Lent is a Time for Gentle Fury

by Alina Sato
We are swimming in furious waters. As today’s world seems to relentlessly present reasons to be angry, I’ve struggled with the fury rising up within me. Sometimes it feels like the appropriate response to over 950,000 COVID deaths in the U.S. and the horrific loss of life from an oppressive war on the other side of the world. As much as I wish I possessed only good things from within to contribute to a dark world, I have to confess that my own inner world can be dark as well. Sometimes I notice my own unjustified anger seeping out toward the people around me, out of proportion, borne from my own sin, selfishness, and pride. At times I have been more edgy with my family, more judgmental toward my neighbor for petty reasons, more tempted to confront people on the specks in their eyes while ignoring the plank in my own. Discerning and managing my fury appropriately has felt incredibly challenging when the anger we swim in feels easier and easier to justify. Life has felt disappointing. And sometimes, depending on our expectations, so has God.

Jesus Knew the Questions of Furious Times

If you’re like me, you find yourself quietly asking hard questions of God in the thick of furious times. “Are you here? Do you see what’s happening? Can I really trust you in these circumstances?” When our anger is borne out of a core disappointment, not with life in general but with God in particular, we can lash out harshly toward others. Because if God himself isn’t really going to address our needs, then why should I be gentle with my neighbor? If we’re on our own to deal with our problems, self-preservation takes priority over honoring community and caring about other peoples’ hurt feelings.

At the time of Jesus’s birth, the Israelites were asking a lot of similar questions under harsh Roman oppression. God, you said we are your people, so where are you? If this baby is the promised Messiah, who will he be to us? Will he establish his throne, flex his strong arm of authority, and fix our circumstances as the means of quieting our furious hearts? If not, should we arm ourselves to fight?

The Temptation to Quell Fury with External Change

In preparing for his transition into public ministry as a grown man, Jesus spent 40 days wandering and fasting in the desert. He undoubtedly knew there was a lot of passion—fury, if you will—behind the expectations people had for him. What did the Messiah of the Ages think about in these 40 days before going public? How would he respond to the furious questions of his times?  

Satan enters into this particular moment of Jesus’s life with temptations that he surely crafted to appeal to mankind’s propensity toward quick, external fixes. In Matthew 4:1-11, he offers to alleviate Jesus’s physical discomfort: “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” He tempts Jesus to demonstrate power over personal calamity: “Throw yourself down [from this pinnacle]. For it is written: ‘He shall give His angels charge over you.’” Finally, he tempts Jesus to take a painless path to personal glory without any agonizing circumstances that might force him to press into trusting a Father with a hidden face. Satan offers this with one specific price tag attached—forsake faithfulness to his Father and worship Satan. “All [these kingdoms of the world and their glory] I will give you if you will fall down and worship me.”

The more I experience life’s hardships and pressures, the more I understand the enticing pull of what Satan is presenting here. On the longest days when my eyes are only set on myself and what I can see in the moment, it seems easiest not to make efforts toward the cultivation of real faith that presses deep into the Word of God and the heart of my Father. I just want bread, a better day, and some extra praise and appreciation from people. If I live for these things and don’t get them, I am tempted to rage. “I’m hangry! It’s been a hard day, so cut me some slack! No one sees what I do for them, so why should I bother!” Even when I do get those things, however, I’m still ultimately left with bread crumbs that decay, ideal circumstances that are mist in a fallen world, and a false god who never really wanted what was best for my soul. Ultimately, I’m still left with unquelled fury.

Reshaping Fury with Unexpected Gentleness

“Are you here? Do you see what’s happening? Who will you be to us in these circumstances?”

In Jesus’s exchange with Satan in the desert and his following three years of public ministry, we see his response to both Satan’s temptations and the furious questions of all our hearts. He doesn’t establish a worldly kingdom of health and wealth. He doesn’t immediately overturn all worldly oppression among mankind. While he was deeply compassionate toward the sick and suffering, and cared for many immediate needs in miraculous ways, his greatest passions were aimed at addressing the heart issues of sin and pride that keep us from loving our Father, loving one another, and resting eternally secure in our Father’s love. His pathway in addressing those heart issues was the long, lonely road to a cross, His cross.

Where God could have met us in his own wrath for all our sin, rebellion and idolatry, Jesus instead extends the most unexpected gentleness toward us. In unfathomable mercy, he shelters us from the Father’s wrath as he takes our punishment and death upon his own self. In doing so, he opens the blinders over our eyes to see how God has in fact met our greatest need in this deeply broken world—our need to be reconciled to him so that we might be renewed in his likeness and enjoy him forever. Once reconciled to him, we find that we can never be separated from him, and we go forth in his Spirit and love to minister to a hurting world.

This season of Lent, reflecting Jesus’s 40 days in the desert, allows us to consider who he is and what exactly he came to do. He may not meet our expectations on the surface, even for immediate needs that feel very, very real. But he meets our deepest needs for forgiveness and freedom from sin, and reconciliation with our Father God. From this place of spiritual healing, we can possess full assurance that he will one day right all the wrongs and redeem all that has been broken in this world. Because of Jesus, our fury can still burn against sin and Satan’s work, for the ways they hurt us and keep us from loving God and one another. But our transformed hearts can become gentle toward people as we extend the healing balm of God’s overflowing love and mercy.
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