By Dr. James C. Denison
President, the Center for Informed Faith, Dallas, Texas
Topic: forgiveness and the soul
Eggs and headlocks
I had no idea politics could be this much fun. Today’s New York Times tells us that the Ukrainian Parliament ratified an agreement to extend the lease on a Russian naval base in the Crimean Peninsula. Why do you care? It’s not what they did so much as the way they did it.
Lawmakers pelted the podium with eggs, put each other in headlocks, poured glue into voting machines and set off smoke bombs. They even got into a tug of war with a giant Ukrainian flag. Their legislative leader worked behind umbrellas held by his aides.
Such seventh-grade antics make American legislators look positively boring. This morning’s Wall Street Journal tells us about stalemated finance reform legislation and senators who castigated Goldman Sachs executives in hearings yesterday, but there wasn’t a single egg thrown in Washington. Wouldn’t you pay money to watch John McCain and Harry Reid wrestle?
Jesus’ approach to anger management is somewhat different: “I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment” (Matthew 5:22). Have you ever been angry with your brother? Are you angry with someone now?
Fortunately, our Lord did not condemn the simple emotion of anger. This is an inevitable reaction to hurt or harm, and an emotion Jesus felt himself. In Mark 3:5 he “looked around at them in anger” for their unbelief; in John 2:15 he drove the moneychangers out of the temple. Ephesians 4:26 tells us, “In your anger do not sin.” The emotion of anger is not a sin.
Jesus did not use thumos, the Greek word for the emotion of anger in this verse, but orge, the deliberate choice to continue being angry. Orge is an unwillingness to forgive and move on, a cherished anger. Such a decision makes me “liable to judgment” before God. And it damages my soul.
Consider Frederick Buechner’s definition of “anger”: “Of the Seven Deadly Sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back-in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you.”
Many stories have been told about the painting of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper. One of my favorites is that da Vinci made the face of Judas similar in appearance to a personal enemy. As the artist thought of how much he disliked this man, it was easy to paint him as the traitor of our Lord.
However, when he turned to paint the face of Jesus, he could not. His eyes wandered to the face of his enemy, creating thoughts within his heart which made it impossible to concentrate on the beauty and purity of Jesus. He painted the face of Christ only after he painted out the face of Judas and reconciled himself with his enemy.
To paint the face of Christ tomorrow, whose face must you change today?