My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. For man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. James 1:19-20
I don’t know how I got into this group on Facebook. It seemed that one day I just started getting notifications of their posts. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this was a group of very angry people. They posted the kinds of things that would get your blood boiling, and they wanted these photos, articles, and quotes to go viral. I was routinely admonished to “pass this on to all your contacts!” My usual reaction was to wonder, Why?
Sometimes the post would be a scandalous photo of a well-known person. The most recent showed a very familiar face between two unidentifiable people in white hoods, with a cross in flames in the background. The caption said, “_____ _____ at a KKK cross burning.” (As if we’re too dumb to figure out what the picture was set up to look like.)
It took less than a minute of digging to find out that the picture was a fake, one of many scandalous photos taken by a professional photographer, whose specialty is finding actors who look like famous people and photographing them in compromising poses. These pictures are sent out over the internet, knowing that they will be passed along at lightning speed by thousands of people who don’t bother to check their sources. (Why would they check it out, if the picture “proves” their own personal biases?) These people are angry, and they want to make others as enraged as they are – as many as possible.
Another post quoted a famous person in American history, saying something so despicable that I doubted any reasonable, sober person would have said such a thing. But even if he had said it, I questioned the relevancy of the quote, since this person has been dead for over two hundred years! I seriously doubt we’re going to hold him accountable at this point.
But then one day the group posted a video that sounded an alarm. The video showed a young man with a gun, who gave an impassioned rant about how much he hated black people. He ended the rant by firing his gun, accompanied by an obscenity aimed at black people, complete with the “N” word. A note from the member of the group who posted it said, “This needs to be passed around until it reaches the authorities!”
Pass it around? Are you kidding me? I thought. And I did what would seem the reasonable thing; I contacted the authorities and at their request, sent it directly to them. They called me back the next day, agreeing that the video was deeply concerning and wanting to know where I got it. I told them about the group, and they asked me to contact them and try to find out the source of the video. I told the group that the authorities were on it, and asked where it had come from.
(At last! An opportunity to do something!)
I sent a private message to the individual who had posted it and asked who had sent it to her: no answer. I asked a third time. Nothing.
The next day I saw another post from the same group, designed to make people angry about something else they could do nothing about. Meanwhile, here was something we could do something about, maybe preventing another mass shooting, and these angry people were doing nothing to help the authorities catch him and stop him!
Now I was angry.
We all know the kinds of havoc anger can cause in our bodies: indigestion, heartburn, ulcers, high blood pressure, hypertension, heart attacks, stroke, the list goes on. It can also do damage to relationships, neighborhoods, work places, classrooms, even nations.
And yet, anger can be a good thing. History gives us many examples of people who have made a positive difference in the world because they became angry enough about an injustice to do something and make a difference.
So, anger can be damaging, or it can be energizing. When is it okay to be angry?
I have a simple rule that I try to adhere to: If I can do something to change the situation for the better, I should let my anger motivate me to make the needed change.
If, on the other hand, I can’t do anything about it – if my anger will only hurt me and others – I should turn away and focus on an area where I can contribute something positive.
If the cause of my anger is something I have heard that is questionable, I should find out the truth and make it known wherever the rumor has been sown, especially if people have been misinformed. (I am generally not popular with gossips.)
If the source of anger is someone who is out of my reach, I will pray that God will change the person’s heart. (If this seems like a cop-out to you, you don’t know the power of prayer.) And yes, I have prayed for the young man in the video. I really hope that by now he has been apprehended and is getting the help he needs. Above all, I pray that his heart will be convicted of his sins, and that he will repent and let Christ save him from the old, sinful, hate-filled life and give him new birth.
In other words, Jesus is the answer (as always).
Prayer: Father, You have created us with the capacity to be angry when we see injustice, to be fearful when we sense danger, and to be compassionate when we see someone hurting. Let our emotions be directed by Your Spirit, that we would channel them in the direction that will be helpful, not hurtful. In Jesus’ name, amen.