“This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:19-21).
I want to revisit this text because it seems especially relevant to the events of the past weekend. First, a lone gunman, described as a white male, walked up to Christina Grimmie as she was signing autographs at a concert in Orlando, FL, and shot and killed her. Then, a lone gunman, described as Muslim, walked into a gay bar, also in Orlando, and shot over 100 people, killing 50 and injuring another 50+.
As we seek to understand such events, we’re tempted to draw any number of erroneous conclusions: All white males/female singers/Muslims/gays are evil. All white males/female singers/Muslims/gays deserve to die. None of those conclusions is healthy or helpful or even accurate, however.
We can learn much from these and other such events, though. First, there’s a great deal of hatred and anger in the world. Every day, news outlets report atrocities that are perpetrated around the world and in our own neighborhoods. We call outrages are committed on a small scale “crimes,” while horrors that occur on a grander scale become acts of “war.”
Second, every one of us is capable of committing murder and a host of other evils, given the opportunity and the right risk-reward ratio. The fact that the risk often outweighs the reward generally keeps us in check. When the scales tip in favor of the reward, we’ll go for it. We like to think that we could never commit some unspeakable aggression, but it’s surprising to see how often a perpetrator appears to be “normal” to everyone around him or her.
The distance between anger, hatred, and murder, for example is not nearly as great as we’d like to think. Want proof? How often have we seen in the news that some official (police, politician, etc.) commits a crime (murder, theft, etc.); and then we watch the videos as dozens, even hundreds of people start to vandalize, pillage, and burn homes or businesses of people who had nothing to do with the original offense. Are all the rioters career criminals just looking for a night on the town? Unlikely; many are just ordinary citizens who’re swept up in an emotional moment.
So, how do they (we) get there? It comes down to this truth: We are all sinful creatures. We’re filled with wicked desires just waiting for the chance to express them. Consider the Bible’s assessment of humanity:
“Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5).
“The hearts of the sons of men are full of evil and insanity is in their hearts throughout their lives” (Eccl. 9:3b).
“The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9).
Once we accept the devastating diagnosis, we can begin to realize the treatment and cure. It’s not enough to recognize that humans are sinners. We have to acknowledge that we too deserve God’s just wrath for our sins.
“But I haven’t killed anyone,” someone might argue.
It doesn’t matter, Jesus said that anger is just as contemptible as murder (Mt. 5:20-21) and lust is just as damnable as adultery (Mt. 5:27-28). The nature of Adam’s sin is just as much a part of who we are as our ethnic and racial heritage. Like it or not, we carry the seeds of sin in our beings.
When we accept our own guilt before the infinitely holy God, we’ll begin to see the beauty of God’s grace. Jesus Christ, who is God the Son, didn’t die to save all the good guys. He died to save sinners who were by nature children of wrath; enemies of God who hated His holiness and were in love with our sin. By God’s grace, we’ll learn to love the God we hated and hate the sin we loved.
James made an important statement here: “the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (Jas. 1:20). Retaliation doesn’t accomplish God’s will. Our vengeance can’t balance the scales of God’s justice. Only the grace of God can fulfill God’s purpose and bring about His objective, which is the redemption of sinners. None of the threats being thrown around the internet or declarations of war being proclaimed by politicians or any other expressions of hostility will bring about the righteousness of God. Only His grace through Jesus Christ can bring perverted, corrupt, and evil people into righteous fellowship with holy God.
No matter who we are, where we’ve been, or what we’ve done, we can approach God’s throne of grace, believing on the Lord Jesus, and be saved.
“But how can I be sure that Christ will save me?” someone might ask.
Jesus said, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out” (Jn. 6:37, emphasis added). In short, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved (Acts 16:31a). Now, believing isn’t just accepting some facts and holding an opinion; it’s loving the truth. To believe in Jesus is to love the truth about Him: that He is God, He died for your sins, and He saves you from God’s just wrath.
Will you turn from your sins and “receive the word implanted, which is able to save your soul” (Jas. 1:21)?