7 Stabilizing Principles in a Chaotic World, Part 1


(Editor’s note: Written in 2018, but doesn’t seem to have lost any relevance!)

Many of my Christian friends are angry. Or afraid. Or both. At least, that’s the way it looks in their posts on social media.

And that’s too bad, for several reasons—

  • There’s no reason to be angry or afraid.
  • We make really bad decisions when we’re angry or afraid.
  • We make lousy ambassadors for Christ when we’re angry or afraid. Our actions belie our profession.

In the history of the church, there have been many times when God’s people got angry when they shouldn’t have. Martin Luther was famous for getting angry—and while we might say that he often had some pretty good reasons to be angry—indulgences come to mind—he let things get out of hand with some frequency. He believed, as modern Lutherans do, that the body of Christ is really present “in, with, and under” the elements of the Lord’s Supper—and Zwingli didn’t. Zwingli thought Christ was “spiritually present,” but not physically present, at Communion. Luther consigned poor Zwingli to the fires of hell over that one, and in the harshest of terms:

Beware of this man Zwingli, and shun his book as the poison of the prince of devils; for he is entirely perverted, and has entirely lost sight of Christ.

Yes, he got angry when he shouldn’t have.

And God’s people have gotten scared when they shouldn’t have. The fact that Thomas Cranmer is well known for his numerous recantations seems to imply that in between his recantations were recantations of his recantations. It was all very complicated. And, apparently, scary.

But looking back at this history reminds us that God’s people are at their best when they could be afraid but aren’t—or when they could be angry but aren’t. Those are the times we celebrate. Those are the people we want to be.

And, as I’ve said, these are not times when we should be afraid or angry.

I’d like to suggest 7 principles that should drive our thinking, our feeling, our words, and our actions in a time when many people think the world is about to go over the edge.

Take a deep breath, focus your thinking, and get ready to change the way you see the world, the culture, and the rage of our day.

Maybe you can make a difference.

So, here we go. Principles to deliver us from the fear and anger that characterize too many of us.

Number 1: Providence. There is a God in heaven, who directs in the affairs of people and nations.

The lunatics are in fact not running the asylum. All that stuff that’s got you twisted into knots? Well, the stuff that’s actually true—we’ll get back to that idea later—has come to pass through divine intention. That’s just a fancy way of saying that God’s done it.

That’s true of the stuff we like—God sends sunshine, and rain, and crops, and seasons (Psa 104)—but it’s true of the stuff we don’t like as well. God has his way in the whirlwind and the storm, the prophet tells us (Nahum 1.3).

Whirlwinds are nothing to mess with. In 1998 a tornado wiped out Spencer, SD. A week later I was there. The whole town was just gone. The water tank on top of the hill? Gone. The gas station? Gone, though the concrete pads for the pumps were still there. The corn silos? Gone. The telephone poles? Twisted off 2 feet above the ground. No buildings, except for 1 house that was inexplicably spared. And the whole thing lasted just 6 minutes.

At 8.30 pm there was a town, and homes, and businesses, and normal life. By 8.45 it was all gone.

Who did that? The mayor? The governor? The devil?

Not according to Nahum.

God did it. For reasons of his own, which we may or may not ever understand.

But you know what? There’s still a Spencer, SD. By the grace of God, and through the hard work of a lot of remarkable people, life goes on at Karen’s Beauty Shop and Trinity Lutheran Church and the baseball field.

It’s not likely that anything worse than that has happened to you; if it has, I haven’t seen you post about it on Facebook.

And if it has, then take courage in this: God is working his plan, for you and for everybody else.

And here’s the thing. God isn’t impersonal, or arbitrary, or unfeeling in all of this. He doesn’t throw the switch on the train track just to see what will happen, or just to shake things up for some warped form of amusement.

God cares. He loves—personally, individually, intimately, passionately. And with a wisdom you and I could never fathom, he conducts the symphony of your life for your greatest spiritual benefit and for his greatest glory. He knows what he’s doing, and he acts out of wisely directed love—in a way no one else you have ever known ever could.

This God—the creator of heaven and earth; the keeper of covenant promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the one watching over Israel, who neither slumbers nor sleeps; the lover of our very souls—this God is directing your steps, and mine, and everyone else’s to accomplish his perfect, delightful plan.

No, the lunatics are not running the asylum. God gave us Richard Nixon, and Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan, and Barack Obama. And most recently he has given us Donald Trump. Love them or hate them, they are all—all—gifts from a wise and loving God, perfectly prepared and perfectly directed for the nation that elected them. That doesn’t mean they’re good, or wise, or effective. But it does mean that he is.

So why live in desperation, or rage, or panic, or frustration? Is there not a God in heaven? Do you not trust him? Does he not give peace?

Maybe, if you have no peace, you have no basis for it. Peace comes not from the political process, or health, or leisure, or physical resources. Peace, peace in your soul, comes from above, not from outside. Peace comes from the Prince of Peace (Isa 9.6), by whom we have peace with God (Rom 5.1), and through whom we find peace even with our enemies (Eph 3).

Think on these things. Breathe them into your reading, and listening, and surfing. And see if maybe your perspective, and thus your reactions, come to reflect peace more than panic.

Dan Olinger Bio

Dr. Dan Olinger has taught at Bob Jones University since 2000, following 19 years as a writer, editor, and supervisor at BJU Press. He teaches courses in theology, New Testament, and Old Testament, with special interests in ecclesiology and the Pauline Epistles.


It's worth noting that the most common use of the word "anger" in the Bible is of God's anger, and you can also see clear anger in the prophets, Christ (at the Temple, "whitewashed sepulchres", etc..), Paul (Galatians 5:12 and elsewhere), and a lot more. So when I test the hypothesis "there's no reason to get angry" versus the Biblical narrative, I have to discard the hypothesis.

No doubt there is such a thing as sinful and excessive anger, but that does not change the fact that when Ephesians 4:26 says "be angry and do not sin", God is telling us that there is such a thing as Godly anger (as we'd infer from the narratives), and that it can be our servant to drive us to Godly actions.

In the same way, many of God's servants, again including Jesus, have been scared--Jesus most notably when He was facing the Cross.

So I've got to reject the notion that there is "no reason" to get angry or scared. I believe God calls us to a degree of anger at evil and injustice. I think a degree of fear can also serve to drive us to Godly actions as well. For example, fear of hunger can certainly help motivate someone in their job search, no?

Yes, it can get out of hand when we don't consider God's sovereignty, but sometimes it seems as if too many Christian leaders seem to expect God's people to go through life with veins full of ice water, when Scripture gives us a far more polychromatic view of the heroes of Scripture.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

As with most things, context is key.

Angry in what sense and about what? Scared in what sense and about what?

It would be really hard to make the case that in our current times Christians are not angry and scared enough. There is plenty of evidence that, on the whole, they are both of these things to excess (or just in the wrong way).

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.