t as God would have it”? Well of course it’s not as God would have it—but these people are angry because it’s more accurately not as they would have it. Their ideas of how to fix things are way more fascist than Christian. More stuff for Jesus to overthrow at his second coming.

That’s the key to getting anger out of us: Stop trying to grow a kingdom of your own and fix your eyes on what God’s actually doing. Follow the Holy Spirit. Let him convict us on all our underlying anger, not just our outbursts. Recognize that 99.9 percent of our anger isn’t righteous; it’s misguided and unjustified. Practice grace. Resist temptation. And cut way, way back on the sarcasm.