By David Hegg
In the biblical story of Jonah, after enjoying an all-expense-paid, three-night stay in waterfront accommodations in the belly of the whale, the prophet finally completes the mission God gave him. He went to Nineveh, preached impending doom to the city, and watched them repent and ward off God’s judgment. And, unlike every other preacher, Jonah was furious that thousands responded to his message. He was angry at their repentance, even more so when God relented and didn’t wipe out the city.
Yes, keep reading; there is a point to be made here.
As Jonah sat, outraged that Nineveh was being spared, God asked him a question for the ages. He asked it twice. “Do you have a good reason to be angry?” In Jonah’s case, he certainly thought he did, but by the end of the story, his anger was not honest. Instead, it was selfish. He was angry simply because he didn’t get his way.
I am asking the same question of us all. Do we have a good reason to be angry? Clearly, we are angry as individuals and as a people. We’re angry on the freeways, we’re angry at work, and we’re angry at home. We’re angry racially, economically, politically, socially, religiously, and sexually. We’re angry, and what’s so horrible about our anger is we’ve come to enjoy it, seek it, and express it in ever more explicit and violent ways. Worst of all, our kids see it and are being infected with the toxin of anger at increasingly earlier ages.
But do we have a good reason to be angry? Perhaps this is just another way of asking, “Are we angry at the right things, for the right reasons, and in the right way?”
Are we angry at the devolution of the rule of law in our country? Are we angry at the erosion of civil discourse and neighborly love? Are we angry at our increasing lack of self-discipline in a consumer culture on steroids? Are we angry at our own selfishness, pride and pragmatism? And are we angry at the monumental evidence America is fast losing its moral center? I hope we are.
And are we angry for the right reasons? Is our anger fueled by a deep-seated desire, not for retribution or selfish advantage, but rather to see our nation rise above petty differences to fully embrace our founding idea of “out of many, one?” Is our anger righteously motivated, not for political advantage, but for our pluralistic society’s proper health and well-being? Or are we angry because we aren’t getting our way, and it just feels good to go off, spewing invective designed to throw fuel on the already raging fires of outrage?
Finally, are we expressing and using our anger in the right way? When anger is righteous in its grounds and motives, it will not choose violence as its voice. It will not be selfish. It will not be arrogant. It will pray and weep and seek meaningful conversation. It will listen and persevere courageously until the problems are correctly described, understood, and ultimately, overcome.
Anger can be an acid capable of eating away at its container. Often, anger is corrosive, first corrupting its owner and then infecting those around. We are seeing this played out everywhere today.
At least on the national scale, the current political scene seems more like third graders fighting on the playground than a national conversation on the challenges of 21st-century living. How sad to see haranguing continue when we desperately need humility, self-control, and intelligence to reign. Are we so blind we cannot recognize our political tribalism has turned governing into an arrogant competition for power, with anger and outrage becoming its primary tactic?
At times, I wonder if reversal is possible. In those times, I remember America is more than those currently dominating the news with their scripted anger and nonsensical pronouncements. “We, the people,” have formed the core of this nation since its inception, and clearly, we are its only hope.
So, here’s the deal: Let’s try listening before launching. Let’s commit to looking first at our own selfishness and shortcomings and doing some personal cleanup. And let’s get back to doing to others as we would want them to do to us. After all, Jesus called us to love both our neighbors and our enemies. And, as far as I can see, that means everyone.
Local resident David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church. “Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.