Christian Outrage?

Archpriest Michael Gillis | 12 August 2021

After my last blog post, John commented that the burning of Churches in Canada calls for “Christian outrage” now, while love and forgiveness can wait until after the crimes have been investigated and resolved.  I can honestly say that I know how John feels.  In fact, I will go so far as to say that until one feels outrage, one can’t honestly love and forgive.  

Outrage is a natural human response to outrageous acts—like burning down a Church.  If one does not begin by feeling a certain amount of outrage, then I would wonder if that person is actually in touch with reality.  Outrage is a natural, merely human emotion.  

When we read the Psalms, often we encounter outrage:  “Why do the heathen rage and the people imagine a vain thing?”   Many Psalms have very vindictive elements, and if you were to pull just one or a few verses from some psalms, you might think that revenge was a mindset that God encouraged.  However, one or a few verses is not the whole Psalm.  And one or a few Psalms is not the whole Psalter.  

When we read the whole Psalter, we encounter every human emotion, including outrage.  In the Psalms, God meets us where we are, even in the lowest places of our anger and outrage.  God meets us even there, giving us the words that express our anger and outrage.  We want revenge, and God acknowledges that in the Psalms.  

However, as we read the Psalms, the focus begins to shift from our hurt and anger and outrage, to God’s care for the broken hearted, God’s ability to care for us despite our weakness, and God’s ability to bring about justice in His time, in His way.  In the Psalms, God meets us in our merely human outrage, blinded by our own anger and pain, and lifts us to a higher place, to a place where we can see His power, His care for us, His perspective.

I have been listening to Big In Heaven, by Stephen Siniari when I go for long walks.  Every single story has made me cry.  I have to carry a handkerchief with me so that the tears don’t stream down my face.  These are not maudlin tears of syrupy sentimentality, but rather the tears of revelation, as the stories reveal to me myself, reveal to me what is beautiful and real and hidden in the pain of others, in the pain of my own heart and experience.  

Today on my walk Fr. Naum, the central character in Stephen Siniari’s short stories, quotes St. John of the Ladder (8:11), “An angry person is a willing epileptic, who due to an involuntary tendency [to act out of anger] keeps convulsing and falling down.” Fr. Naum is a very mild, wise old Orthodox priest.  However, he did not start out his ministry as either mild or wise.  The stories tell of many a permanent wound he caused himself and others in his younger days when occasionally his actions were motivated by anger, by outrage.  

And that’s the problem with outrage.  As normal as it is to feel outrage, outrage blinds us.  Outrage blinds us and we can no longer see from God’s perspective.  And if we continue to hold on to the anger birthed by the initial outrage, then St. John of the Ladder tells us, we are like a voluntary epileptic.  We lose control of ourselves and we fall down: fall down morally, fall down spiritually.  

I sometimes think that the real prize that the evil one is after, whenever God allows the evil one to afflict us in any way, I think the real prize the devil wants is our blindness, then our moral fall, which if we persist in it will lead to our spiritual fall.  That’s what the devil wants.  

The initial temptation or trial—the burnt Churches, the lost rights, the triumph of perversion—these are just the tripwires.  These are all bait with hooks in it.  We are caught by the evil one if we hold on to our initial, very real and natural, (but) merely human response of outrage and do not with the psalmist cry out, “Arise, O God, plead Your cause; remember the insults uttered against You by the fool all the day long.  Do not forget the cry of Your supplicants, for the pride of those who hate you goes up continually” (Psa. 74: 22,23). And, by the way, this whole Psalm is a response to the burning down of the Temple.

We must bring our outrage to God in prayer, not direct it towards whatever human agent we think may be responsible.  If we direct our outrage outwardly, we will be blinded by it and, as St. John of the Ladder reminds us, we will convulse ourselves and fall down in many moral and spiritual ways.  But if we bring our outrage to God in prayer, then like the Psalmist, our help will come from God.  

This, I think, is why the Psalms are so gritty, so full of the outrage that makes up our merely human response to the outrageous experiences we are subjected to in this fallen world, this vale of tears.    Through the Psalms we can begin to pray.  We can take our outrage to God, who is the only one who can bear it.  We take our outrage to God, and God carries it and gently transforms it into trust and hope and faith; faith that God is not blind, neither has God abandoned us.  Through the Psalms our eyes rise slowly with our prayer and the outrage that is merely human resolves into peace that passes understanding and firm knowledge that God is our defender and nothing any human being does to us can separate us from His love.

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