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Overcoming the Seven Deadly Sins: Wrath

wrathUnless you’re dead (or a big fat liar), you get angry. Don’t worry—it’s a perfectly reasonable emotion. We don’t do wrong by getting angry; it’s just that when we’re angry, we often do wrong. Paul expresses as much in his letter to the Ephesians, “In your anger, do not sin.” (Eph. 4:26)

But when we give shelter to anger, when we nurse and indulge it, when we give it a long lead, it becomes wrath.

Where envy resents when someone else does well, wrath is hellbent on ensuring that its object suffers loss. And it isn’t always through physical violence—it can be a desire to see someone lose face and suffer humiliation.

Here are some steps to help overcome the sin of wrath.

1. Watch your entertainment

I’m not typically the type that associates bad actions to entertainment choices. I don’t believe that playing video games or watching certain kinds of movies makes anyone  anything. But I find that I am growing more and more sensitive in this area (and I’m not the only one. My friend Micah J. Murray wrote a great post on this very topic for Convergent Books: Why I Stopped Playing Violent Video Games.)

It’s always struck me that American Christians refuse to let their children experience the slightest whiff of sexuality in movies and television shows, but they don’t share the same discomfort with violence. What’s particularly interesting to me is that sexuality is a completely natural expression of our humanity as people created in the image of God—and violence is not.

While I understand that not all sexuality is as God intended, some of it is. But I can’t say the same about violence; violence is a completely unnatural symptom of our diabolic, self-centered tendencies. So why are we as a culture so comfortable with it?

We Americans love a good action flick, and our favorite sort is the genuinely good person pushed too far and forced to smack down terrible people. Whether it’s The Patriot, Gladiator, Taken, or Braveheart, we have embraced the mythology of redemptive violence.

My concern isn’t that this fare makes us violence. I am concerned that it makes us comfortable with the idea that certain people deserve pain, hardship, and misfortune. We may never have to rescue our daughters from an international kidnapping ring, but we are going to suffer indignities and unjust treatment. I don’t want to contribute to the idea that I can harbor the kind of resentment that comes out in little ways—passive-aggressive or otherwise.

We don’t have to be violent to embrace the spirit of violence. And though I am not worried about becoming a violent person, I am worried that normalizing violence makes me comfortable wishing violence on others which comes out in other ways.

I can identify with author Alan Bradley, “I am often thought of as being remarkably bright, and yet my brains, more often than not, are busily devising new and interesting ways of bringing my enemies to sudden, gagging, writhing, agonizing death.”

Remember, Christ’s words:

But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”—Matthew 5:22

2. Remember who your enemies are

There’s no sin more closely aligned to the spirit of our enemy than wrath. Jesus tells us that Satan comes to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10), and there really isn’t and there really isn’t a sin more closely aligned to that goal than wrath. In fact, in Revelation, John confirms his posture towards us:

“But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!”—Revelation 12:12

This war against us is not necessarily waged in face-to-face, supernatural conflict. It’s waged using the tools at his disposal: disobedient human actions and the systems, nations, and economies that disobedient people create and perpetuate.

This is why Paul has to remind us:

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”—Ephesians 6:6

We think we’re at war with people because it’s people who do terrible things to us. But that’s not the whole picture, they’re just tools in the fist of a malevolent adversary. He wants us to respond with an eye for an eye—he hates the individuals he uses for evil ends as much as he hates those they do evil to.

Our desires for retribution fuel the perpetual cycle of wrathful evil in this dark world.

Don’t miss these posts from my Overcoming the Seven Deadly Sins series:

  1. Gluttony
  2. Envy
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Emotional Bullying: Using Guilt to Lead Kids to God

guiltI was talking to a friend who, although raised in the church, is pretty antagonistic toward Christianity. He was talking about his childhood and how Sunday school and VBS constantly beat into his head his personal responsibility for Christ’s death.

Not in the “Christ died for your sins” vein, but more like, “It was your sins that drove the spikes into Jesus’ hands and feet.” The way his parents and church hammered (no pun intended) into him his personal responsiblity, made him feel mortifying shame.

It worked, he was a devout little kid. But he wasn’t propelled out of a sense of gratitude or wonder. No—his driving motivation for being good was humiliation.

As he got older, he walked away from the whole thing. I know so many people who have had the same experience. When they get older, their guilt turns into anger and frustration. Continue reading

4 Stupid Substitutes for Humility

humblebragWhen Ben Franklin turned 20, he was determined to become virtuous. He put together a list of 12 virtues (frugality, sincerity, justice, etc.), and worked out a system of regularly focusing on one virtue a week while tracking his progress as he went.

He showed his finished list of values to a minister who pointed out that Franklin was missing humility—the queen of all virtues. Ben added it to the list bringing the total to 13.

After spending many months working on the virtues, Franklin’s friend asked how he was doing with humility. Franklin responded, “I can’t boast of much success in acquiring the reality of this virtue, but I had a good deal with regard to the appearance of it.”

If you’re acting humble, you’re not

Virtues are a lot like garments; you can put them on on without owning them. It’s tricky because we don’t just fool the people around us by playing dress up—we fool ourselves.

Humility’s much easier to manufacture than it is to internalize, and as long as we’re more focused on humility’s appearance, we’ll never experience its transformation. Continue reading

The Cross Isn’t a Brand—It’s a Mission Statement

duckdynastyConstantine was certain that God had come to him in a dream. The first “Christian” roman empire had looked up at the sun and witnessed a cross-like apparition along with the words, “ἐν τούτῳ νίκα” (In this, conquer).

Unsure of the meaning of this vision, Constantine went to sleep a couple nights later to be met by Christ who explained to him that he must use the sign of the cross against his enemies.

History tells us that Constantine marched into the Battle of the Milvian Bridge as a conqueror under the banner of the cross. Because obviously, when a warrior people hear they should use something against their enemies—it must be to vanquish them. Continue reading

Ask Jayson: Finding the Good in Terrible People

typekeysDear Jayson,

I need some insight and help regarding Philippians 4:8:

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

Can you describe the meaning of each word . . . ie . . . true, honorable, just . . . and how to daily put this verse to work.

This passage truly messes me up. What if someone has done many abusive things to you, or grossly lied about you, or hurt someone you love? It’s true they are a bad person. Its true they are toxic. Yet . . . what else. Noble? Praise worthy? Not sure how to correctly put this verse to work. Seeking because I want its promise.

Peace,
Perplexed Continue reading

Overcoming the Seven Deadly Sins: Gluttony

Pie_eating_contest_Taking gluttony seriously is more than simply wringing our hands about the Western obesity epidemic.

Although the idea of gluttony is often tied to food, it’s much, much bigger. Simply put, gluttony is the act of taking something acceptable, useful, or even necessary and indulging in it in an unhealthy manner.

With this in mind, gluttony includes, but is not limited to, things like: Continue reading

4 Ways to Ruin a Perfectly Good Joke on Social Media

DislikeIf social media’s taught me anything, it’s that many well-meaning people have a sort of super power when it comes to ruining jokes.

When I’m not filling the internet with writings about spirituality and music, I’m telling jokes on Facebook and Twitter. After having thousands of great jokes destroyed within a couple comments, I’ve learned a few things I’d love to pass on to you.

Here are 4 ways to ruin someone else’s perfectly good joke on social media. Continue reading

Ask Jayson: How Do I Share My Trials in a Healthy Way?

underwoodDear Jayson,

My husband was recently diagnosed with cancer and we’re going through a lot right now. Suddenly, a question as simple as, “how are you” is an enormous challenge. Most ask how we’re doing with concern and sincerity but socially it’s awkward to know just how much they want—and how much I’ll feel like sharing. Any advice?

Overwhelmed Continue reading

Overcoming the Seven Deadly Sins: Envy

golum1Samuel Beckett, the famed Irish novelist and author of Waiting for Godot, married his long-time companion Suzanne in 1961. As his fame continued to grow, she was consumed with jealousy and their marriage weakened.

One day in 1969 she answered their ringing phone, spoke to the person on the other end, and hung up. Turning a pallid face to her husband, she mumbled, “Quel catastrophe. . .” (What a catastraphe) She’d just been told that the Swedish Academy had awarded Samuel the Nobel Prize for literature.

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”—Romans 12:15

Continue reading

Get off the Assembly Line and into the Wilderness

freedomsculpturegIt’s a challenge of Christian spirituality to desire the intangible over the physical. Longing for an invisible Christ is hard to even wrap our minds around, especially when we compare it to more obvious concerns. This is even more difficult in our post-enlightenment culture that is suspect of anything that’s not concrete.

Rather than learning to embrace the mysteries of Christian spirituality, we resort to a faith that’s either mimicked or prescribed. To copy someone else’s behavior or submit to their direction, for Christ’s sake, has some sense of observable reality to it. Continue reading

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