As a boy, I had lots of reasons to be angry: my older brother and I didn’t play well together most of the time; my neighborhood friend was bullying me; I didn’t get first string on the football team; my father seemed to believe in a standard of love that I thought was unrealistic; I wanted to be respected for my skills; I wanted to be more powerful than I was. I’m sure much of the turmoil within my soul was sponsored by the fact that I knew that the indwelling Spirit wasn’t cool with my desires: I knew who I was grieving when I was playing with demons. When I went off to Texas A&M and the Corps of Cadets, I found new reasons to be angry and new ways to work out of that violence. In ROTC, I found that there was actually approved space for me to release the violence in my heart. The physical abuse and demanding physical training built up the tension all the more. We were called to hold in anger toward our superiors, and then allowed to release it against those below us….or our peers at times. I celebrated this opportunity! We would hold up in our rooms, building the violence within by listening to Nine Inch Nails, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, and Offspring—building up the tension like heat in a dry sauna. I ran with a short fuse, and was good at it. But, like some of my peers, my immature soul didn’t know how to work out the violence…how to address it or release it in constructive manners.
By violence I’m talking about a mixture of chemicals and discontent. We are a confusing mix of biological complexity and willful independence. We are affected by chemicals, but our imaginations and perspectives inform the visions that those chemicals respond to: “But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” But I don’t think the eye changes overnight. I’ve been a Christian since the age of five, but I either wasn’t listening or I didn’t hear how to deal with the angst within. Or maybe I just needed the opportunity to see how evil I really was outside of Christ. Thankfully I serve a Christ that doesn’t forsake his children, because I have danced with demons since first meeting my Savior. Our sin watches us from a distance, waiting to find ways to approach again, waiting for an opportunity to grab the wheel once more. I thought I had anger licked in 98…then it reared its head in 2008 and 2010. We may stand over our sin in an old context and then look up to find it bearing down on us in a new context. That’s probably why Paul was so insistent on dying to himself daily. I know I need to.
Violence was a traveling companion for me. Even in my seminary days I could still put a mask of “righteous indignation” on my temper or discontent. I was angry about sin and laziness. There’s a place for that, of course, but many times I just wanted to express the violence within. These days “justice” is a popular ruse by which we fool ourselves. Pick any number of injustices in the world and release your anger! Some of us Christians never learned how to work out the violence in our hearts, and we are looking for ways to release it while not devaluing our belief system. I mean seriously, if that’s the frame of mind, then we’ve all got enough reasons to be perpetually pissed off! There’s a never-ending flow of crap that flows down in this world, and I’ve added to it. But I’ve known joy that didn’t make sense. I’ve seen light in dark places, and a smile has risen in my heart when sadness surrounded. Do you remember the grace? Do you remember the mercy? I still have the chemicals and the reasons for anger. I still carry a pilot light of violence within me, but a Spirit informed perspective keeps the fire of wrath and indignation at bay most of the time. I’m trying to get back to an average of one flare up once every decade (insert winking emoticon). Discarding the character of Christ so that you can address injustice is never appropriate. There are times when righteous indignation is necessary, but if Christ wasn’t angry all the time, then I think that I probably should check the credentials of my anger.
So I challenge you, as I challenge myself: address the violence within. Maybe you need to get some of those chemicals out by going for a long run or changing your diet; maybe you need to stop listening to Jay-Z; maybe you need to take yourself out of a relationship; or maybe you need to get a completely new perspective. I know for sure that we all need to take that discontent and feeling of angst and lay them at the feet of Christ. You’re not the only one who walks around with anger that life and the world are not the way they should be. You’re not the only one who carries the pain of injustice on your soul. But you are the only one who can take that burden and lay it at the feet of Jesus. No one can do it for you, but you can ask for help. Let’s be intentional with one another. Let’s watch each other, with grace in hand, and ask where the violence comes from. Let’s suffer long as we walk with brothers, brothers who are working out the violence within.