Outraged About Outrage? Some Reflections and Confessions

Last Sunday, my son and I visited a nearby Orthodox Presbyterian Church. As a Baptist, I don’t quite fit in there, but then I don’t quite fit in at a lot of Baptist churches either!

I’d visited this church before, some years ago, but my son had never worshiped with Presbyterians. So for him it was an educational field trip, and for me it was a chance to catch up a bit with some friends and former students—and worship together.

The way this congregation worships is always a blessing to me. Call to worship; lots of Scripture reading; psalms and old, old hymns; time for repentance and confession. A place for everything and everything in its place—which could probably work as a tagline for Reformed Theology in general. That orderliness and tidiness can be of great comfort in rapidly changing, chaotic times.

There’s much more I could say in appreciation for this little church, but there’s some reflection and confession I want to get to because of the sermon that morning.

The text was 2 Peter 3:8-13. I reproduce it in full here, because it’s such a joy and such good medicine. If you read it slowly and let it soak in, you might, like me, feel your thinking pop back into proper place like a dislocated joint (that you had somehow not noticed!).

But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.

11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. (ESV)

Thoughts while pondering this passage:

  • God told us in advance that the wait for Christ’s return would seem long.
  • The longness is an illusion. It’s just how things look when you’re “grass” (1 Pet 1:24).
  • All of “this” is temporary. The Day of the Lord will end it.
  • This life really is “vanity” in that sense.
  • There’s a different way of life that goes with knowing that.
  • That different way of life includes a hunger for the Day.
  • What we’re hungering for, in part, is a new earth with all the brokenness fixed!
  • We’re so impatient about how things are and what needs to be better!
  • I’m so impatient with how things are and what needs to be better … and with people and how I think they need to be better.

It’s one of those passages that does a marvelous job of shrinking you down, if you let it. The shrinking, the de-magnifying, happens because of the magnifying of God’s eternality and His mysterious timetable for revealing the glory of His perfection.

When He is magnified in our minds, we ourselves are always shrunk down—and all sorts of conviction of sin and weakness follows close behind.

Sunday morning, that took me back to the topic of outrage and judgmentalism.

Outrage and judgmentalism

It’s been burning in my mind a lot lately that Christians ought to be generous in their assessments of people. That is, we ought to be quick to look for the good in what people are saying and doing, though it may be less than perfect or even clearly wrong. Criticism and outrage should come slowly because passing judgment comes slowly—not just in what we verbalize, but in how we think and feel.

As this topic returned to mind Sunday morning, something unexpected tagged along. If conservative Christians need more generosity in their judgment and criticism, I’m not exempt. I need to be more generous toward those who seem ungenerous, less judgmental toward those who seem judgmental, and slower to be outraged toward those who seem too often outraged.

I’m not sure that’s what the apostle had in mind when he likened the Scriptures to a two edged sword (Heb 4:12), but the Word does, as we say, cut both ways.

Being generous, fair, and accurate is always a goal when I engage in criticism of others. I know I don’t always achieve that. Inwardly, though, it’s worse! And in the eyes of the God who sees all, what makes it out of us in spoken or written words isn’t all that matters—not even close! I need to be generous and patient on the inside.

So I went to church and walked away humbled. I was humbled by reminders of the rapid passing of time—most of my former students have careers and kids of their own now, and my former teaching colleagues all look older … which has to mean I look older to them! So there’s that.

But I was more deeply humbled by the reminder that God has a profoundly different relationship to time than I do. A day? A thousand years? There’s no important difference in the grand scheme of things.

Along with that, God has a profoundly different relationship with fixing things. Solve that problem today? Solve it a thousand years from now? There’s no important difference in the grand scheme of things.

I have my responsibilities as a steward and my opportunities to enter joyfully into what God is doing during these fleeting years of life. My life is not less than that, but it isn’t more than that—and yours isn’t either.

The implications of that reality are vast. One is this: whether you’re a friend, co-worker, relative, debate opponent, boss, pastor, mayor, governor, congressman, president (or former president!)—or even a right wing political pundit—I probably need to cut you some slack.

Rather than being inwardly severe and outwardly restrained, I need to be inwardly gracious and, outwardly, only as severe as may edify.

Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. (Col 4:6)

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