Outrage Is Not a Virtue

Outrage is not a virtue, but it is too often in my own heart. Outrage that others don’t agree with my positions, outrage that others don’t value what I value, and outrage that people aren’t doing what I think they should do. You may not always see it, but it is often there under the surface of my heart.

But, outrage is not a virtue. Rather, it is a more subtle form of the deeds of the flesh, particularly these “enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions.” (Galatians 5:20)

Outrage is usually found growing in the fertile ground of self-righteousness. It is an attempt to build my identity and worth on what I believe, what my “gut just knows”, how much I’ve read, my expertise, etc. — this list goes on, and on.

But, love and outrage are seldom found together. And, if you have to give up one or the other, give up outrage. Because, whatever is causing you to rage is not nearly as important as the person you are outraged against.

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1–3, ESV)

This has become so vivid to me as I have studied the prophets over the years. God’s anger against Israel for forsaking his ways is really slow. It takes him hundreds of year before he sends them into exile, and then he only sends them away for 70 years (which he seems to cut short).

Now, Israel had completely forsaken the covenant. They were worshiping the gods of the nations. They were trusting in the nations for safety rather than the Lord. They had given themselves over to sexual immorality.

But, the Lord loved his people. Surely, the apostle Paul had this love in mind when he wrote these familiar words in 1 Corinthians 13.

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:4–7, ESV)

It is hard to reconcile outrage with patient and kind, and “does not insist on its own way,” or “is not irritable or resentful.”

God, in his love for his people, joyfully overlooks a lot of our sins. And, God in his anger is slow to wrath.

This is why the Spirit of Love produces these fruits in his people’s lives — “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22–23, ESV)

There is no law against these things because these things are who God is. And, God is making us more like himself.

Let’s take outrage off like a bad outfit that we once thought was so cool, but now we look in the mirror of God’s patient love and see that it’s like a leisure suit from the seventies.

So, let me give us some practical steps to putting off outrage.

  1. Hold your ideas, your gut reactions, and your opinions as loosely as possible. That is not to say, “Don’t have opinions about what God has said,” but practice epistemic humlity. If you are around someone who is highly trained in their field, you will find that they are quick to tell you how much they don’t know. That is epistemic humiliy. There is a direct relation to how much you know and how much you realize that you don’t know. In other words, the less you actually know, they more sure you become.
  2. If social media is a fueling source of your outrage, get off of it. I am no longer on Twitter for this reason. I think this is cutting out your eye if it causes you to sin. This is true for news media too. And, if you don’t think these things are effecting your outrage, get off of them for a few days and see what happens to your emotions.
  3. Slow your roll. Don’t form your reaction based on your intuition or initial reaction. Do this because “love is patient” — so just slow down. Slow down and ask if you have all the information. Then ask, “Do I know what to do with all of this information?”
  4. Demote what matters. It’s not that things don’t matter. If God addresses it in his word, then it matters. Many things are deductions from his word, and those matter too. But, not everything matters equally. That is, we should save our strongest opinions for what the Bible is most clear about. In other words, we should demote things — we shouldn’t feel as strongly about everything!
  5. Instead of choosing to believe the worst possible motive, we need to assume the best possible motive. We do not have windows into each others motives. If we are honest, we don’t always understand our own motives. Since “love hopes all things” we should chose to believe the best about others, and the worst about our own motives. That is a grand gospel reversal!

3 thoughts on “Outrage Is Not a Virtue

  1. Solid and gracious perspective as we all wander an uncertain period of time. It’s easy to default to outrage when things aren’t going in the right direction or exactly how you feel they should. Placing personalized expectations on outcomes out of your control seems to ignite the propensity for outrage.
    The pause, the patience and being still has become a helpful tool in mitigating the outrage.

  2. It seems to me that to every idea there is a balance. It is true that our first reaction is often not the best, and often it is the worst. But there is a time for moral outrage. One definition outrage is “anger and resentment aroused by injury or insult.” I will search for the definition in some of the older dictionaries. As I see it, there is a place or moral outrage if
    it lines up with the Mind of Christ. Jesus cleaned out the temple of God with a whip. He had moral outrage. It was Godly. In Leviticus 10:1-2 we read of an instance of God dealing severely when there was perversion of the worship he had provided for. Paul spoke severely to one who tried to buy a spiritual gift from him. These are instances of moral outrage.
    I am outraged by the abortion industry. I have never held a picket sign, to protested on the street, nor have I engaged in violence. But by slow abiding long term action I have supported those who are opposing abortion. This is a kind of outrage, or moral conviction that results in, I hope, reasonable action.
    Pacifism, with its immunity to moral outrage, is an abnormal lack in righteous moral outrage. It led to many deaths in World War II. As Hitler was preaching his hate in Germany, Prime Minister Baldwin said to his party, words to the effect that as long as he was Prime Minister, there would be no new armaments in Great Britain. He was blind to the evil of Nazism that was conquering the world and exterminating the Jews.
    A sitting U.S. President ignored his satellite intelligent that confirmed the slaughter of 800,000 to a million Rwandans over 100 days. He did nothing because he was so immoral he had no righteous moral outrage.
    Outrage not a virtue? It depends on how you define outrage. I think the dictionaries of the early founding fathers defined it differently than we do today. I say it is a good thing in its proper role, within the constraints of Godly love and contemplation. It is not usually an instant response, not usually, but it may lead to a righteous cause like that of Wilberforce when he crusaded to abolish slavery. I rest.

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