“If I wasn’t a Christian, I would’ve killed you years ago.” I can still remember saying that to a friend back in high school. Even though we were joking around, it was probably indicative of a much deeper problem in my soul.
My friend and I were talking about what we would do if we weren’t bound by Christian convictions and ethics. Basically, we liked to play the “what if” game. Some people don’t have much patience for this game, but Paul apparently liked it (1 Cor.15- “what if Christ is not risen from the dead?”).
While I can’t remember his hypothesis, but my own speculation was this: if I wasn’t a Christian, I probably would’ve killed a few people before taking myself out in some dramatic fashion (wrestling a bear, maybe). This sounds dark, but when you’re shooting your mouth off as a high school kid, you don’t always ponder the weight of your own words.
Why did I tend toward destruction (both my own and others’)? Why not, “If I wasn’t a Christian, I’d steal a lot of stuff” or “if I wasn’t a Christian, I’d become a paranormal investigator and make some sweet coin on my own T.V. show”? Because I had rage issues. And I find I still do.
Now let me be clear. You will never see me storming down the sidewalk, tripping children and kicking blind puppies. I’ve learned to control it. I’m actually a very laid back, peaceful guy. I’m just a peaceful guy with a proclivity for rage.
I tend to be passive-impulsive. That’s probably a psychological category, but here’s how I use it: I’ll get a sudden surge of anger, but I won’t do anything about. Some imagined slight from an acquaintance. Some careless word from a friend. A direct insult from someone I don’t much care for.
It could be anything.
It will immediately become enrage, but you would never know. Externally, I’d look calm. But internally, it would simmer and fester there just beneath the surface. It’s terrible. It breeds bitterness and resentment and I end up plotting terrible things on the people that wrong me and tearing them apart in my mind. But again, it’s passive. Nothing will ever be acted out. And that, of course, means that I will rarely resolve the issue with the person who’s offended me. And that’s not healthy.
There’s a great line from this great movie called the Avengers. You may have heard of it. At one point, Bruce Banner turns to Captain America and says, “That’s my secret, Captain: I’m always angry.” When I heard that line, I instantly identified with it.
I can look as calm as a Hindu cow, but if I’m not careful, anger and rage and resentment can sneak in and eat away at me. They can combine to become a constant presence in me. And before I know it, I’m living life, trying to love people and honor everyone with a time bomb just beneath my ribs.
Sure, I’m not always angry. Sometimes, I’m very happy. But anger and rage and wrath are the struggles that come up most often. You have yours. I have mine. We learn to control them and we deal.
Now, this brings up the question: is my love, then, sincere? Paul tells Christians that our love should be genuine. So, if I’m loving people while I’m angry, am I really loving them?
I’m angry because my pride has been wounded or I feel I’ve been cheated out of something I was supposedly owed. Rage turns me inward, introspectively and forcefully focusing on my self. Love, as a rule, is others-focused. So, I find this law at work: two opposite forces, rage and love, active in the same body. That sounds like a pretty common Christian experience to me (see also Romans 7:7-25).
But what do you think? If you’re a Christian, can you imagine what your life would be like without Christ? What does such a scenario tell you about your particular inclinations as a broken human being? Is there any value in the “what if” exercise when applied to matters of faith?