Monday, June 7, 2010

The strange experience of righteous indignation

One of the things I believe that we as Christians must be very careful of is not to confuse our own anger and temper with the true experience of righteous indignation. I think this very confusion is one of the things that makes it most difficult for us as humans to relate to God, because for us, anger is an out-of-control thing, an indiscriminate thing that operates on vengeance and not justice. We are, by and large, terrible at controlling the little anger we have, and imagining controlling something of godly intensity--what a frightening prospect!

And how often have we as Christians confused our own anger with that which is of God? How often have we become angry about some thing or another that we disliked, and tricked ourselves into believing this was God's will? How many times have we spoken words or committed acts to punish someone--as though it is ours not just to speak truth but make sure the other party really hurts and breaks down at our feet?

Recently I had a very startling experience that laid the difference out in no uncertain terms. I'd had a theoretical idea what it might be, but when I actually experienced was startling indeed.

Now let me head this up by stating that I assume a normal psychological profile when I describe this...I do not think the telltales I lay out would apply to a sociopath, so if one has never had the experience of normal anger, and of the shame and guilt that rightly comes from letting that anger go out of control and realizing that you have hurt someone, hurt your own spirit, and gone against God by doing so, then this distinction would not apply. This also does NOT apply to cases where we started out with a grudge and inured ourselves to such a degree that we no longer feel anything. This is something we can know only of ourselves, furthermore...others' claims should be evaluated rationally just as we must evaluate all that we are exposed to.

Anyway, I recently came into a position where I had to directly confront a person about some comments they were making in an unkind spirit. The strange thing about the feeling I experienced then was how absolutely controlled it was, and I honestly do not feel that I was the one making any kind of deliberate effort to control it. I understood what I needed to say, and was able to stop at that point with no more. Later on, after I was out of the situation and it started to occur to me what sorts of sarcastic remarks I could have made, just how different it felt as I thought of those things. My mind was racing, my body was reacting, and everything threatened to run out of control like a nuclear meltdown...or perhaps more aptly, like a chemical reaction with the wrong balance of reactants. And that feeling is what I get when I am about to lash out at someone unprovoked, or take a legitimate objection to something too far.

For just that moment, though, while I was responding to what I needed to respond to, I felt a taste of what real righteous indignation is like: it does not burn out of control. It does not speak simply to be cruel or to show off one's wordplay. It speaks to make its point and no more. It is a state of alertness where the mind is exceedingly clear, but not the hyperaroused responses of an unassisted human anger. And above all, it is obedient to something greater: it occurs at the direction of the Holy Spirit. And that is truly what I believe moved within me that day. Admittedly I am not always comfortable speaking about the Holy Spirit moving within me, since I am not a demonstrative type. But that is truly what I believe happened.

Bearing in mind the caveats I first mentioned above, I think this is a very important thing to bear in mind that may help us to know...are we speaking from God's righteous indignation, or from the anger of our own sinful hearts? I think if we remembered this, we would be far less likely to do damage to each other in our uncontrolled anger.

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