#meantweets - Our Problem with Anger (Reactivity Episode 2)

This article is part of the Reactivity: Rethinking Social Media with Paul Tripp series.


In this episode, Paul Tripp talks about the normalization of emotionally driven responses and especially reactions filled with fear and anger, two of the primary emotions that drive the culture of toxic reactivity.

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Paul David Tripp

Award-winning author Paul David Tripp instructs believers to view digital media and technology through the lens of the gospel and points them toward a biblical framework for communication.

There are maybe fifty people that I follow closely on social media who are godly voices of wisdom. I’m very thankful for their voices, and I find help, insight, encouragement, conviction from what they post. Recently, one of those people that I have a deep respect for posted something, and the first response on the comments was, “Dude, just shut up. Shut up.”

Now, consider with me that that’s not a well-thought through, carefully crafted invitation to a further conversation. That’s just an emotional response. It’s a drive-by response. I don’t like what you said. I take a shot, and I move on. What that illustrates is the emotionally-driven nature of this culture of toxic reactivity.

Now, I have to say this: the Bible isn’t emotion negative. The Bible depicts a rich life of emotions. Emotions are a gift from God. But you have to be very careful that your life isn’t shaped by the spontaneity of the emotions of the moment. That’s a very dangerous way to live. And that really is the culture of toxic reactivity. It’s whatever the emotions of the moment are; they drive me to my response without stepping back, without careful reflection. I’m reacting.

So, I think the two primary emotions that drive this culture is a culture of fear and a culture of anger. It could be the fear that My world is out of control and I’ve got to do something. I’ve got to respond. I’ve got to react. Or it could be the fear that I’m not being taken seriously, and I’ve got to jump in. I’ve got to defend myself, or my tribe isn’t being taken seriously. All of that is God-forgetful, because if anything, the Bible presents my world is under control. It may not be under my control, and I may not like or understand everything that’s going on, but there’s someone who cares about me, who cares about us, who cares about his world more deeply and more fully than I ever will. And it’s when you are resting in his presence and his power that you can relax, be reflective, and enter into conversations in a more helpful way.

Well, there’s not a big distance between fear and anger, because often in my fear I view you as the enemy, you as the cause of what I’m afraid of, and so I respond to you in that war-making sort of way. We’re not on the same side. We’re not wanting the same things. You are the enemy of what I think, or I may think of who I am, and so I respond to you in anger.

One of the reasons that social media excites this toxicity of fear and toxicity of anger is because it’s impersonal. I’m not standing next to you. I’m not seeing your face. I’m not hearing the tone of your voice. It’s not a relationship in that way. I can remember once as a young pastor having a conversation with somebody, and that older man could see that I was upset. He just leaned forward in his chair and he said, “Paul, look at me. I love you. You don’t have anything to be afraid of.” You don’t get that on social media, because you’re not there. It’s not personal.

The problem is, though, that I get used to the impersonal nature of human interactions, and I carry the culture of that into relationships that are personal, where you are standing there, where you could do this in a better way.

Fear-produced anger that sees you as the enemy is seldom respectful. It tends to be disrespectful. I’m trying to knock you aside. I’m trying to knock you down. I’m not after just the thought; I’m after you. And that is so different than the way the Bible tells me to treat every human being. Listen, if God is Creator, and he is, and human beings are made in his image, and they are, then every person has dignity. Every person should be treated with honor and with respect. Even though we disagree, even though we radically disagree, I can do that in a way that doesn’t denigrate you as a person made in the image of God.
One of the places where you see this disrespect live on social media is just this culture of mockery. When someone says, “Dude, just shut up” That’s a mock. You’re nothing. I don’t have to pay attention to you. Who do you think you are? That’s mockery. And it’s deeply personal. It’s meant to hurt. It’s not meant to help. It’s not, again, a welcome into a conversation; it’s a slap.

I love talking about how God helps us to live differently in this culture of toxic reactivity. At the end of Ephesians, there’s this list of character qualities called the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control. Now, those aren’t presented as moral goals for you and me to achieve, because I have no ability to turn myself into this kind of person. They’re called the fruit of the Spirit for a reason. Jesus died so that these would be my potential. So, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control are my potential as a child of God. Now, how in the world am I ever going to reach that potential, because I’m not there yet?

Well, there’s a second thing that our Lord did. He gifted us with this Holy Spirit, who literally unzips us and gets inside of us so we now have the power to live up to the potential that he’s given us in Christ. That is just so encouraging, so helpful. It’s what gets me up in the morning. I know my potential, and I know the power I’ve been given to live in that potential.

So, here’s what this means. In moments where your emotions are raging, whether that’s fear or anger, or you’re ready to respond disrespectfully or in mockery, you have the power to say no and to turn and go in another direction, because of the grace of Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of the Holy Spirit who now lives inside of you.

Well, I have a question for you, and it’s, again, one of these self-examination questions. It’s going to take some reflection to answer. Are you living out of your new potential as a child of God? Do you hold those character qualities of the fruit of the Spirit as your goal? Are you seeking the help of the power of the Holy Spirit to live that way, both on social media and in your everyday relationships? Or are you’re giving way to the draw of the culture of toxic reactivity?

Next week, we’re going to talk about a culture of self-centeredness and self-righteousness. I think that’s going to be a very helpful conversation. Let me just pray for you.

Lord, we would say, Where would we be without your grace? Where would we be if we were left to ourselves? We’re so thankful that in you we don’t just get new potential, but we get new power. That’s just what we need. We need to live with a vision of what we can be as your children, and live with the hope that you’ve given us the power to move in that direction. Thank you. We thank you. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

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