Hunger, Thirst and Be Angry
Jesse spoke this past Sunday on Matthew 5:6, which says “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” He talked about how the ‘hunger’ and ‘thirst’ in this verse are for both private and corporate righteousness. In that context he made the point that zeal for what is right, which often strikes us as arrogant or self-righteous, is commended in Scripture. Zeal for corporate righteousness is good when it is coupled with zeal for personal righteousness. This is zeal for personal righteousness leads us to the humility that comes from recognizing our inability to be righteous apart from grace. That humility then infuses our zeal for corporate righteousness with empathy, compassion, and the understanding that the gospel is the only solution we have.
As I was listening to his message I was struck by its close relationship to an article by David Powlison I had read the week before on the topic of anger. Powlison talks about how anger is not, by itself, a sin. He defines the core of anger being the notion ‘I am against that.’ In other words, anger is a moral judgment. He says it this way:
“It is an active stance you take to oppose something that you assess as wrong. You notice something, size it up, and say, “That matters… and it’s wrong.” You encounter something in the world that crosses the line. Anger expresses the energy of your reaction to something you find offensive and wish to eliminate. The DNA is not a heightened pitch of emotion. It’s not the surge of adrenaline. It’s not any particular way of expressing anger. It’s not what events or people happen to tick you off. It’s not whether you get in to arguments. The underlying element is simply the negative evaluation.”
Anger, in this way of thinking, is an essential part of righteous zeal, and therefore an essential part of being blessed, or approved by God. The problem with anger is similar to the problem with righteous zeal. When misguided, they are destructive. Jesus had harsh words for the self-righteous zeal of the Pharisees. Just a few verses after blessing righteous zealots Jesus says that murder is the outworking of misguided anger. But, far from being wrong in and of itself, anger is also an integral part of kingdom living.
All of this is helping me think through how react to unrighteousness. There is no shortage of unrighteousness and injustice. ISIS is kidnapping and killing with impunity. They made a public spectacle of killing 21 Christians. I am against that.
The Department of Justice released a report this week on the city of Ferguson, detailing the racism involved in the way the police department and municipal court operate. It reads like a 100 page end note to Michelle Alexander’s "The New Jim Crow." I am against that.
A movie promoting and sanctifying the type of psychological and sexual abuse that would get universally condemned if the abuser wasn’t a good looking millionaire has made close to $500 million dollars over the past month. I am against that.
But it is not just in the world that I see murder, racism, and abuse. The roots of these sins are working for dominion in my heart.
I can’t listen to my daughter and her cousins being loud and fun in the back of the car as I drove for more than 2 minutes before I am snapping at them. I am against that.
I have a core group of people I like and am comfortable with and, if given the choice, rarely reach out to those outside of that group to extend care and fellowship. I am against that.
I manipulate people by bending the truth slightly, or not slightly, to give them the perspective I want them to have, whether it is accurate or not. I am against that.
All of this hungering and thirsting for righteousness seems very futile. Zeal and anger informed by the truth of God’s word seems frustratingly impotent. Being against all of these things doesn’t change the reality of them. Al Qaeda is weakened and now we have ISIS. Jim Crow is dismantled and now we have the age of incarceration. Porn’s ubiquity desensitizes, leading to its normalization in pop culture. Abortion is still legal more than 40 years and millions and millions of deaths later. It isn’t just corporate righteousness that seems unattainable. My heart is still prone to wander and produces sin in need of constant mortification. For every step forward I make, it seems like there is a new temptation or struggle taking its place.
This brings me back around to Jesse’s message. The encouraging part of his message was not that it was ok to be angry about unrighteousness. It wasn’t even that working towards seeing justice done and sin mortified would be lead to immediate satisfaction. Many times it will not. The encouraging part of the message was when he said that our zeal for righteousness could never match God’s zeal for righteousness. When we hunger and thirst for righteousness and justice we are joining into a desire that is shared by the Almighty One. We are aligning our hearts and passions with the Rider of the White Horse whose robe is dipped in blood. We can fight for righteousness and justice in the world knowing that even if we don’t see the results we want in the timing we want that we are fighting with the strength God is providing. We can do battle with our own sin knowing the victory has already been won, even as sin grasps and claws at us. Success may come little by little but the Kingdom is at hand. So let justice and righteouness roll like a river. Hunger and thirst. You will be satisfied.