“You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.”
–Jesus; the Gospel of Matthew, 5:21-22
It is very good that you exist. This, according to philosophers and, I believe, the Bible, is the basis of love. I left off wondering whether I could really say that to an enemy, someone like, say, the killer of this 10-year old Colorado girl, or the Taliban who shot the 14-year old Pakistani girl who stood up in her country for the right for women to be educated. Is it really very good that these kinds of people exist?
In His famous speech, called the Sermon on the Mount because it was made on a hillside, Jesus equates anger with murder. Broadly speaking, it seems there are two kinds of anger. First, there is “other-centered” anger born out of wanting the best for another: “You knew the material but you failed the test!” Jesus’ anger was this kind of “other-centered” anger. The other kind of anger is “self-centered” anger. This anger arises in me when you act to thwart my will by not letting me have my way or what I think I deserve: “That idiot cut me off in traffic.” The vast majority of anger is this type, I think.
At first, Jesus’ equating anger with murder seems astonishing, particularly when I realize He is talking about any self-centered anger, even angry thoughts. After all, don’t we say, “sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” Every school child learns this rhyme. We learn to excuse words spoken in anger at an early age. Yet Jesus doesn’t seem to distinguish between types of anger, all is equated with murder. The angry and the murderer are each destined for a “fiery hell.”
Why does Jesus do this, set this impossibly high standard by equating anger and murder? Isn’t it because anger is one of the roots of evil acts in the world? Jesus’ brother James says it this way (James 4:1-4):
“Where do you think all these appalling wars and quarrels come from? Do you think they just happen? Think again. They come about because you want your own way, and fight for it deep inside yourselves.
You lust for what you don’t have and are willing to kill to get it. You want what isn’t yours and will risk violence to get your hands on it. … You’re spoiled children, each wanting your own way. …
If all you want is your own way, flirting with the world every chance you get, you end up enemies of God and his way.”
Self-righteous anger denies that it is very good that the other exists. It says instead, “Get out of my way, your very existence is impeding me!” Murder may be the ultimate expression of this anger–the actual causing another to cease to exist–however, whether murder, other violent acts, abusive words, angry outbursts, or hurtful thoughts, all come from self-centered anger; the root is the same for all. So, according to James, even an angry thought born out of my self-centeredness makes me an enemy of God as much as the murderer!
It is very good that you exist. The murder kills; I act out of only run-of-the-mill anger; we are both guilty in the eyes of a Holy God. So, if I can’t say that it is very good that the killer exists, then how can I say it about myself? And yet, God says it about both of us, the angry and the murderer. How can that be? More thinking to come…