It feels like we are living in the 1976 award-winning film Network. I feel surrounded by people throwing open their windows, leaning out and yelling, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!” (Caution for a bit of R-rated language in the clip)
Although the movie came out forty years ago in the midst of gas lines, recession and spiraling inflation, it feels even more relevant today, when we are living more from emotions than ever before.
People want good jobs–meaningful work that leaves them time for life with their families, churches and communities. We want health care premiums that don’t break the bank. Safety from terrorists. We want institutions–government, schools and businesses–that hear our voices and respond to our needs. In this political season the candidates cast a vision of the way the future could be, stirring and heating up our desires to a fever pitch. That is their job. It’s our job to keep our eyes on Jesus. Get mad like he gets mad.
We want, we want, we want…we have so many desires–the soil out of which our expectations grow. Unfulfilled, they can set us up for disappointment and anger. How should we deal with them?
The Bible affirms that desire is the way God made us. Proverbs says, “A desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” As our lives wind down Ecclesiastes says those are the years when “desire fails” with the result that “we have no pleasure in them.”
The great New England preacher Jonathan Edwards once observed, “The nature of human beings is to be inactive unless influenced by some affection: love, hatred, desire, hope, fear, etc. These affections are the spring of action.” It’s true. We live from our affections—our desire, our passion. Our desires make our lives go ‘round. They write checks on our bank accounts and entries into our day-timers.
Desire is the engine that powers our life toward joy. And joy is the point. It’s what God created us for.
Desire is not the problem. Good desires lead to joy. But evil desires lead to disappointment and anger. A brief topical survey of evil “desires” in the Bible includes the usual suspects and some surprises:
• fleshly desires
• unnatural (homosexual/lesbian) desires
• desire for selfish control/for power and place
Desire without knowledge is dangerous.
Do you ever wish God would bring his day of reckoning to his enemies NOW? The prophet Amos cautions us, “Woe to you who desire the day of the LORD! Why would you have the day of the LORD? It is darkness, and not light, as if a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him, or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall, and a serpent bit him.” To desire the Day of the Lord is to underestimate how horrific it will be. It’s also sign that perhaps we don’t share the compassion of our Father who “is not slow to fulfill his promise…but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”
A brief (not at all exhaustive) Bible survey of good “desires” includes:
• community (vs. isolation)
• sexual intimacy with our spouse
• spiritual gifts, esp prophesy
• steadfast love/mercy
• feast before the Lord in worship
• YOU, God, your name, your remembrance
• the knowledge of God
• to do your will, live a godly life in Jesus
• salvation, both for ourselves and others
• unity with Christ, being with him where he is
• a better, heavenly country
In this season of electoral anger, we evangelicals ask ourselves, What are the blocked desires behind our anger? Are we mad because we have lost the control that we used to have in American culture? Mad because we are losing our power and our place? If we are not careful we will find ourselves in the company of the Pharisees who murdered Jesus (John 11:48 “If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”)
Hopefully, our anger comes from good desires being blocked. We are commanded, in Romans 12:9, to “hate what is evil.” When we see evil desires controlling our culture and institutions then it’s ok to be mad like heaven. In her new book, Angry Like Jesus: Using His Example to Spark Your Moral Courage, Dr. Sarah Sumner writes, “We have to hate evil enough to tell the truth when we see something shady or flat-out illegal taking place. There needs to be a greater moral courage to do the right thing, even if it costs you. And then we will find that God has our backs.”
She further defines the difference between being sinfully mad as hell and righteously mad like heaven: “Sinful anger does not trust God, while godly anger does. Sinful anger is prideful, while godly anger flows from humility. Sinful anger participates in evil, while godly anger abhors evil. But the main difference is that godly anger is loving. It’s not about feeling self-righteous.”
Jesus was mad that the leaders of his people were bilking the poor, greedy for gain, using their positions of privilege to indulge their evil desires rather than serve others. But mostly he was mad that they were promoting an external, legalistic religion that weighed people down rather than drew them into intimate relationship and worship where they found God’s grace, forgiveness and restoration.
As I think about all the anger around me, as I consider this Biblical list of good and evil desires, I want to be angry like Jesus. So I ask myself these questions…maybe you’d like to consider them too:
Does this list of good desires characterize my desires?
Am I praying that God would fan the flames of these desires in my heart?
Does my frustration/anger come from selfish or good desires being blocked?
How can I channel that frustration/anger to be a good steward of my citizenship? To be educated about my vote? To have a godly voice on social media?
What other opportunities do I have to get in the arena and make a difference?
Is my election frustration/anger being stirred up about issues where the best way to make a difference is to pray? How can I pray about that anger?
Is my anger flowing from self-righteousness and pride? Or humility and love?
Please share your thoughts in the comment section below…