Raging against it

Pastor Matthew Best
4 min readDec 19, 2018

Rage is fashionable. It has been for a few years now. I saw an article about a “rage room.” It’s where you can go to let your rage out by destroying things. Turns out that science shows this to be unhealthy. When we allow rage to consume us, we end up with more rage in our lives.

I think rage is popular because it’s a way of acknowledging that we really aren’t in control. Rage is the complete letting go of control over yourself in a furry of anger. It gives the person a warm feeling and makes some people feel very alive. That’s what one author said about his attraction to rage and anger.

There are many things in our world that can pull people into a fit of rage. Politics is pretty good at that these days. The President has a unique super power (ok, maybe not a super power, but you get the point). He has the amazing ability to set many people off in fits of rage and control how they are feeling. He isn’t the only one, of course — just currently the most prominent one, given his current position in the world.

Religion has the capacity to drive people to rage too. I have heard pastors proclaim really bad theologies, rage against people and groups, and cause their followers into blind fits of rage against others. Such actions aren’t exactly what following Jesus is about. But these aren’t the first (nor will they be the last) religious figures who use God for their own ends.

But rage doesn’t have to be the way.

Pastor Brian Zahnd wrote a beautiful article on what he is trying to be like:

It’s an ugly time. So I’m trying hard not to be ugly. But it’s not easy. To be ugly about all the ugliness is easy. Of course when I insert my own ugliness into the fray I don’t call it being ugly, I call it being right. I tell myself that my rage is like the whip-wielding, table-flipping Christ in the temple. But in my more contemplative moments I have to admit that most of the time my rage is more like Peter cutting off an ear than Jesus cleansing the temple. Just because Jesus did something doesn’t mean that I should try to do it. After all, Jesus walked on water too.

So I want to resist the ugliness, not by being ugly about it, not by raging against it, not by hurling insults at those caught up in mimetic ugliness, but by being something other. What I’m saying is that I want to try to be beautiful. I’m not sure I’m called to imitate Christ in his rage, but I know I’m called to imitate Christ on the cross. It’s the cruciform that is the definitive form of Christian beauty. Crucifixion is ugly unless we imitate Christ and pray, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” This is the beauty that saves the world.

To be a follow of Jesus means to do what Jesus commanded us to do. He called on his followers to offer an alternative to the world — to invite people into an alternative way of being human. To offer people something the world never offers — a rest from the never-ending competition that exhausts us.

Jesus didn’t go around choosing sides in the power struggle of the time — the Temple authorities vs. the empire. That’s because at the core, these two were no different from one another. They stood for different things, at least on the surface. But the reality is they both sought the same thing — power and control. They used similar means to obtain it too — taxation, exploitation, division, labels, violence.

Jesus didn’t fight violence and corruption by being violent and corrupt. He offered an alternative — a different way. A way the world doesn’t understand and rejects. It rejects Jesus’ way because the world always wants more — it is never satisfied. It demands more. It tells the message that you don’t have enough, you aren’t good enough, and you aren’t doing enough. It claims to want peace, but won’t live peacefully — telling itself that it will turn to peace once the enemy has been eliminated. That’s not peace at all. Peace isn’t a destination that comes about by eliminating the enemy.

Peace is being vulnerable with those who hate you and want to kill you. And still inviting them in to expand the circle. Peace is a way of being. It is the means to its own end.

We aren’t called to rage — to being right, to forcing others into seeing the world our way. We are called to peace. We are called to expansion. We are called to live out what we claim to believe as followers of Jesus. That’s all. Nothing more. It’s just that simple. Some will join in. Great. Some will reject. We pray for them and move on, never wavering from the path. We don’t defeat rage by becoming rage-filled. We end rage through peace, mercy, grace, forgiveness, and love. Or as Brian Zahnd put it — to be beautiful because the world needs beauty.

Originally published at laceduplutheran.com on December 19, 2018.

Pastor Matthew Best

My name is Matthew Best. I’m an ELCA (Lutheran) pastor who attempts to translate church and churchy stuff into everyday language.