Wrath and anger, these also are abominations, yet a sinner holds on to them.
What difference does it make, as long as in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is being proclaimed? And in that I rejoice. Indeed I shall continue to rejoice.
I chose these verses before Election Day. I knew they would coincide with the aftermath of the election and thought we’d all need a reminder, both of what our anger is worth and of what really matters. I didn’t expect this result, but I wasn’t wrong about America’s reaction.
I don’t know a lot of people who aren’t angry right now. We’re angry about who won or angry about how we’re being characterized or angry about increased violence against marginalized populations or angry about protests or just angry in general. Even the people who are pleased with Tuesday’s results seem pretty miserable now, and it’s no wonder.
The Devil loves division.
The Devil loves division. He loves the divisions within Christianity that cause us to bicker amongst ourselves while ignoring the masses desperate to hear the Gospel. He loves the divisions within the Catholic Church that leave us loathing people with whom we receive communion because they use the wrong language or fight for the wrong causes or play the wrong instruments. He loves it when people embrace an ideology and ignore humanity.
So here we are, a country divided, clinging to our anger while the Devil exults. And somehow I can’t point out the suffering of survivors of abuse without being accused of pampering them and I can’t explain that pro-life doesn’t mean misogynistic without being tarred with the same brush. We’re standing in our echo chambers filling up on the rage that bounces back at us, ready to take down anyone who comes against us.
But the election is over. The decision has been made. And now we have to decide: do we stew in our anger, reading article after article about how wrong and bad the other side is? Or do we step outside the divisions and choose instead to love?
There’s so much to be angry about. But anger only confuses, endangers, and destroys. Love heals.
Paul is dealing here with a divided Church, full of showboating evangelists and missionaries seeking glory. He’s writing from prison, well aware that some of those alleged Christians are glad he’s suffering, hoping to cause him more pain. He has every reason to be angry.
But Paul knows what we often forget: anger is useless. And so he refuses to let his anger rule him. “What does it matter?” he asks, of an audience that knows how terribly much it matters. “Let’s do what’s right.”
Paul looks at the good fruit his enemies have managed to bear, good effects they may not even have intended. He fixes his eyes on the one thing that matters: the love and mercy of Jesus Christ. He even rejoices at what he sees because he knows that the Devil can’t stand unity. So he commends his opponents and moves on. He has work to do.
Even now, there is great good that can be seen in the aftermath of this election: conservatives reaching out to immigrants and LGBTQ folks, liberals seeking to understand Trump supporters, people setting aside differences to welcome and encourage and love. There may even be elements of your opponent’s platform that you can embrace. Maybe you can appreciate the compassion or the conviction of your friends of different political persuasions. Seek out those shining lights and allow them to spur you on.
Because we, too, have work to do. We have a broken country to heal, terrified people to comfort, lives to save. We have family members who need our patience, neighbors who need a safe space, strangers who need a smile.
There are those in our country who are living in deep fear right now, and I understand that. But for many of us it’s just anger. If you’re one who’s just angry (or annoyed or exhausted or disdainful or outraged), I ask you to join St. Paul in tossing that anger aside: “What difference does it make?” Then let’s fix our eyes on justice, truth, peace, kindness, courage, and love. Let’s work together, defying the Baal of Division, and learn to rejoice again.