A Gentle Answer, by Scott Sauls
NOVEMBER 14, 2020
“This generation is the first to turn hate into an asset.”
When Dr. John Perkins, the eighty-nine-year-old Christian minister and civil rights icon/activist, said these words at a recent leaders’ gathering in Nashville, things I’ve been feeling about the current state of Western society came into sharper focus. For many years now, I’ve grown increasingly perplexed over what feels like a culture of suspicion, mistrust, and us-against-them.
Whatever the subject may be—politics, sexuality, immigration, income gaps, women’s concerns, race, or any other social matters over which people have differences—angst, suspicion, outrage, and outright hate increasingly shape our response to the world around us.
While righteous anger can be necessary and constructive, the Bible is careful to warn that all anger, including the constructive righteous kind, should be arrived at slowly. “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;” the apostle James writes, “for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:19–20). In being slow to anger, we express the image of God in us, who, being both perfectly righteous and the universe’s chief offended party, “forgives all [our] iniquity” and “is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Ps. 103:3, 8, emphasis mine). If God’s default response to human offense is to be slow in his anger—even the righteous kind—how much more should this be true of us, even when expressions of righteous anger may be entirely justified?
In our current cultural moment, outrage has become more expected than surprising, more normative than odd, more encouraged than discouraged, more rewarded than rejected. Outrage undergirds each day’s breaking news. It is part of the air that we breathe—a native language, a sick helping of emotional food and drink to satisfy our hunger for taking offense, shaming, and punishing. The whole idea of being for something has gone out of style. Instead, we prefer to preach an angry “gospel” about whatever we have decided to stand against.
Those of us who identify as Christian, however, have been given a resource that enables us to respond to outrage and wrath in a healing, productive, and life-giving way. Because Jesus Christ has loved us at our worst, we can love others at their worst. Because Jesus Christ has forgiven us for all of our wrongs, we can forgive others who have wronged us. Because Jesus Christ offered a gentle answer instead of pouring out punishment and rejection for our offensive and sinful ways, we can offer gentle answers to those who behave offensively and sinfully toward us. But make no mistake. Jesus’s gentle answer was bold and costly. His gentle answer included pouring out his lifeblood and dying on the cross. Our gentle answer will be costly as well. We must die to ourselves, to our self-righteousness, to our indignation, and to our outrage. For “whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 10:39). Because Jesus has covered all of our offenses, we can be among the least offensive and least offended people in the world. This is the way of the gentle answer.
Adapted from A Gentle Answer by Scott Sauls.