You have heard that people were told in the past, ‘Do not commit murder; anyone who does will be brought to trial.’ But now I tell you: if you are angry with your brother you will be brought to trial, if you call your brother ‘You good-for-nothing!’ you will be brought before the Council, and if you call your brother a worthless fool you will be in danger of going to the fire of hell.
With these words Jesus continues to teach about the Law of Moses as the Sermon on the Mount continues. He takes some of the most important topics and explains to his disciples, in specific terms, what it means to be “more faithful than the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees in doing what God requires.” (See yesterday’s blog – Day 23).
Jesus takes the law about murder (Exodus 20:13) and instructs the disciples to take this law and examine the deeper issue of the heart that gives rise to the crime. In this case, the root of the issue is anger. He says that anger leads to name-calling, which can escalate and ultimately result in conflict and even murder. All you have to do is give a person a little shove and it can end their life.
And hell. There is always a lot of debate about hell, but we all know it’s something bad. Somewhere we don’t want to be. So Jesus is serious about this. There’s no place for anger in the Kingdom of Heaven. No room whatsoever. It would be a big disappointment to find out that it’s OK for people to run around angry in the Kingdom of Heaven. He wants peace. We all want peace.
Nevertheless, there is no law against being angry, either in the Law of Moses or the laws of the United States. In the Law of Moses there’s a law against hating someone (Leviticus 19:18), but none against anger. Then as now you can be as angry as you want and no one will arrest you for it until the anger manifests itself in some physical action that’s against the law. The Pharisees and teachers of the Law wouldn’t pay any attention to an angry person. They wouldn’t ask you to confess “the sin of anger” or bring in a sacrifice because it wasn’t against the law. No law, no problem. But if, as Jesus says, you want to avoid going to trial for murder then there’s no place in your life for anger. Not even a momentary outburst. Not even a little name-calling. Just because there’s not a law against it law doesn’t mean it’s not wrong. It’s playing with fire.
There’s an old Jewish saying that, “If the camel gets his nose into your tent, the rest of his body will soon follow.” Jesus is saying that anger is the nose, and murder is the body. I think I could do a better job with that camel’s nose. Sometimes I just let that camel have his way with me and my tent. Especially when I’m driving. It can get ugly. I need to learn to just laugh it off when someone drives badly or startles me. Every minute counts.
Anger can be an addiction. It releases endorphins. It’s a way of releasing stress. It can feel good, but that doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Because I don’t believe in original sin, I think I can purge anger from my life. I believe that I can choose to shut down anger instead of indulging it. I don’t believe I have to be a victim of my bad behavior. I think God has given me the ability to make that choice. But if I slip up now and then I don’t think he’s going to throw me into hell. I’ve spent time with him and I don’t think he would do that to me if I put in a good effort.
Today in our society we acknowledge that anger is dangerous, antisocial behavior. People can get help through anger management classes, counseling, therapy and inner healing ministries devoted to cooling the fires of anger. I’m sure Jesus is very happy about this.
Finally, there was a very popular sermon written by Puritan minister Jonathan Edwards in 1741 called “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Often quoted in an angry way to angry parishioners by angry preachers, this sermon is attributed to “bringing many to Christ.” Fear is a powerful motivator indeed. But if Jesus says that anger is wrong enough to get you thrown into hell, then what does this say about the true nature of God? Would he really condemn us for imitating him? Isn’t anger really about immaturity, stress, and frustration about a lack of control? Does this sound like God to you? I would be very careful about believing anyone who says that God is angry. It has not been my experience. Not at all. In my experience people are angry, but God is love.
What does this scripture say to you?