There is a lot of anger floating around in our country right now. Turn on a television or walk down a city street, and you can’t miss it. In some respects, that’s always been true. Americans have always been a particularly rowdy and zealous bunch. But American anger has seemed to grow with each passing week. The coronavirus set off incessant temperature-taking to check for signs of the virus—but if we could somehow take the temperature of our nation, surely we’re running a high fever.
Much of the anger we feel is grounded in something real. Some religious believers are angered by the unfair treatment they’ve received after being labeled “non-essential” when other institutions were open for business. Some are angered by our nation’s continued abortion regime, and the daily atrocities committed in Planned Parenthood clinics. Some have grown angry and concerned about lawlessness after seeing looting and destruction in city centers. Some have been angered by mounting instances of violence and racial discrimination. Racism is horrific and wrong, and it’s righteous to be angry about it. Perhaps we ourselves cycle through anger at each of these and a dozen other issues on a daily basis.
Anger is a biblical response to injustice. God himself gets angry on a regular basis, as David told us in Psalm 7: “God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day” (Psalm 7:11). Just read the prophets, a huge chunk of the Old Testament dedicated to God’s righteous anger at Israel’s failures to love God and neighbor. Or look at Jesus’s sudden and violent reaction to injustice in the Temple, when he flipped tables and cracked a whip at the greedy moneychangers. The Temple cleansing looks like mild-mannered redecorating compared to how Jesus is described at His return: “From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:15-16). At His return, Christ will make the earth his Temple and he will cleanse it from all unrighteousness and injustice.
In our broken world, the question is not whether injustices will happen, but how we should respond when they do. Anger is a biblical place to start, but it’s not a biblical place to stay. Too many Americans have fallen into bitterness, despair, and extremism. This leads to a soul-destroying hatred for other people. It’s tearing our culture apart. Instead, it’s time for us to listen to Scripture and convert our righteous anger into humble action. Here are a few guidelines for doing it the right way.
- Churches Should Lead the Way
Every major social and political movement in America—from abolition to the Civil Rights Movement—has been led by pastors and churches. Too many attempts have been made in recent years to scrub our public square clean of religious language and devotion. That’s a mistake, and it’s actually un-American. Lasting, healthy change can only happen when pastors take an active role in guiding the communities they serve towards love and justice.
- Start Small and Locally
The primary venue for reform is always local. The stability of our society comes from the ground up—from strong marriages and friendships, neighborliness and community involvement. Most law enforcement and public health decisions, for example, get made at the local level. This is a good thing. It allows solutions and reforms to be tailored to the citizens and the issues that are unique to each city. Although the principles of justice are universal, how exactly we put them in practice has to be determined locally. One-size-fits-all clothing is uncomfortable, and once-size-fits-all policies tend to be unworkable.
- Keep the End in Mind
Many people who see an injustice advocate for vague things like “change” or “progress.” These work as bumper stickers but fail as policy proposals. We have to think about questions like: Change… how? Progress… to what end? In a zeal to redress problems, too many people want to burn down old institutions. This would also wipe away all the good they do, most of which goes unacknowledged and unnoticed. Demolition brings no guarantee that we can build something better. The way of wisdom requires reminding ourselves again and again what we’re trying to achieve, and then humbly making important yet incremental changes to move towards improvement.
- Be Gracious and Charitable
Most of our political “discussions” are more like shouting matches. People talk past each other, competing to declare most loudly that their own pet issue is the most pressing issue facing the nation. The truth is, there are many pressing issues facing our nation. Our ability to respond to them may vary depending upon our individual calling. That’s OK. We can do more than one thing at a time. So, if someone is worked up about injustice A and someone else is worked up about injustice B, this doesn’t have to create a fight. Solomon advised us: “Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body” (Proverbs 16:24). Both people might be right, both might be pointing towards something real, and each could humbly admit this with gracious words.
After the prophet Micah delivered the Lord’s righteous accusations against Israel, the people began asking the question: “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high?” (Micah 6:6). Micah answered that they already knew how to respond to their failures: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8). Too many Americans today merely talk about justice, enjoy denouncing others, and walk around in a self-righteous fog. There’s a better way. We need humble action that comes from a loving and humble heart before God.