The Exhaustion of Outrage

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I’m pretty sure that right about now everybody is offended about everything (including this article). At least that’s the way it seems on social media and in various news stories these days.

I’m pretty sure that right about now everybody is offended about everything (including this article). At least that’s the way it seems on social media and in various news stories these days. And here’s the thing: It’s exhausting. Right?!

But we can’t stop it….

I don’t know if you heard, but not long ago Jerry Seinfeld was in the news. This time it wasn’t for doing something funny, but rather for saying something deemed “offensive.” In an interview he said that he and a number of fellow comedians avoid doing stand-up at college campuses because they’re too politically correct. He said of at least some of these college students, “They just want to use these words: ‘That’s racist;’ ‘That’s sexist;’ ‘That’s prejudice. `They don’t know what they’re talking about.”

As if to make his point, a bunch of college kids promptly filled the internet over the next few days declaring that indeed, they were offended by his being offended at their political correctness.
Chris Pratt, the star of Guardians of the Galaxy and Jurassic World (and more importantly, Andy from Parks and Rec) sensing this easy offensiveness currently popular in our hyper-sensitive culture, wrote this disclaimer on his Facebook page before the release of Jurassic World:

“I want to make a heartfelt apology for whatever it is I end up accidentally saying during the forthcoming Jurassic World press tour. I hope you understand it was never my intention to offend anyone and I am truly sorry. I swear. I'm the nicest guy in the world. And I fully regret what I (accidentally will have) said in (the upcoming foreign and domestic) interview(s). I am not in the business of making excuses. I am just dumb. Plain and simple. I try. I REALLY try! When I do (potentially) commit the offensive act for which I am now (pre) apologizing you must understand I (will likely have been) tired and exhausted when I (potentially) said that thing I (will have had) said that (will have had) crossed the line…..”

“I am fully aware that the subject matter of my imminent forthcoming mistake, a blunder (possibly to be) dubbed "JurassicGate" is (most likely) in no way a laughing matter. To those I (will likely have had) offended rest assured I will do everything in my power to make sure this doesn't happen (again).”

Yes, it seems we are constantly offended about something in our culture today. Unfortunately, Christians are not immune from this mindset (especially this time of year). Fears and paranoia about a “war on Christmas” stoked by some in the media (I’m looking at you Bill O’ Reilly) cause many Christians to lose their collective minds. Most recently it was the nonsense over the Starbucks cup (although I can’t say I personally know anyone who was bothered by it), but before that it was the fact that store employees started “Happy Holidays” instead of“Merry Christmas” and the list goes on and on. Soon, calls for boycotts and protests go up and Christians all over social media share their grievances with the world as they insinuate persecution.

I get it. I really do. I can be easily outraged about any number of things going on in the culture around me. It can be uncomfortable and upsetting to look around and realize that we’re not setting the agenda. But my friends, my dear brothers and sisters, we ought not be surprised. My friends, my dear brothers and sisters, we of all people should be the least prone toward easy outrage. After all, Jesus promised his disciples that we’d be in the world, but not of it. He prepared us for the reality that persecution may come (which by historical standards we in America are not facing in any way WHAT. SO. EVER.). But in response He did not call His followers to boycott, protest, or shriek at the injustice. Rather, He called us to “rejoice” (Matt. 5:12). Why? “Because our reward will be great in heaven.” That promise hints at something deeper. The reality is, every time we give in to our outrage impulse, what we’re showing is that we’re looking for our reward more here, than in our true heavenly home. We are at least temporarily forgetting that we are “stranger and exiles” here (1 Pet. 2:11) who are called to long for a better, heavenly country.

All that said, me lecturing at you about avoiding outrage isn’t going to give you the power to overcome it. The truth is, every one of us is guilty of entitlement and therefore “offense” if our expectations aren’t met even if we know it’s not the right response. So what will help? What will help, what will change us, what will give us a little humility (the opposite of outrage and entitlement) is the realization that in spite of our failures we have One who’s taken every bit of our outrage and nailed it to the cross. Remember, if anyone had the right to be outraged at His mistreatment, Jesus was candidate number 1. Having done nothing wrong, nevertheless, the world turned their offense toward Him. Having loved the most unlovable, nevertheless, the outrage of the world was poured out upon Him. Having obeyed the Father perfectly in every way, nevertheless, the just outrage of God toward sin was not meted out on we who deserve it, but on the innocent Son of God at the cross (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!”). At the exact moment that Jesus could have thrown in the towel and wiped out the entire outraged planet, instead He pleaded, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”

This great truth, that though we deserved great outrage from God but instead received great mercy, is humbling. Luther wrote (in his last recorded words), “We are beggars. This is true.” If it is indeed true, than that means our sense of outrage is almost always unfounded. The truth is, the more we see ourselves as purely recipients of incredible grace, the more we’re transformed from entitled, outraged brats to grateful, loving children. And the more we are grateful loving children, the more pleasant we are to our neighbor. I promise you, in a world full of entitled outrage, gratitude sticks out in the best way. It sticks out so much that maybe, just maybe God will use it to bring His light to a world that is growing exhausted on the treadmill of outrage.