When you stop to think about the reasons people get mad at each other, what do you find? Something has been violated to be sure, but what? What about anger? There is none who avoid anger – not even Jesus did. Of course His anger wasn’t unrighteous but what made it righteous over against unrighteous? (BTW, an excellent book on anger is Robert Jones’ book “Uprooting Anger: Biblical Help for a Common Problem“.) Or, given my last post with the voice-over from John Piper, what about politics? How do people of great conviction navigate in that realm? Are we supposed to believe that it is ONLY a dirty profession with callous and self-serving people? I’d hardly call a man like Henry Hyde a self-serving dirtbag! They’re out there to be sure, but ALL of them? I think not.
So, folks getting mad at each other? Why? Or angry, why? Or politics, why? I’ve been thinking about this lately as I consider my parenting: I’ve got a pile of kids and a pile of mess. Verbal sparring is a reality but why? I think part of our problem is that we are actively engaging people not on the basis of whether something is right or wrong (in the objective and biblical sense) but right or wrong as I define it. We define right and wrong in one of two ways only: internally (I write the rules) or externally (someone else writes them).
I’ve watched VERY young children act out in amazingly sophisticated ways. Any parent will tell you that little Johnny and Susie weren’t taught to say “no,” they just do it. That grows and blooms into a worldview where we easily define what is right and wrong and that’s what we pursue in relationships. We hold two rulebooks in our hands all the time: mine and God’s. Think of a balance: my rulebook on the left, God’s on the right. If we hold these two rulebooks equally, then if you violate God’s rule or mine, the consequences (as I meet them out) are the same. Other options include mine over God’s (my response to your violation: harshness, coarse language, grumpy, silent treatment…you get the idea); God’s over mine (my response to your violation: gentleness, firmness, restoration-aimed…you see the difference?).
Back to the balance: in my left hand, is my rule book. My “rule book” is life according to me. It is how you should act. It doesn’t usually include how I should act, just you. (Maybe a chapter in there about me but many in there about you.) They include things like: don’t criticize me unless I ask you to; don’t instruct me unless I ask you; don’t fail to call me back when I call you; don’t send me texts; vote R–; don’t drink PBR…you get the idea.
When you violate one of my rules, what have you done? Have you sinned against me? No. You’ve violated a preference; you’ve acted in a way that I’d rather you didn’t. In the end, who cares – I need to get over it (in the church we call this “Christian Freedom”). When it concerns my rulebook, I can’t compel you to act as I would want you to. Here’s the catch: I STILL try because at the heart of it all I think you SHOULD obey my rules just as you would obey God’s. As I pursue my rules in your life if you fail to obey, we fight. All of this is wrong, of course. You would be right to tell me to pound sand as I ask you to obey my rules.
Now, in my right hand I hold God’s rules as we read them in the Bible. If you violate one of them, I’d be right to confront you, be angry, etc. God gives His people the right to be in each other’s lives with His rulebook. If you lied to me, I would be right to warn you that’s a sin against me: you would’ve violated a rule that God clearly gives in the Bible to govern our conduct (Ephesians 4:15). If, however, you told me truth in the “wrong place” (my rule) then I’d have no right to get chapped at you. How many spouses (men especially) get ticked because the other confronts in a place they’d rather not have to deal with it? Man, do I hear that a lot (even lived through that one)!
Rulebook #1 (mine) = preferences.
Rulebook #2 (God’s) = sin.
If you find yourself in a sparring match you would be well served to ask if you are holding up your end of the fight because someone has violated one of your precious preferences. If so, get over it and yourself. Put down your weapon and realize that the other person is no more obligated to obey your preferences than you are to obey his.
If we were more inclined to hold to the Word of God in the Bible and ask people to hold to that as well and that only, we would fight less. Ask someone close to you to help you with your list of preferences that drive them crazy – I’m sure it won’t take long.