After finishing with a Sabbath School lesson to the older class on the sacrifices, I sat down at my seat to listen to the last 45 minutes of a sermon given by a pastor of a congregation who was visiting the area this weekend and who had long been a deacon in the area. His message was on a subject that I think many people can relate to, that being the concern that brethren have to take to make sure that their heart does not grow cold towards other believers, and though the subject matter is something that is delicate, it is simultaneously something that was handled in a gracious manner that did not seek to put the heat on anyone. Speaking for myself personally, it has always been a personal concern of mine that my own anger, such as it is, has tended to manifest itself both in a prickly irritability at times and at a much colder, long-term sort of hatred and resentment. While both are certainly problematic, it is the latter tendency that I tend to view as being more dangerous in the long-term and was the subject of the message as something that human beings have to struggle with and overcome with God’s help.
I do not mean to say that those whose anger burns in a hot direction have it easy. To be sure, I once knew personally a man whose hot rage at an unfaithful wife led him to commit murder in the heat of passion and, because of the injustices of Florida’s justice system, found himself with a life sentance without parole for what was a clear case of Second-Degree Murder due to the rage of catching his wife in flagrante dilecto with another man, both of whom he then unalived. A hot rage can lead to rash decisions that shape the course of one’s life as one inflicts violence in the heat of the moment and has to pay for those moments for the rest of one’s life. But speaking in a moral and spiritual sense, it is a cold rage that is much more severe. This is the sort of rage that leads people to endless acts of petty unkindness, towards thinking meanly of people and not giving them their due respect, and of developing patterns of vengefulness and spitefulness that can lead to horrible and premeditated acts of refined cruelty. This is considerably more dangerous from a spiritual point of view, because it is not only the acts of hatred that harm our souls but also the patterns of hostile thinking and feelings that we cultivate towards others towards whom we owe love and respect. Worse yet, we often feel justified in feeling hatred and contempt for others because of the wrongs we think them to be guilty of, to say nothing of those wrongs that others have been guilty of towards us, and this resentment can poison our attitudes towards others whose own perception of their wrongdoing may be slight to nonexistent and who may not even suffer pangs to their conscience for what destroys our own spirit.
The Bible speaks dangerously of the cold anger of resentment. In 2 Samuel 13:20-22, we read of both kinds of anger, hot anger and cold anger, relating to the rape of Tamar by her half-brother Amnon, who was at this point the supposed heir to the throne of Israel: “And Absalom her brother said to her, “Has Amnon your brother been with you? But now hold your peace, my sister. He is your brother; do not take this thing to heart.” So Tamar remained desolate in her brother Absalom’s house. But when King David heard of all these things, he was very angry. And Absalom spoke to his brother Amnon neither good nor bad. For Absalom hated Amnon, because he had forced his sister Tamar.” David’s hot rage was tinged with a sense of guilt for his own behavior with Bathsheba, but Absalom’s cold anger led him first to plot the death of his rapist half-brother and then later on poisoned his relationship with his father and led him to rebellion and ultimately to an inglorious death for himself at the hands of the similarly coldly angry Joab. A hot anger burns because of a sense of wrong, but a cold anger includes with it external emotional control as well as a great deal of intellectual labor about how to best get one’s revenge against those who have caused harm.
Towards the end of his discussion of the signs of the end-times in Luke 21:16-19, Jesus Christ warns his disciples (and we readers) of the cold anger that will motivate people to betray those close to them: “You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But not a hair of your head shall be lost. By your patience possess your souls.” Similarly, the account of Mark 13:12-13 tells us: “Now brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end shall be saved.” It is not merely that the hatred towards believers will be a hot and rash hatred that leads people to have to deal with the sudden anger of those who are hostile to God’s ways and laws and unwilling to accept His authority in their lives, but also that believers will find that those they thought to be close to them, brothers, parents, and children and the like, will betray them to death and other forms of hostile treatment with a cold, cold heart lacking in natural kindness.
This is something that we all have to be cautious about. Our ability, alas, to influence the hearts of others is limited by how much that influence is allowed by others. What we are responsible for, though, is the state of our own heart. How many resentments do we cultivate in the supposed name of justice that are merely bitter hatreds? We live in an age that mistakes cold hatred for good things, and when we think that the evil and dark parts of ourselves are in fact good and noble and just, we have even less motivation to overcome them than we would normally. And yet we are warned in Matthew 24:11-13: “ Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. But he who endures to the end shall be saved.” Do we take that warning, and others like it, to heart?