Restraining Our Inner Grouch
By Sam Collins
In my younger days, I had an inner crabby monster that did not always stay behind locked doors. Sometimes it sprang out to startle small children, friends, and family members. I so often felt like Oscar the Grouch, Sesame Street’s shaggy garbage-can crank, that I probably should have worn a hairy, green, three-piece suit on pastoral calls.
So I can sympathize a bit with some followers of Christ who are in a perpetual mood to brood, carp, grouse, and harrumph about the horrible state of the world and its people. Nevertheless, it’s getting to the point that religious crankiness is making me as uncomfortable as spike-heel shoes with broken-glass insoles.
God does not, I think, prohibit all forms of righteous irritability. Otherwise, how do you account for the Old Testament prophets, who often delivered their pronouncements in a prickly tone that seemed to result from a restless night tossing and turning on a bed of blistering coals? Or, for that matter, how do you explain Jesus’ wrathful redeemer, Jerusalem temple tantrum?
The problem with some contemporary Christians is that their crankiness often seems to have little to do with righteousness and almost everything to do with an insufficiency of spiritual maturity, genuine Christlikeness, and generous grace. Jesus did more than rearrange the furniture in the outer temple court. He also wept over the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the city’s wayward leaders. By contrast, twenty-first-century gospel grumps seem to shed neither tears nor their perpetual scowls when in the vicinity of hurting people who fail to live up to their standards.
Too many Christians seem to misunderstand: Jesus calls us to be salt, but not the kind that gets rubbed into other people’s wounds. We religious types are too readily tempted to zealously sprinkle something brackish and stinging into the open cuts, gashes, and slashes of men and women who have been hacked up and discarded by the side of the road.
Salt was not the thing the mob anticipated flinging at the woman caught in adultery, unless it was rock salt with crystals big enough to stun a yoked pair of ploughing oxen (John 7:53–8:11). The people were seething with anger. But I’ve always suspected that they were also self-righteously, gleefully looking forward to bashing someone whose sins they perceived as being much more ghastly than their own.
Jesus shows us the proper, the godlier, the more loving response to someone who personifies what we find to be repugnant and in violation of our most cherished principles (even though, in private, we may be guilty of shortcomings that God finds every bit as regrettable). He saw the woman as she was, forgave her sins, gently provided her with a picture of what she could become, and did it all while restraining his inner grouch.
The views expressed in this column are not necessarily those of Church of God Ministries or, at points, even the writer, but are written with tongue firmly planted in cheek to hopefully provoke a leavening bit of laughter and a smidgen of thought.