Stupid People, Righteous Indignation
“Stupid people bother me” I told my priest in confession
“I have been having similar problems recently” my priest responded.
“I just have no patience for the things they do and say that are just so stupid!”
I continued. My spiritual father then, in his wisdom posed they question, “why do you let it bother you? What is so great about yourself?”
That was the ringer. The church fathers tell us repeatedly that the root of almost all sin is pride. After all, who was I to think that my opinions were so much better that they must be stupid? Why did I care for their opinions anyway? Was I perfect? Was I leading an exemplary life?
Once again, I had to focus on the log in my own eye.
St. John of Cassian writes on self-esteem,
“When it cannot flatter him with honor, it inflates him by causing him to endure what seems to be dishonor. When it cannot persuade him to feel proud of his display of eloquence, it entices him through silence into thinking he has achieved stillness. When it cannot puff him up with the thought of his luxurious table, it lures him into fasting for the sake of praise. In short, every task, every activity, gives this malicious demon a chance for battle.”
Another confession I expressed to my spiritual father that the more I attempted to study the words of the Fathers and the scriptures, the worse-off I seemed to behave. Once again, I was deflecting the real root of the problem. I was reading and felt I understood the “correct” way to behave and act and pray. I had created this delusion in my head that my studies was enhancing my understanding of theosis. In reality, my own pride was turning me into a condescending fool.
St. Paul writes to the Romans,
“ Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good” (12:9)
So where do we draw the line? When do we decide to turn the other check or cry out with righteous indignation? When do we, like Christ, ask God to forgive our trespassers “for they know not what they do” rather than act out in anger towards the sin, like Nicholas slapping Arius in the face?
St. Paul continues,
“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” (12:14). This describes how we are to treat the person, but what are we to do about the sin?
St. Paul continues with the answer,
“ Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (12:17-18).
St Paul instructs us that we are to focus on our own thoughts and actions. At the same time we are called to “live at peace with everyone.” St. Paul instructs that we are not to bring up evils in another. It is simply not our place.
St. John Chrysostom expounds on the idea of living at peace with everyone, when possible.
“For there are cases in which it is not possible, as, for instance, when we have to argue about religion, or to contend for those who are wronged. And why be surprised if this be not universally possible in the case of other persons, when even in the case of man and wife he broke through the rule? “But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart.” (1 Cor. vii. 15.) And his meaning is nearly as follows: Do thine own part, and to none give occasion of war or fighting, neither to Jew nor Gentile. But if you see the cause of religion suffering anywhere, do not prize concord above truth, but make a noble stand even to death. And even then be not at war in soul, be not averse in temper, but fight with the things only. For this is the import of “as much as in you lieth, be at peace with all men.” But if the other will not be at peace, do not thou fill thy soul with tempest, but in mind be friendly as I said before, without giving up the truth on any occasion.”
Here, we see that Chrysostom once again lays out exactly when we are allowed to cause a stir. We may only have “righteous indignation” when matters of the faith are in question. Is this not true from the examples of St Nicholas and Christ! St Nicholas only slapped Arius in the face because he was spreading teachings which were detrimental to the understanding of who Christ is! Christ only turned the tables over because the Jews had made a market out of the temple!
Did Christ condemn the woman at the well? No! He asked where her husband was and told her she was correct in saying “I have no husband because she had five” She recognized her own sin without a condemnation
Did Christ condemn Lazarus or Matthew in their ways as tax- collectors? No! He dined with them!
Did Christ condemn Peter for cutting the soldier’s ear off? No! He simply stated that those who live by the sword will die by the sword.
Did the father of the prodigal son condemn his son for his foolish ways or search for him to condemn him? No! He, rather, accepted his son with open arms when his son realized the error of his ways.
Even in His omniscience, Christ as God, and Loving Father, continues to give His children the benefit of the doubt and the opportunity to come home to loving arms. This is the example we must live by!
Time and again, we see the fathers, when presented with a person of sin, question the lifestyle or choices of the sinner. Christ Himself, as our example, shows us that those who want to be saved will be able to recognize the error of their ways when given something to think about. Again, when one of the disciples reached for his sword on the arrest of Christ, He responded with a question, “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matt 26:52). Was the disciple right in being angry at the high priest? If we put ourselves in the position of the disciples, and we saw our teacher who had done no wrong arrested, surely we would say yes! The disciples was defending his friend in the name of just honor! But who of us is perfect? Who of us can rightly say when anger is permitted unless it is that of anger against perversion of the faith.
We are called to “be angry, but sin not” (Eph 4:26) This is a fine line to draw, and a difficult one not to cross for many of us who can easily slip into anger, frustration, despondency or judgement.
Better that we focus on the things that will help us attain our own salvation than the minor faults of our brother that may aggravate us.
Better to remain silent so that when we need speak our words carry great weight.
Live by example.
Live for Christ.