Top positive review
I wish every Christian would read this
Reviewed in the United States on June 4, 2018
I just finished this book about an hour ago, and I am still so in awe of what I just read that I'm not quite sure exactly what I want to say about it. This is, without a doubt, one of the most profoundly inspirational books I've ever read on Christian living. And I'm not just saying that because I happen to agree with the author. I actually found myself moved to tears by certain passages in this book, they were so spiritually uplifting—and that doesn't happen to me often. (I should also note that I was moved to laughter by many passages, too, because the author definitely has a sense of humor.)
But I do agree with the author. In fact, I've been thinking along those same lines for quite some time, but he articulates the idea far better than I ever could. What he says may seem counterintuitive—even radical—at first, but I think that if you are willing to hear him out with an open mind, you'll see that what he says makes a lot of sense, both from a biblical and from a practical perspective.
The author's controversial thesis is that there is no such thing as "righteous anger." (Well, at least not for humans. God's anger is righteous, of course, but we are not God. Not being all-knowing, infinitely wise, or perfectly just, we can't be trusted to never get angry for the wrong reasons or to never let our anger lead us into sin, as God can be.) Everyone feels anger from time to time, of course—it's a natural emotional reaction to things that go against our notion of the way things ought to be—but we are free to choose whether to hold onto that anger and let it fester and eat away at us, or to let it go and move on with our lives. This book argues (and I fully agree) that we should always choose to let the anger go, because no good can ever come of that anger if we choose to hold onto it. We should let that anger go as quickly as we can and not hold onto it for a second longer than we have to. In fact, with a little practice, we can learn to let go of our anger so fast that we barely have time to notice it before it's gone. Once we have freed ourselves from anger, we will feel better, enjoy life more, have more fulfilling relationships with others, and be less tempted to say or do things that we know shouldn't out of frustration or bitterness. That's a win-win for everyone. But if we choose to hold onto our anger, we only end up making ourselves and the people around us miserable, and we run the very real risk that our anger will lead us into sin.
This idea is controversial because many people don't want to let go of their anger. They want to hold onto it. They want to feel it seething inside of them. It makes them feel "righteous" (well ... righteous in their own eyes—i.e. self-righteous). So they try to justify their anger, claiming that not only do they have every right to be angry, but that that they are, in fact, right to be angry—that whatever caused their anger was so egregious that anger is the only appropriate response. They try their best to "spin" their anger as a good thing, claiming that it is what motivates them to take action to right the wrong that has been done. (As if they somehow wouldn't be able to step up and do the right thing if they weren't so angry.) And if they happen to be Christians, they will even cherry-pick the scriptures in search of "proof texts," almost always taken out of context or misinterpreted, in order to justify their "righteous" anger. Their favorite passage seems to be Ephesians 4:26, though they only ever seem to quote the first half of the verse—"Be ye angry and sin not"—ignoring the rest of what Paul wrote—"let not the sun go down upon your wrath" (i.e. don't hold onto your anger from one day to the next)—or what he says just a few verses later (v. 31): "Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice." Many people, including many Christians, are apparently so addicted to their own self-righteous anger that they will try to come up with any excuse to cling to it. This is unwise. It is also ungodly. In fact, it is a form of idolatry—they are putting their faith in their own anger-driven "righteousness" rather than trusting in the righteousness of God to set right that which is wrong.
Okay, suppose that you are willing to buy into the idea that there's no such thing as "righteous anger" that we humans are entitled to hold onto, and that whenever we feel anger, we should let it go as quickly as possible. What are the implications of this? First and foremost, it means that we ought to be quick to forgive anyone who has wronged us or caused us offense. This really shouldn't be controversial at all, because the Bible clearly and repeatedly commands us to be forgiving. In fact, there are passages that explicitly tie God's forgiveness to our own: Since God has forgiven us, we ought to be willing to forgive others—and if we refuse to forgive others ... well, I'll refer you to the parable of the unmerciful steward in Matthew 18:23-35 and let you draw your own conclusions. The Bible is so clear about the need to forgive others that there should really be no debate about this at all among those who profess to be Christians, and yet many still hold onto their grudges like prized family heirlooms, refusing to part with them, and coming up with all sorts of clever arguments for why they shouldn't have to. (I should probably point out here that forgiveness doesn't mean that you excuse the wrong. To excuse a wrong is to say that there was really no wrong at all or that the wrongdoer was really not at fault. To forgive a wrong is to acknowledge that a wrong was done and that the wrongdoer was at fault, but to voluntarily give up the right to "get even" with the wrongdoer or to hold the wrong over his or her head any longer. So those who refuse to forgive wrongdoers because they don't want to excuse their wrongdoing are missing the point of forgiveness entirely.) Forgiveness can be hard—especially when the wrong that was done caused much suffering—but we have to be willing to forgive anyway. And as hard as it is to forgive others, one of the hardest things for many people to do is to forgive themselves of their own failings. We often feel as if we don't really deserve forgiveness, and so we bear a sense of guilt and shame, which is essentially just anger directed inward—we are angry at ourselves for the wrongs we have done and the suffering we have caused ourselves and others, and so we end up holding a grudge against ourselves. But this anger is not "righteous" either, and we have to learn to let it go. If God is willing to forgive us, then don't you think we ought to be willing to forgive ourselves? (BTW, God IS willing to forgive us; just in case you weren't sure about that. If Jesus was willing to forgive the people who had just nailed him to a cross, then there's really nothing that you or I could possibly have done that is so bad that God would find it unforgiveable.) Again, forgiving ourselves does not mean *excusing* our wrongful behavior—we should always own up to our mistakes, learn from them, make amends where we can, and try to do better in the future—it just means that we should stop beating ourselves up over it and get on with our lives. So the first implication of letting go of our anger is that we ought to be quick to forgive, and that includes forgiving ourselves.
The second implication is that we should be slow to judge. In fact, we shouldn't judge at all. This is another thing that is clearly and repeatedly taught in scripture, and yet another thing that far too many Christians try to weasel their way out of with clever arguments and cherry-picked "proof texts." Now, of course, refusing to judge does not mean refusing to acknowledge the difference between right and wrong or refusing to speak out against wrongdoing or injustice. Too many people don't seem to get this. It simply means refusing to play God—refusing to pretend that you are all-knowing, infinitely wise, and perfectly just, and therefore qualified to sit in judgment of another person's soul. It means refusing to claim the right to throw the first stone, as if you yourself were without sin. It means refusing to be the sort of hypocrite who holds others to moral standards that you can't even live up to yourself—always finding ways to excuse your own moral failings but never the moral failings of others. It means refusing to condemn people simply because their sins are different from yours, or because the temptations they struggle with are not the same temptations that you happen to struggle with. It means refusing to count anyone as unworthy of love, or compassion, or mercy, or forgiveness, or grace, or acceptance, no matter what sort of person they are or what sort of things they have done. That's what it means not to judge. Refusing to judge is not easy (no one ever said it would be easy), but it is essential if you wish to count yourself as a follower of the One who said, "I came not to judge the world, but to save the world." (John 12:47)
Finally, giving up our (self-)"righteous" anger implies one last thing (and this may be the most difficult of all): We must give up our right to be offended. We've got to stop taking offense and expressing outrage at all of the things in the world that we dislike or disapprove of. And yes, this includes injustice, unrighteousness, and sin. As the title of this book suggests, Christians ought to become "unoffendable." Now, I can imagine that, even if you've followed me thus far, at this point you're probably sputtering apoplectically to yourself and, assuming you can even get any words out, saying something like, "Wh...wh...what? What is he trying to say? I must have misread that. Christians ought to become UNOFFENDABLE? We have to stop taking offense at SIN? Is he CRAZY? That's nonsense! That can't be biblical." Well ... first of all, no, you didn't misread that. And second, no, I'm not crazy (and neither is Brant Hansen, the author of this book). Hansen makes the case far better than I could, and so I would strongly suggest that you read his book for yourself before drawing any conclusions rather than relying on what I have written here, because I simply can't do his argument justice in such a limited space. But I will say this much: First of all, "offense" is really just another word for "righteous anger." When we say that we are "offended" by something, that just means that we are angry about it and that we feel justified in our anger. (Let's be clear here: Being "offended" is not the same thing as being upset or displeased. I can be very upset or displeased about something without being offended by it. It is perfectly natural to feel upset when bad things happen or to feel displeased when someone does something you think is wrong, but in order to take "offense" there has to be an element of moral outrage—self-righteous indignation—to go along with those feelings of upset or displeasure.) So, if we are willing to accept that (so-called) "righteous anger" is never justified (at least not for us mere mortals), then we are forced to conclude that we humans can never be justified in taking offense at anything. Second, it's really hard to forgive others and to refrain from judging them if you are offended by them or their behavior. Remember, offense is more than mere disapproval—it is moral outrage. If you disapprove of something that someone has done, you might shake your head, or you might even pull them aside to quietly and respectfully speak to them about it. But if you are truly *offended* by what they have done, sparks will fly: You may yell and scream, you may fire off an angry e-mail or tweet, you may picket and protest, you may gossip about them behind their back, you may even be tempted to commit acts of violence; at the very least, you're going to steam and stew in your contempt for what you see as their unconscionable behavior. This attitude is inherently judgmental and not at all conducive to forgiveness. Third, we take offense at behavior that shocks our sense of how the world *ought* to be; but since we live in a fallen, sinful world, it is unreasonable for us to expect that the world *ought* to be anything but unjust, unrighteous, and sinful. So, rather than taking offense at all the bad things people do in this world, we ought to accept these things as par for the course and instead take delight in those rare occasions when someone actually does something that is truly good out of pure, loving, unselfish motives. Then, instead of being a bunch of self-righteous sourpusses who always seem outraged or bitter about something, we might actually become the sort of joyous, grateful, compassionate, welcoming people who really can serve as a source of light in a world of darkness.
Anyway, Brant Hansen is able to explain all of this so much better than I can, so get his book and read it for yourself. You'll be glad you did.
It is a well-written book, lighthearted in tone (at least for the most part), with lots of humor (though, of course, serious matters are handled with all the respect they are due). It is a quick read (it took me only two evenings to get through it, and I probably could have finished it in one had I not had other things I needed to do), and is so delightful that you won't want to put it down. It is divided into 24 short chapters, each of which can be read in just a few minutes (I was usually able to get through two or three chapters on a single cup of coffee before having to get up for a refill). I can't recommend this book highly enough. Everyone should read it.