We were all, once again, horrified as we watched the bombing and shootings in Norway last week. Thinking about the families of those who were injured and killed, some of us wondered what we would do in a similar situation. Others of us wondered how anyone could do something so devastating. How could anyone be so hateful, so angry, as to murder close to a hundred young people?
Unfortunately, this question has been asked for millennia, as the history of humankind has progressed. It seems we are never really free from the foolishness and rage that individuals and groups foment. What causes such frustration? Of course, you might say, I would never do such a thing. Don’t be so sure. While it is true that psychological or brain damage can eliminate one’s ability to control his or her thoughts or actions, in fact, any of us can become dangerous if we fail to pay attention to our inner thoughts and intentions.
A current contemporary Christian song states, “Be careful little eyes what you see. It’s the second glance that ties your hands as darkness pulls the strings. . . . It’s a slow fade, when you give yourself away. It’s a slow fade, when black and white have turned to gray. Thoughts invade, choices are made, a price will be paid, when you give yourself away. People never crumble in a day.”(“Slow Fade,” by Casting Crowns from their album The Altar an the Door. The writer of the song understands that change occurs, not as a one-time thing, but as a moment-to-moment, day-to-day process. Regrettably, we are often not aware of the slippery slope ahead of us until we have slid to the bottom.
Jesus knew the peril of thoughts, of not controlling our minds. The most basic step is to learn to control anxiety and worry. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me” (John 14:1). He also instructs us, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear” (Matthew 6:25). There is a great difference between being a good steward, planning for the future, and worrying. Worry steals time and energy from our hearts. It makes us wonder “what if” as we invent possibilities, both negative and positive, in our minds. The opposite of worry is faith—knowing we have needs, but also knowing that we serve a God who is involved and concerned about each of us. When I remind myself that there is “nothing that can separate us from the love of God” (Romans 8), I am reminded that there is no need to worry.
Worry, then, leads to fear and can lead us to faulty judgment, seeing others as our enemies. We can control worry, but it is also imperative that we also control feelings of inadequacy and/or supremacy. I had a good friend who constantly thought that she was being judged by others, that every whisper or comment made in another group was about her. Pretty paranoid, I would say, but this came from her own judgment, of herself and others. She was constantly self-criticizing and finding fault with those around her. Jesus talked about this, too.
““Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye”
None of us is perfect. In fact, we are all sinners, failures, compared to the beauty and perfection of God. It is in that sinfulness that God has found us and has cleansed us, as we have come to God through faith. God’s grace is given to us freely because of Jesus’ sacrifice, but we so often hoard that grace, failing to extend it to those around us. First,
stop judging and criticizing yourself. Do you make mistakes? Welcome to the family! Do you dislike things about who you are? Take it to God in prayer. Don’t hate yourself. That only leads to depression and anger. Receive God’s love and grace, which is given freely, and as God has forgiven you, forgive yourself. When the thoughts of judgment, anger, and despair attack, remind yourself of the great value God has placed on your life.
Second, think about those around you: the ones who make you crazy, the ones with whom you argue on a regular basis, the ones who have a different ideology. How do you respond? How do you think when you are confronted by these individuals? Are you able to speak with grace? Can you let others “live” on the earth without hating them? Don’t be fooled, the crossover from dislike, disgust, and anger is a very small step over to “hate.” “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen” (1 John 4:20).
“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell” (Matthew 5:21-22). Think about the mercy you have received and consider Christ’s compassion toward you. How much more, then, should we be merciful toward those in our lives? A tiny mustard seed grows into a very large plant, and a small amount of yeast will leaven a large amount of flour. How much more so will anger and frustration held within grow and affect those around us and our world? The author of Hebrews states, “See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many” (Hebrews 12:15).
If you don’t know the forgiveness of Christ, if you have not experienced God’s compassion, call on God today. You are welcome into God’s family. If you are struggling with feelings of frustration, anger, and even hatred, pray to God today. Turn over your unforgiving feelings and, as you have been forgiven, allow God through the Holy Spirit to help you forgive others in your life. Feelings of hate hurt you, no one else. And the longer you hold in such emotions, and “stew” in them, you will find yourself sliding down that slippery slope toward murder, just like the man in Norway.
Seek peace and justice, not with revenge and hatred, but with compassion and truth. Seek God’s grace, and share it with those around you.
Mary Kay Glunt
Ebenezer Presbyterian Church
P.O. Box 393, Greenfield, MO 65661