Jesus became very angry but not at the sinners. Jesus' anger was focused on the religious people - those who were angry at everyone else, Tidsworth says. (Photo: Mark Tidsworth)
A comment from a nearby table at a local coffee shop quickly grabbed my attention.
A group of 20-somethings suddenly laughed when one of them said, "I love what Jesus was about, but I couldn't be a Christian. I'm just not angry enough at everyone in the world to fit in with them."
They were talking about the day's political news, which somehow led them to the topic of Christianity. I wish he would have said more than just the above statement.
Was there something particular in the news today about Christians? Or is this an expression of this young man's overall experience with Christians?
Unfortunately, this is the perception of far too many people in our culture when their conversation turns to the Christian movement. They perceive Christians as really angry.
Like the young man at the table beside me, they don't believe they are angry enough to be one of those Christ-followers.
The common perception of so many observing Christian people is they are:
- People who feel victimized and claim persecution because their religion is no longer as popular or culturally sanctioned.
- Angry males who realize their place in the social order doesn't include as much power as it once did.
- Harsh, judgmental and generally unloving people without much kindness in them.
- Older people who feel displaced by a culture they don't understand and use their religion to criticize that culture.
- Excellent debaters who can twist most anything toward alignment with their view - often with an angry abrasive edge like a radio talk show host.
- People who will sacrifice their values for the sake of cultural or political power.
- People who are generally mad at most everyone who's not aligned with their worldview.
Those looking in on the Christian movement from the outside move from observation ("They're really angry!") to interpretation ("They must believe God likes them better"). Yes, Jesus loves you, but we are his favorites.
Those who entertain the thought of being a part of their group quickly realize they just might not be angry enough. But is God angry like that?
And because our role in the Christian movement is to grow more toward God's reflection, are we to be angry like that? Is this what living in the way of Jesus is about?
Are we to embody the wrath of an Old Testament God, calling fire and brimstone down on those who are different than us? If so, can we work up sufficient anger to fit in with the other Christians?
Maybe some of us need anger steroids to keep up. After all, Jesus was angry at times. He wasn't just irritated but exercised full-blown irate behavior - calling people vipers and snakes and turning over their tables in the Temple.
Jesus became very angry but not at the sinners. Jesus' anger was focused on the religious people - those who were angry at everyone else.
Yes, God gets angry, but not angry like the angry Christians the young man in the coffee shop referenced.
God's anger is focused on religious insiders who use their religion like weapons. Jesus was so patient with sinners but unrelentingly confrontational with the heartless religious of his day.
So, let's get on with it. Let's lay aside the weights holding us down and back from living in the robust, life-giving way of Jesus.
Who can work up the energy for being constantly angry, railing at a world who won't conform to our expectations? Who has the patience to coddle Christians pouting over loss of place and prominence in North American culture?
The gospel, when we can lay aside our baggage enough to engage it, is such good news.
Looking back, I wish I had the presence of mind in the moment to interrupt the conversation at the table next me. I wish I could rewind time and tell them God's not angry like that.
Mark Tidsworth is president of Pinnacle Leadership Associates. A version of this article first appeared on his personal blog and is used with permission. His writings can also be found on Pinnacle's blog.