Headlines on Monday proclaimed that Americans, most specifically Republicans, were fueled by deep anger.
Like a lot of headlines, these are misleading, as the Pew Poll upon which these headlines are based actually indicates that it is a minority of Americans who express anger, and a smaller minority than two years ago, the last time the poll was taken. (“The share of Republicans and Republican leaners saying they are angry with the government is not as high as in October 2013 (32% now, 38% then). Nonetheless, Republicans are nearly three times as likely as Democrats (12%) to say they are angry with the government.” Pew Research Center)
It doesn’t surprise me that a third of a third of the population might be angry about anything at any given moment. It also doesn’t surprise me that presidential politics attracts such anger. There are two myths which contribute to this.
- The myth that our presidential candidates are either messiahs or demons, heralding the salvation or damnation of our country each presidential election (something we should by now be able to see is empirically not true).
- The myth that the angriest candidate usually wins elections.
But this particular post isn’t to discuss either of these myths or political anger in specific.
I’m more interested in encouraging my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to consider the difference between a life fueled by anger and a life fueled by gratitude.
Thanksgiving is a national call to celebrate the things for which we’re grateful. It’s a great opportunity to reflect and decide, which characterizes your life more? As followers of Christ we believe that the Scriptures provide truths which transcend culture and here’s just a couple of verses to consider today.
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. James 1:19-20
Anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. This runs counter to the popular and tempting notion that anger motivates, stimulates and produces change. While on occasion anger is appropriate and God can use such anger to produce change, it is both exceptional and looks different than we might often think. William Wilberforce, the great abolitionist and devout Christian, who more than any other single individual (although certainly not by himself) is responsible for the dismantling of slavery as an accepted practice across the western (and eventually entire) world was motivated no doubt by anger, but this anger was reflected by long slow patient movements, not flashes of irritation and insult. Furthermore such anger-driven change is only possible when the anger does not override the compassion, grace and love which prompts the anger in the first place. Today, anger at the death of babies in the womb may motivate change, but only if the righteous anger is joined by a genuine compassion and love for the women and babies most impacted by these abortions.
Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. Philippians 2:14-15
So, anger does not generally produce the righteousness we desire, and yet merely avoiding grumbling and arguing causes us to shine like stars. Anger is nothing new. It may garner attention for a time, but it doesn’t produce righteousness or truly stand out. Gratitude stands out. Doing without grumbling or arguing stands out… like stars in in the sky.
Often, whether we are driven by anger or gratitude is a symptom of whether we believe God is in control or not. In our fear and anxiety, anger becomes an attempt to wrestle control, to force people to change, to prevent the unknown future from becoming what we fear. Gratitude on the other hand reminds us, in the midst of our fear and anxiety, that God has never lost control, that people are only changed by Him and that the future is not unknown to Him. Paul says we combat anxiety by giving thanks. One focuses on the potential bad we can’t control, and the other recognizes the certain good He’s already done.
Today, enjoy your feasts and family. I know I will. As you do, practice focusing on the certainty of gratitude, rather than the ambiguity of the future. Practice showing your trust in God by reflecting gratitude rather than anger, and confidence in God’s goodness, rather than determination to shape other people to your brand of goodness.
I’m thankful for many things today, including you my faithful readers. I’d love to hear some of what you are thankful for in the comments below.