Much of it derives from the passion of the particular issues in questions. When it comes to digital entertainment, we find ourselves rather invested in the victory, and the level of our anger reflects the severity of our commitment. Imagine that same passion in ministry contexts, and it becomes rather obvious how it works: a show of religious dedication. One wonders whether in American culture we take religious matters seriously enough, in that respect.
We often just throw up our hands and say “live and let live” without letting our convictions show in the public square. Our passion for a particular issue gets squashed, and so we use entertainment or video games to vent. That’s exactly the wrong way to use video games, but it often turns into a conduit and a symptom for other bad behavior. But how do we do this whole anger thing right? Let’s take a look more in-depth than a list of aphorisms or stories, going straight to true events.
Note: Apologies for the long introduction following, but I can’t imagine everyone stumbling upon this has actually read Ezra and Nehemiah in extraordinary detail.
Reading Ezra and Nehemiah shows the reader how God brought Israel and Judah back from exile – perhaps not as an actual country (more like a province), but certainly in a religious sense. Both men, either as cupbearer to Persian kings or priests of the Levitical order (so far as Ezra could prove, anyway), started with a discrete motivation and followed through. They trusted God to help them in a nearly impossible circumstances as enemies prevented them from the project at all sides, whether that opposition constituted coercive force or more sinister diplomatic means.
Once they finally finished the task and re-educated the people, long-exiled, in the ways of their fathers and father’s fathers, all set to work to reclaim and rebuild a culture so long mired in others. As you probably know, the means of salvation God used throughout the Old Testament (or Hebrew Bible) is centripetal – that is, God establishes His nation on earth, and through their example the nations (as a general plural) will come to salvation to join God’s people in His grand plan.
From what I can tell, it isn’t exactly clear whether Israel itself actually exists as a distinct people group; it may just be an amalgam of different people in the region who all claim a common ancestor or otherwise. However, even if they are genetically distinguished, any outsider is free to join with God’s people. BUT, and the central point lies in this, the burden of God’s purposes rested on His nation. They felt this burden, and succumbed to it through foolish and selfish desires, not for God but for their own ends. This leads them to exile as a long-suffering God waits and waits for them to wise up (spoiler alert: they don’t).
This makes Ezra-Nehemiah (really, one book separated into two) such a fascinating read: two men and like-minded people trying to rebuild a nation with God’s help. God subtly draws them to places in which they will find success, and it works. They must root out the “corruption”, so to speak, among their own once they’ve settled the issue of external threats, and this becomes a matter of the heart. We must obey God regardless of the sacrifices it will take, and the dedication required to do it. From Matthew 10, we know that the New Testament and Old Testament remains very consistent on this point:
32 “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven. 34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn
‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— 36 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’
What’s the deal, then? We need passion for God and His commands, certainly. But what prevents us from doing that, after becoming a Christian? Often, we hear that we transform into Christians through some magical process, but most people don’t feel that way. They often fall back into the same old habits, and the same old ideas. That’s because, far from not being transformed, they’ve simply let their usual train of thought take hold. A renewed mind only, at first, understands its predicament, and not necessarily the way to remove the problematic.
To name the source of the poison, it is permissiveness. We assume that things stay the same even after calling upon the name of the Lord. I venture that we simply don’t know better, as the flesh continues to vie for domination. It hasn’t changed; our spirit changed. We must now make our physical body conform as a temple to God’s holiness, and that will always turn into a difficult task no matter who you are. Let’s take a specific example to make this clearer.
At the end of Nehemiah (called the “Final Reforms” in the NIV sitting on my desk), the titular leader cleans up some final issues with Jerusalem’s current residents and the surrounding areas. Nehemiah already presented a new spiritual covenant, agreeing to obey God’s laws. As is often the case, they did not do a very good job at this over however long since Nehemiah last visited (it had to have been at least several years, since Nehemiah returned to fulfill his duties in the Persian capitals).
First, Nehemiah removes the foreigners from the people – specifically Moabites and and Ammonites for the whole Balaam situation. You know, the talking donkey thing? Yeah, trying to cast curses on a people really doesn’t endear them to you, so they were expelled. No surprise there.
Second, apparently priests were letting people use holy storerooms for room and lodging; fittingly, Nehemiah throws out all that guy’s stuff and lights some frankincense to fix it up. Tithes (the 10% portion of wealth given to the Levites to live, for they had no material inheritance) were somehow distributed poorly or missing, so Nehemiah fixed that too. People still did work on the Sabbath, so Nehemiah took them to task on that too! Finally, Nehemiah fixes the biggest problem, that of cultural assimilation: in other words, intermarriage. Somehow, even with the length of time required to build and reciting the Law day after day, this remained an issue in Nehemiah 13
23 In those days I also saw that the Jews had married women from Ashdod, Ammon and Moab. 24 As for their children, half spoke in the language of Ashdod, and none of them was able to speak the language of Judah, but the language of his own people. 25 So I contended with them and cursed them and struck some of them and pulled out their hair, and made them swear by God, “You shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor take of their daughters for your sons or for yourselves.
So Nehemiah, in a fit of righteous fury, apparently hits people and pulls out their hair. This isn’t innocuous stuff; all of this displeases God. We did well, and then we lapse into the same old patterns. Rulers and commoners alike do it; no one is safe from the demonic forces of complacency. Righteous anger works here; Derek Kidner (who wrote Ezra & Nehemiah, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries) says,
Nehemiah’s explosion was as characteristic as Ezra’s implosion had been. Both were powerfully effective, and both were to find some parallel in our Lord’s encounters with evil. The shock treatment by Nehemiah was devastating in the same manner as the assault on the moneychangers, and the display of grief by Ezra (Ezra 9:3ff.;10:1ff.) was as moving, in its way, as the lament over Jerusalem.
There’s a time and a context for that sort of response, of course. I can’t imagine confronting certainly people with that sort of vigorous response, but it certainly can work if you know the audience will receive that message in the right way. See past this verse and notice how Nehemiah gives specific examples of the past as a learning tool.
26 Did not Solomon king of Israel sin regarding these things? Yet among the many nations there was no king like him, and he was loved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel; nevertheless the foreign women caused even him to sin. 27 Do we then hear about you that you have committed all this great evil by acting unfaithfully against our God by marrying foreign women?” 28 Even one of the sons of Joiada, the son of Eliashib the high priest, was a son-in-law of Sanballat the Horonite, so I drove him away from me. 29 Remember them, O my God, because they have defiled the priesthood and the covenant of the priesthood and the Levites.
You might imagine the word “defiled” as too strong, but Nehemiah certainly didn’t think so; the very religious leaders that laypeople rely upon were violating the dictates God gave them. How can you expect anyone to follow if they know you as a literal hypocrite?
30 Thus I purified them from everything foreign and appointed duties for the priests and the Levites, each in his task,31 and I arranged for the supply of wood at appointed times and for the first fruits. Remember me, O my God, for good.
So now we distinguish between bad and good anger. One requires anger as an effective tool for solving problems, and the other comes out of an inner rage and leads to sinful behavior – you can tell which is which. Which one comes out for you in video games?
On to Part 3.