Too Scared to Cry: Social Media Outrage and the Gospel

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Public Theologian at Christianity Today

A friend of mine posted on Facebook about what he called a “parenting fail.” His son stubbed his toe, and squealed with tears. My friend wanted to toughen him up, and told him that only girls cried like that, not boys.

Later that day, this dad and his son were talking about another playground injury, and his son told him how he avoided crying. He said he held off tears by getting very angry and blaming the person standing closest to him.

“Nice work dad,” my friend wrote to himself, cringing at the unintended result.

At first glance, I identified with the story. I think all of us as parents wince when we think of how clumsy our parenting can be at times. But, beyond that, I thought this experience explained something we see all around us, including often in the church, a temptation I fight in myself almost daily.

Losing Lament

We must learn to lament, because once we no longer lament we turn instead to anger, outrage, blame, and quarrelsomeness. The louder and more frantic the anger, the more we feel as though we’re really showing conviction and grit.

This is made all the more problematic when it’s easy to make a living out of perpetual rage, even if the only media outlet one has is a Twitter or Facebook feed. After all, nothing signals conviction and passion in this age more than the art of being theatrically offended.

But the gospel teaches otherwise.

The problem with carnal anger and outrage is that it is one of the easiest sins to commit, all the while convincing oneself that it’s faithfulness. After all, how many angry, divisive, perpetually outraged Christians are convinced that they are Old Testament prophets, calling down fire from heaven?

Prophetic Warning and Pathetic Rage

The prophets teach us that there is, in fact, a time to call down fire from heaven. But you had better make sure that God has called you to direct that fire to fall. If not, then you’re acting like a prophet all right — a prophet of Baal, screaming and raving for fire that never falls (1 Kings 18:29). No doubt, James and John believed themselves to be well within the spirit of Elijah when they wanted to call down fire from heaven on the Christ-rejecting villages of Samaria. Jesus wanted nothing to do with that spirit.

Rage itself is no sign of authority, prophetic or otherwise.

The prophets announced judgment on Israel and on the nations, but never as a catharsis for the prophets themselves. Instead, the judgment always pointed to a God who “takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked,” a God who promised beyond the judgment a new creation for those who would humble themselves and seek mercy (Ezekiel 33:11).

That’s why the new covenant shows us how the judgment and curse of God is found in the cross of Christ, and why the ascension of Christ means we are to warn of the coming judgment while offering mercy while it is yet the Day of Salvation.

Outrage Off Mission

If mere outrage were a sign of godliness, then the devil would be the godliest soul in the cosmos. He, after all, rages and roars, “because he knows his time is short” (Revelation 12:12). Contrast that with the Lord Jesus who does not “quarrel or cry aloud” (Matthew 12:19).

Why is this so? It’s because the devil has no mission, apart from killing and destroying and accusing and slandering. And it’s because the devil is on the losing side of history.

Life in Christ doesn’t mean we ever shrug off injustice or unrighteousness. But it does mean that we fight these things in a different way. It is easy, after all, simply to denounce, and to congratulate ourselves on the fact that we’re all appropriately offended at all the right things. We can make our voices heard, loudly, on whatever media platform we can find.

The Apostle Peter easily could wield the sword to fight those arresting Jesus, almost as easily as we can post a comment online. But Peter didn’t see how deep the darkness was. It couldn’t be solved by the storm and fury of a kingdom that comes from this world. It could only come from the atoning sacrifice of a kingdom that is not from this world.

Social Media on Mission

The gospel commands us to speak, and that speech is often to be forceful. But a prophetic witness in the new covenant era never stops with “You brood of vipers!” It always continues on to say “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”

Sometimes we will speak with warning and alarm, but we never speak with frantic hysteria, the way the pagans do, who have no hope.

Anger is sometimes right. God in his holiness displays wrath. But God’s anger is slow to kindle, rooted in the patience of the One who is “not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). God’s anger is not a means of catharsis, and it certainly isn’t the theatrical display of a temper out of control. That’s why the Bible warns us that “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:20).

The outrage culture of today, whether broadcast across the airwaves or clicked about on social media, can make us feel better for a moment, but it cannot yield the peaceable fruit of righteousness. And often, like my friend’s son, our directionless fury comes from the anger and blame of those who are too scared to cry the tears of lament.

That may fit well with the spirit of our age, but it doesn’t come from the Spirit of our God.

(@drmoore) is Public Theologian at Christianity Today and minister-in-residence at Immanuel Nashville. He served as President of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention from 2013 until 2021. He and his wife, Maria, have five sons.