It’s October 2020, and my insides are on fire.
There are people on the news saying things that God hates, and it makes me so mad that I can’t breathe. And half this country believes them. I see signs on lawns that proclaim names, and beliefs, loudly. Bitterness eats at the edges of my vision. Don’t they see? How can they live with themselves for supporting such evil? How has our country come to this? We have been at the brink of disaster for years now and our fate lies in the hands of people who are screaming on Facebook. Who aren’t even screaming true things.
I see people’s instagram stories and realize with shock they’re one of them. I can’t talk to them anymore because I don’t want to hear them repeat the lies and the theories and the talking points over and over, and I am exhausted. I could try to explain but no one will listen.
Two years later, I don’t feel this way anymore, but it’s not because of the outcome of the election. It’s because God has shown me many idols in my heart, and that one of them is anger.
I wonder if you are angry with me after reading this.
“because human anger does not produce the righteousness of God” -James 1:20
I used to read the story of the good Samaritan and get confused as to how two groups of people could be so divided. Sunday school teachers used to start their sentences, “Imagine… “. But I don’t think I’m imagining anymore. I participated in it with my own thoughts.
I worried what people would think about the fact that I was friends with some of Them – I worried that some of the people in my church were going to vote That Way – I grieved when I found out friends thought Like That. I stopped talking to some of them. I saw churches split. I saw divisions start to creep into theology, to see people fear certain words and use the gospel as a reason not to listen.
How did I get here? How did we get here?
How did “brother in Christ” stop being enough for me?
I have started asking God to help. But in order to understand the lies that were in my heart I have to uncover them. In my heart they were the voices of anger, and its brother, pride.
Anger, despite its strength, is a very subtle emotion. Alistair Groves compares it to nuclear power: if very carefully reined in, with safety precautions, it can be harnessed for good. But on its own, it is devastatingly powerful. And it is especially tricky because it feels good. Anger is deeply intertwined with justice and love. We are angry because we care about things. Anger says, “something in God’s order is being destroyed.” But it also screams, “this matters!”---and its flame is so easily fanned to become destructive. The embers spark and the fire swirls, and anger whispers, “You are right! This is wrong! This cannot be left to exist!”
Anger, especially righteous anger, gains our ear because it expresses true and good concerns. But the best lies are half-truths, and I believe Satan is using our anger in abundance in recent seasons. If we look at media headlines, they seem to almost exclusively be designed to make us angry. And the subtle evil is that we feel good when we are. But, unlike the media would have us believe, unbridled anger doesn’t solve this evil. “Human anger does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:20).
This is one lie the world is telling us. But there is another, which took my heart longer to recognize. Politics also says, “if They get power, then we will not have prosperity.” In every narrative, it seems, a threat is established, and it is an emergency. The subtext says, ‘if we let Them get power, there will be great suffering. You will suffer. They are threatening what we have, and it is bad.’
Did your limbic systems just go on guard? Mine did, even writing this. The messages are very good at what they do. In the very-present, it feels like it has gotten even worse – the suffering that feels rampant of late is being channeled into a feeling of helpless Doom, and politics is using this feeling. The world is regressing, it says, and it wants you to feel helpless because it wants you to believe that everything will be better when the right people are in power. Again, it is a half-truth, because God cares about suffering. Deeply.
Politics wants you to feel angry because you will feel good about being right. It wants you to hate the Others because you will feel smarter, and better about yourself. It wants an enemy so that you will turn to it for help. Partisan groups need us divided, so that we will focus on fighting others rather than bringing critique on ourselves.
To me, the very worst lie is when politics says, “your brother’s concerns are not valid,” and even, “your brother is not a Christian.” Now, surely, there are people claiming Christ who are not demonstrating fruits of faith. But one of the scariest things that I think I’ve seen in this age is the dismissal of genuine concerns of conscience due to politics, even to the point of attacking faith. In an age where connection to issues has become a dog-whistle for political identity, our limbic systems engage before we are able to have, or even begin, a genuine conversation. Discussion of issues becomes more about discerning partisan identity than discerning truth. When we associate certain issues with another group of people, and shut down at buzzwords, which have become a cue to anger, we have lost something. Because in doing so, without intending to, one is saying, “your political identity is more important to me than your identity in Christ.”
Division has also stolen our ability to fight together. The need to be at war causes stances to be opposite when they don’t need to be. Partisanship tempts us to see issues through party glasses and not Christ’s eyes. We may fear aligning with a concern because it would be against partisan lines, or mark us as one of “them.” In other words, we let partisanship dictate what we do not care about, and in doing so, we essentially fear political evil more than we fear God.
But this journal issue is about reconciliation. And our God is a powerful God.
I believe that God is calling us to demonstrate his illogical majesty by living in the insane beauty of His body’s unity. I believe He cares about the unity of His body more than He cares about worldly prosperity. And I believe that praying and fighting for this might take a faith and humility that will radically stretch and change us.
I have realized in my own life that in order to consider my brother my neighbor I have to confront idols in my own heart. God has helped me start to do this by helping me ask myself questions when I start to become angry. I present these questions here:
Who am I mad at?
The world tells me to hate all people of a ‘different’ political ilk. It tells me that they are evil. But even if I disagree with them, it is not them that I’m mad at. If I believe that someone is misrepresenting the truth, then I am mad at the person who first propagated the information, not the person who believed them. And ultimately I am mad at Satan. But I am not mad at my brother.
God, help me love my brother even as I cry out for justice.
What are my brother’s good desires?
An interesting question to ask of people who disagree is to ask, what is the fundamental desire behind what someone wants? For even sin is a perversion of good, a seeking of a good desire through a wrong means. Even if people disagree on how they want something fulfilled, it can be enlightening to ask, what does this person want? Is it safety? Health? And how can I understand how that desire connects to what they have said, even if I do not agree with it?
God, help me love my brother as I see his needs, and help me understand him.
How do I speak in peace?
I think we can all relate to the parable of the log and the speck when it comes to anger. Yet I cannot expect a brother to engage well with me if I begin a conversation in anger. I need to speak in peace, and that might mean knowing my limits when I start to become charged, or walking away, or asking to change the conversation. It might mean stopping my own diatribe before it starts. And it might mean ceasing the angry thoughts and words even when I am alone.
God, help me love my brother in peace, and to rest in Your peace that is beyond understanding.
How can I talk to my brother as a true equal?
This one is exceptionally difficult, but equally important. The world is telling us right now that anyone we disagree with is fundamentally worth less. Enemyship has made us disvalue our fellow humans, and this is a horrid lie. The propaganda that the Other are evil, or stupid, or illogical, or lesser, which we hear implicitly or explicitly in almost all political language, is a violence against the God who knit them, in love, in His image. In my own heart, there are very few thoughts that alone can fight this temptation to pride, and it is a matter for prayer alone. Yet God is good to show me His power in prayer.
God, this is my brother, Your child; help me love him, in gentleness, as myself.
What do I need to believe that the world does not want me to believe?
Your heart may have a different answer to this question. I discovered that I was free to give my idol of politics to God when I saw that God was calling me to have faith that He will provide for me. Because when I looked at the Bible and I saw the God of Daniel, the God of Elijah, of Moses, of Paul, of Judah, I heard Him nudge me, saying do not fear. When I look at the world and I see the God of people in nations of poverty, of war and of strife, I don’t know what or where he would ask me to be, but I know that He is sovereign and providing for his people. How can I fear when I know who my God is?
The Israelites believed that God would save through politics too. They anticipated a savior who would beat down the nations and return them to prosperity. They received a baby, born in the quiet of the night, who grew to lead on hillsides and evade world leaders in favor of the lowly. Jesus in his ministry did not prioritize earthly politics. Why, then, do I think that it should be so crucial to me? “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give to God what is God’s.” Caesar may want my vote, but God wants my heart.
So I want to ask us:
What would it, what will it, look like if we really believed that the strongest bond we had was in Christ?
What would it look like for us to vote quietly and proclaim Christ loudly?
What would it look like for us to really have faith that God will provide for us no matter what?
What would it look like for us to pursue justice without doing so in anger?
What would it look like for us to affirm our brothers’ concerns?
I believe all of this is possible, because I believe in the God who tore the curtain. He made us His children, our identity first and forever, and to the world this is foolishness and we are foolish. I do not think that polarization is something we can solve quickly, or immediately, but I think that we need to start healing as a church, and that this begins in our own hearts. In this, too, may God help us show the world a love that unites us beyond their understanding.
God, please help the unity with my brothers override all else. Help me experience my likeness with them and our fight for your kingdom more than anything. Help me listen to their hearts and show them mine, and in doing so to submit to them as you have commanded me.* Help us love you, first, and seek you, together.