James 1:19-20 NRSV
You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.
“Your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.”
If you grew up in an American home and attended public school during the week and Sunday school on the weekends, your most formative years were dedicated to two doctrines. Sometimes those doctrines were aligned: “all men are created equal” is a Christian doctrine and an American doctrine. Other times, the doctrines were at odds with each other: “A real man pulls himself up by his bootstraps” is the opposite of Matthew 6:31-32 “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them”
But the most insidious result of our joint indoctrination is the mix-ups between the two. We remember a lot of the moral lessons every good American should know and the Bible stories every good Christian should know and end up with a hybrid in which Jesus starts to sound like a congressman and America starts to sound like the promised land.
This passage from James, urging the believers in how to behave, shows the difference between true Christlike behavior and the Americanized, decaffeinated version. It seems like Christians ought to be filled with righteous anger at every sin. But is that based on the life or words of Jesus, or on an American proverb? “A real man tells it like it is.” “If you don’t have any enemies, it means you never stood up for anything.” “No one speaks to ME that way.”
There are plenty of moments that deserve our moral outrage, but it is OUR moral outrage that we are expressing. We are not the judge, prosecutor, or jury for God. We are simply spectators in the back row who might talk amongst ourselves while the true judge is at work. We might be surprised by his mercy where we feel he ought to be more stern. We might be shocked by his justice where we feel he ought to be more lenient. But God doesn’t abide by the constitution, and our insistence that he does won’t change his verdict.