June 3, 2010
by Patrick Lafferty
Love . . . is not irritable or resentful.
1 Corinthians 13:5
Anger began to smolder in Thabiti Anyabwile (“thuh-BEE-tee An-yahb-WEE-lay”) at an early age. His father left his family when Thabiti was fourteen. A run-in with law enforcement distanced the teenager from his friends, fueling his anger further.
As an adolescent of the 1960s, his anger found validation in the radicalism of Malcolm X and others who attributed all the travails of Africans and African-Americans to those with paler skin. Describing himself as a “young, hot-headed militant seething with not just anger but hatred,” Anyabwile converted to Islam his sophomore year of college. His new faith promised to channel constructively his resentment toward white people—and toward the white Jesus of whom they spoke so highly.
Yet, after a patient consideration of the Qu’ran, he found an internal inconsistency in his arguments for Islam against Judaism and Christianity. The Muslim holy book enjoined, rather than disparaged, respect for the revelation given to Moses and the gospel delivered from Jesus. The Qu’ran recast some fundamental elements of what the Gospels said of Jesus but never called for Muslims to discard their teaching. Anyabwile found that troubling. How could a Muslim disregard the singular authority of Jesus, he wondered, if the Qu’ran accepted the virgin birth? How could the Five Pillars of obedience to Allah essentially obscure the need for atonement in Jesus if the Qu’ran had no quarrel with Jesus’ teaching? That and other inconsistencies eventually led him to renounce Islam, and in turn, all religions.
Still, there’d been no balm for his anger.
Later, in the wake of the miscarriage of his and his wife’s first child, he found himself staring at a television with a preacher expounding from 2 Timothy. In time, he led his wife to visit the church of that preacher, who on that day preached from Exodus 32. The title of his message was “What does it take to make you angry?” In that sermon, Anyabwile heard of the holiness and justice of God, and of His abhorrence for sin. He also heard of the Lamb of God who had come into the world to save those who believe—even “a former Muslim who was an avowed and determined enemy of the cross.” Thabiti and his wife were stirred to repent and believe in the gospel. And on that day, all his reasons and rationale for anger evaporated. What had stirred such animosity for over a decade had now been displaced by a love even more potent, and, at last, truly constructive.
That all sounds compelling, but how does the gospel do that? Mark reawakened our sense last Sunday of the danger of unrighteous anger and resentment which are antitheses of love. He also reminded us of how the gospel is the only sufficient force to displace them.
Irritability squelches love because it responds asymmetrically and wickedly. Resentment allows anger to seethe in us until it explodes like a ruptured gas line and sullies any hope of love’s emergence. But the gospel undercuts their appearance when it exposes three things about them.
The gospel exposes the blindness attendant to anger and resentment. They Such reactions ignore the reality that the Lord himself chose not to let His anger burn against us. The cross proves that the Lord bears no lingering grudge, but aims to reconcile what taints our fellowship. For us to resort to anger or resentment, we have to disregard His love for us.
The gospel also exposes the tyranny of those sins. Anger begets anger. Resentment festers and spreads like gangrene. And our hearts are not strong enough to simply release their hold on us by sheer force of will. We make ourselves prisoners of those sins so long as we indulge them.
Lastly and most significantly, the gospel exposes their offensiveness. Irritable anger and resentment flout the Lord. They discount His provision and besmirch His goodness. As David acknowledged, though they may be directed toward others, their intended victim is really the Lord (Psalm 51:4).
Only the gospel is strong enough to persuade us how anger and resentment have no place, make no sense, and obtain no good thing.
It doesn’t just put us in our place, though. The promise of forgiveness and renewal in Jesus are designed to make us more like the God who made us.
So what has it taken to make you angry lately—in hotheaded irritability or quietly seething resentment? Have you deployed the gospel to rescue you from your blindness, your tyranny, and the inherent offensiveness of those sins? What was true of Paul became true for Thabiti: “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy” (Gal. 1:23). If the gospel has that kind of power, why would it be any less effective in your struggle with anger?