Tag Archives: injustice

Where’s the Outrage?

Today we return to the theme of  “Love not the world,” taken from 1 John 2:15-17:

15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. 16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.

In times of social unrest we often hear extreme expressions of such emotions as fear, anger and anguish. These expressions are sometimes accompanied by dismay that more people do not seem to feel these emotions as violently as they should. Hence the agonized questions, “Where’s the outrage?” “Why the apathy?”

I’d like to reflect today on these questions.

They presuppose that the right response to perceived injustice is extreme, near out-of-control emotion. A good person, one who cares about right and wrong, justice and injustice, would feel these strong emotions and be moved by them to express them in equally strong ways. Anyone who doesn’t feel and express these emotions shows themselves to be insensitive to wrong and lacking in compassion for its victims.  But is this presupposition really consistent with the Christian understanding ethics and virtue?

John tells us not to love the world or anything in it. Love for the world crowds out love for the Father.  He condemns three emotions or passions, passion for physical pleasure, passion for possessions, and passion for honor. John does not mention other passions, fear, anger, and jealously, but his argument applies equally to all emotions. Allowing any object or any experience in the world to control our emotions and direct our behavior will displace love for the Father. We should not allow ourselves to be controlled, consumed or outraged by the world and its desires. They will pass away.

What then should a good person feel and do in the face of wrong? If allowing ourselves to be outraged, fearful, and anxious conforms to the pattern of the world, what is the correct response? I think John would say that our utmost passion should be to love the Father and do the will of God in every situation. In other words, our emotions and actions should be determined by the unchanging love and will of God rather than by the images and words we meet in the world. Every day the world confronts us with enticing things and revolting things, with good and bad, curses and blessings, beauty and ugliness, safety and danger, right actions and wrong actions. John tells us not to allow our emotions and actions to be determined by the changing scenes around us. We should instead anchor them in God so that we can experience clarity of purpose, steadiness of composure, and consistency of action.

John is not alone in his caution about human passions. I know of no place in the teaching of Jesus or anywhere else in Scripture that encourages us to be angry and express outrage. Quite the opposite is taught. We are taught self-control, moderation, and patience. Would Paul, the author of Galatians and the following ethical teaching, encourage us to rage?

19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other (Galatians 5:19-26).

Would the one who pronounced his blessing on the “peacemakers” (Matthew 5:9) and instructed us to “turn to them the other cheek also” (Matthew 5:39) rebuke us for apathy because we are not sufficiently outraged at our enemies?

James seems to think our tendency to outrage is a fault not a virtue:

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be…17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness (James 3:9-18).

Peter also lived in a time of social unrest. What advice did he give?

Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing…14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.

No my friends, outrage is never a virtue. Anger is not a reliable guide to justice. Cursing is never a sign of devotion to truth. Nor are self-control, patience, kindness and blessing indications of apathy. Where is the outrage? I can tell you where it’s not: it’s not in any heart devoted to “the love of the Father.” There is no room for outrage there.

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Making Sense of Forgiveness: Forgiveness And The Christian Life (#1)

I am often asked about Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness: “Do we have to forgive everyone, no matter what they’ve done to us?” “Can we forgive someone who has not asked for forgiveness?” “What do we do when we cannot forgive someone?” Like many concerns that arise from trying to live the Christian life, these questions take some things for granted that we need to get on the table if we are to find satisfactory answers. For instance, what does it mean to forgive? And, is it always right to forgive? In this post I’d like to consider into some of these fundamental questions.

When someone injures or insults you, you get angry. Your first impulse is to injure and insult them in return in an act of revenge. To forgive means to renounce the act of revenge and let go the emotion of anger. I don’t want to place too much weight on this, but you can see a hint of the meaning of forgiveness even in the English word “forgive.” Instead of “giving it to them” you forgo that pleasure. And the Greek word aphesis begins with an “a” (alpha), which often negates the idea of the root word. So, forgiveness is a negative idea. It’s about not doing something that feels so natural, that is, taking revenge and harboring anger.

But what about justice? We always feel that injustice has been done when someone injures or insults us. The desire for revenge is the impulse to put things back into balance. But what happens when we forgive? Aren’t we allowing injustice to stand? Or worse, are we even justifying injustice by not punishing it? Forgiveness does not seem to address this problem. It does not put things right again. And we can’t convince ourselves that the injustice done does not matter. Something ought to be done about it! Because of Jesus’ teaching, we feel we ought to forgive, but it doesn’t seem quite right. Perhaps, these problems are part reason we find it so difficult to forgive.

I think it has now become apparent that forgiveness makes sense only if we believe that God can and will make things right. We can “let go” injustice done to us because God never lets it go. Our power to forgive derives from our faith that God’s love refutes every insult and God’s power will heal every injury. In forgiveness, we deny the power of the enemy to lessen our dignity with insult or do us lasting harm with injury. We trust God to punish injustice or atone for it or overrule it and make it work for our good. Either way, God can do what we cannot. Forgiveness, then, is not an act of injustice but an act of faith.

To be continued…