So Many Angry Christians (So few people calling them out on it)

One of my all-time favorite cartoons is Calvin and Hobbes and my favorite of those is one of Calvin and his patient mother.

The first frame shows Calvin’s mother sitting on the sofa calmly folding laundry when from another room Calvin yells “Mom! Mom!”

In the next frame Calvin’s mother has black clouds around her head indicating her anger but she tries to continue folding laundry as Calvin yells again, “Mom! Mom!”

In the third frame, Calvin’s mother now has tornados dancing around her face and scowling she yells back, “Calvin, if you need me, do NOT yell from the other room. Come in here and tell me what you want!”

In the final frame, Calvin stands before her, a trail of brown footprints behind him. His mom looks at him calmly and asks “Now, what did you need?”

He replies “I stepped in dog poop. What should I do?”

I posted this cartoon over my desk and it reminded me, through years of homeschooling and parenting of a verse from the book of James, “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” (James 1:19-20)

Is that one of the most ignored verses of the Bible or what?

Growing up, even as a very young girl, I loved the Lord. I read the Bible like the boys I knew devoured comic books and the girls studied Teen Beat. I spent hours alone with God, often putting my Bible, a hymnal and a notebook in my plastic flowered bike basket and biking to the wooded pond behind our church to read, pray and study alone.

This was my practice throughout elementary and high school.

Then, I showed up at Christian college.

I remember meeting some older students who had grown up in much more conservative churches and homes than I did. I was in awe. They knew things I didn’t – rules I’d never heard of before about music and dating and Christian lifestyles.

At one meal, I was accosted by one of these more experienced students who asked me if I had daily devotions.

“I don’t think so.” I replied nervously.

“How can you call yourself a Christian? I’m beginning to wonder if you’re saved!” She said with an angry tone, a scowl and imaginary tornadoes swirling around her face. She then went on to school me in the practice of daily devotions. She showed me a little book she had which had a Bible verse to read for every day and a short meditation after it.

“There, you see. Real Christians do daily devotions. You read the verse, read the passage and say a prayer.” She seemed very pleased with herself for having enlightened me but still seemed very much in doubt of my salvation.

That day, I visited the college bookstore and bought myself a devotional. If this is what serious Christians do, then I was going to do it, too. It seemed simple enough.

The problem was, it only took me about ten minutes each day to do this devotional thing and I was used to spending a lot more time with God. So, I asked the older girl if it was OK to read ahead.

With a roll of her eyes and a look of disgust (as if I had just confirmed her worse fears about me) she scolded me, “Of course not! You see each day has a date on it. It’s important to do devotions EVERY day! You can’t skip ahead.” The look she gave to her friend communicated her obvious hopelessness for my case.

Determined to confront this problem head on, I returned to the bookstore and bought several more devotionals so I could do a couple in the morning, some mid-day and some at night. There, that was more like the time I was used to spending with God and now I was like the “real” Christians on campus, I had daily devotions.

Looking back, I think how much better that whole exchange would have gone (and how much cash it would have saved me) if the older girl had asked me a couple of questions about whether or not I spent time reading my Bible or praying during the day. I’d never heard of devotions but I was, in fact, already disciplined in the practice. This girl’s idea of devotions very nearly killed my spiritual life but eventually God helped me to see the folly of trying to live according to other people’s ideas about how time with Him should look.

It certainly would have been better for me if this girl had not seemed so angry, sort of hostile toward my ignorance, as though I was purposely trying not to know what devotions were. I’ve met a lot of angry Christians through the years and I promise you their anger has never done anything but damage my life and the lives of those around me.

Why are we so afraid to listen? Why do we rush so readily to anger? I think some of it happens in response to a church that seems to be losing its backbone, lacking in spine and absolutes. I get that but I don’t think the proper response to sin is more sin. God clearly says that “man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life God desires” so why do so many of us think we’re justified to walk around expressing anger at everyone?

I believe we should stand for truth. I believe we should not compromise nor placate the world. I believe in calling sin what it is and declaring the truth of God but I’m determined to find a way to do it that is in line with this command from God “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”

What would our lives, our churches, our airwaves look and sound like if we all tried to live this out for even a week? Do you think it would make a difference? What would we do instead? Tell me what you think. I’m listening.

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6 Comments

    The Conversation

  1. Heather says:

    It’s interesting that you post this today. Yesterday on NPR (I don’t remember which show) they had guests speaking on “angry Americans.” The gist of the question was if Americans today are more angry than they have been in the past. One of the guests blamed the increased anger on the media, saying the media is an instigator in getting people angry.

    I do think that anger (and frustration), both leading to coarser and harsher language and actions, are getting worse. I don’t want to diminish sin in anyway, but I do think it is likely that this problem (affecting both Christians and non-Christians) is worsened by stress and the speed of life. The truth is that our attention is demanded of us all the time.

    As Christians, we must be counter-cultural. But I believe it must go beyond “don’t get angry” because I believe that the increased anger is only a symptom of greater problems. We must live counter-culturally to prevent anger. For example, we must decrease the amount of things that demand our attention. Turn off the TV, the radio, the IPOD, the cell phone, at least for a while. Reduce time perusing magazines and catalogs that feed our discontent. Keep the Sabbath. Spend time alone with the Lord. The more we are pulled in different directions, the more stressed we are, the more we will lose our self-control and lash out at the person who “heaps one more thing on us.”

    Our brains are so overloaded that we can’t even think clearly enough to assess what is said to us, and too often we respond on “automatic pilot” in anger. We must fight the good fight to keep a quiet spirit.

    This is of course not the only source of anger, but I do think it is a big cause. Some books I read deal with this issue: Margin and The Overload Syndrome.

  2. I think it helps to think of anger as a weapon – because that’s how we use it – either to strike out or to defend. God tells us that the weapons Christians fight with are NOT the weapons of this world – so it’s vital that we lay this weapon of anger down and look at what weapons God has given us.

    Early in marriage, I tried dropping anger (like it was a shield) and showing Rob what was behind the anger – hurt, disappointment, fear, frustration, vulnerability. This was initially scarier but ultimately more effective for relationship growth!

  3. I do daily devotions both ways, and like you, at first, I didn’t know what people meant by daily devotions, but I was reading my Bible,praying, and spending time with God. I may not always do “their” kind of daily devotions, but I always do “my” kind and “my” time with God, and He knows my heart.

  4. Living Water says:

    Thank you for sharing this.

    It shows clearly what it means for us to go with our heart when it comes to relationship with God. Spending time with God is personal, and should remain that way, not dictated by practices and the norms.

  5. Cheri says:

    This is priceless: “Looking back, I think how much better that whole exchange would have gone (and how much cash it would have saved me) if the older girl had asked me a couple of questions about whether or not I spent time reading my Bible or praying during the day. I’d never heard of devotions but I was, in fact, already disciplined in the practice. This girl’s idea of devotions very nearly killed my spiritual life but eventually God helped me to see the folly of trying to live according to other people’s ideas about how time with Him should look.”

    I’m no stranger to someone’s picture of what my spiritual life should look like nearly killing my spiritual life. In fact, it took me many months to recover from this kind of an issue… very destructive. And I pray that I am not allowing this same attitude to work that way in someone else’s spiritual life.

    We must live to please Him, not man. And we must not let someone else’s displeasure be our judge.

    Hugs, and thanks for a great post,
    Cheri