There is a rise of outrage today in culture. Outrage is exhausting. It’s draining. Outrage takes psychological and physical a toll on us. And yet at the same time culture can’t live without it. It becomes a kind of addiction. On some level people enjoy getting outraged. It makes the them feel that they’re on the right side. It helps them feel that they are bonding with others who have similar views. But when a group of people are continually in “outrage mode” it’s really very, very unhealthy and not just unhealthy but almost seems normal. What I’m talking about folks is the “outrage culture.” We live in a culture where anything you say is misconstrued and taken offensively to at least one person or group. And once that individual or group speaks out, the public mob is out to put your head on a pike. It’s eroding our interactions, our relationships and our society.
Heather Wilhelm, in an article for the Chicago Tribune writes,
“For a frightening number of people, the art of being offended by everything — or, even better, loudly and publicly complaining about being offended by everything — is pursued with alarming dedication. For some, being offended is practically a credo and an all-encompassing way of life.”
There is a difference between participating in a culture of outrage and having firm convictions. Jesus calls Christians to respond differently to a hateful world, commanding us to refuse retaliation and instead extend grace to our enemies. This is a different ethic than what we are used to. But Jesus modeled it. Jesus lived with a completely different set of standards. The Sermon on the Mount is perhaps the most famous portion of Scripture in the Bible. Specifically in the sermon on the mount, Jesus lays out a completely different manner of living for His disciples. It’s a way of life that is counter-cultural to the world’s mentality and emotions. In his sermon on the mount, Jesus instructs his disciples on how to deal with a world that is antagonistic, that is unwelcoming, that is mean-spirited and that wants to take advantage of them. And His simple instruction is this:
Turn the other cheek.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. “If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you” (Matthew 5:38-42).
The Jewish law created equity with this “eye for an eye” ruling. But the purpose of the law was never to give license to inflict as much pain on someone as you thought they had inflicted upon you. Instead, Jesus calls his followers to a completely different standard in their personal dealings with others. The Jewish law was concerned with people’s actions. Jesus’ commands surpass a person’s actions and go far deeper…into the person’s heart.
Instead of using the law as an excuse for personal vengeance, Jesus commands those who are citizens of his kingdom to refuse retaliation when treated poorly. In an “outrage culture” sometimes silence can speak louder than yelling back. Yelling back often places undeserved importance on the object of our outrage. Before long, our priorities can become of whack as those of the broader culture and we begin to believe our narrative of offense. And the result is we spend our time fighting for the wrong things.
There are times to be furious. You can be “angry and not sin” (Ephesians 4:26). Probably one of the best examples of this is when Jesus flipped tables in the temple. After making His triumphal entry into Jerusalem with crowds cheering and palm branches waving, Jesus "went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in it” (Luke 19:45-46). Was Jesus showing the first signs of “outrage culture?” Hardly. It was righteous indignation. Why such a display of anger? Because the people engaged in temple commerce were keeping others from God. They had a “financial racket” going. They were finding fault with the sacrificial animals the people brought in and then sold them an "approved" animal at an inflated price. And this made Jesus angry. If you’re a normal human, that should make you angry. As Christians, we should speak out against injustice, but there is a difference between speaking out against injustice and getting in a Twitter fight where two different camps of people belittle each other in order to try and prove their point.
Refusing to retaliate is not an excuse to be passive or avoid people. Jesus’ words are not a call to disengage. They are a command to go the extra mile instead. It was common under Roman occupation during Jesus’ day for soldiers to demand that citizens carry their pack. This is what Jesus had in mind when he told his followers to go that extra mile.
For this idea to have its full effect, we must remember Roman soldiers were part of an occupying authority. They were an oppressive political power, and one that many Jews were desiring to overthrow. In fact, several attempts had already been made in Jesus’ day to start a rebellion against the Romans. Jesus tells his disciples to do something countercultural concerning the opposing political party. Not only were they to submit to the request to carry the pack, they were to exceed the expected distance. Do not just do what is expected of you to fulfill the obligation, Jesus tells them, instead do something that can only be explained by a genuine love for the person doing you wrong.
Instead of returning insult for insult, go out of your way to return kindness instead. Instead of getting drawn into the outrage, let us live a better story. I’m fully aware that it’s not as easy as were saying. It’s especially hard when we have those in charge over us but we don’t agree with them politically, socially, relationally, spiritually, etc. So, how do we honor those God has put over us when we don’t agree with them? Here some suggestions:
Stop labeling each other and start learning from each other
Christians can fall into the trap of dishonoring others whose political beliefs or ideas are different. Left-leaning Christians engage in rhetoric that labels our right-leaning authorities as anti-poor, anti-woman, anti-immigrant and so on. Right-leaning Christians can label our democratic friends on the left as anti-capitalist, anti-white, anti-baby, anti-cop, etc. What if we labeled each other as human beings? What if we saw each other as creations of God? Those labels give us a starting point to engage with others that isn’t political but personal to God. They give us permission to accept each other despite our political positions so we can listen to each other rather than scream at each other. Pursue the right perspective of each other before pursuing the right to push back against each other. Your perspective of who you are is the best starting point to engage others where they are at.
Being disagreeable doesn’t mean being dishonorable
When the actions of your leadership disagrees with your view of what leadership is, you have a choice to make. Young David, an up-and-coming leader became successful and did everything right with those around him. Even with those who were in authority over him. King Saul, a political and spiritual leader that David reported to, chose to be irrational and dysfunctional. To the point of wanting to kill David. How would you honor a man who relentlessly sought to kill you? David had an understanding of the authority. That God puts kings in charge and he knew that God had established making Saul king (1 Sam. 9:15-16). While Saul was his political leader, David’s honor for Saul was seen through is “honor lens” every day. Every response by David towards Saul’s rants and ravages revealed to others how not only how much David loved God by how much he honored. David spared Saul's life in the cave (1 Sam. 24:4-22) and again on the field of war while Saul was sleeping (1 Sam. 26:1-12) until finally this irrational ruler was defeated in battle and fell upon his own sword. David not only grieved his death, prayed and fasted but wrote a song about his fallen leadership (2 Sam. 1:17-27). Instead of recounting all of Saul's weaknesses, the song he wrote actually recounted his honor. Whenever possible, show respect for those in charge no matter how crazy they can sound (and maybe even write a song about them).