Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday reflections on anger

Pontius Pilate was an angry man. Although Scripture does not explicitly paint that portrait, the biblical clues consistently point toward an angry Pilate:

·         Crucifixion was how the Romans executed criminals. The Jews could only execute people for blasphemy, and then they imposed the sentence by stoning.

·         All four gospels record that Jesus died by crucifixion, an ugly death offensive to devout Jews. If Jesus had died some other way, Christians would have assuredly preserved some hint of his dying in an alternative manner. Just the opposite is the case. The New Testament authors work hard, twisting passages out of context, to show the Jewish scriptures foreshadowing the messiah dying on a cross, e.g., Galatians 3:13.

·         Depictions of Pilate washing his hands of responsibility for Jesus' death are unbelievable. No Roman governor could disavow responsibility and hope to preserve the public respect and fear upon which Roman rule depended. Pilate disowning responsibility more likely reflects a literary attempt to make Jesus' story palatable to Romans and Roman authority. By the time the gospels were written, few additional Jews were accepting the idea that Jesus was the Messiah. Christianity's future was plainly among the Gentiles, not the Jews.

·         The sign that Pilate allegedly ordered attached to Jesus' cross – The King of the Jews – highlights the reason that Pilate ordered Jesus' death. Pilate regarded Jesus as an insurrectionist who plotted to overthrow Roman rule, wanting to replace it with himself as king of an independent Jewish kingdom.

·         The threat that Jesus purportedly posed to Roman authority in general, and Pilate's authority in particular, angered Pilate. When threatened, humans react with a fight or flight response. Pilate was not about to flee, yielding his province to some petty rebel. And had Pilate found this option tempting, the sobering reality of imperial accountability would have caused him to abandon the idea immediately. No. Jesus' perceived rebellious defiance would have triggered the fight response, angering Pilate and sealing Jesus' fate.

·         Alternatively, Pilate may have been a sadist or sociopath who ordered Jesus to die because he enjoyed exercising his power to have people killed. Or, perhaps Pilate was so emotionally detached that life and death decisions did not affect him. But these hypotheses seem much less likely, and fit the existing data less well, than does the theory that Pilate was angry.

Anger is a defensive reaction that expresses frustration at one's lack of control over people or situations. Anger readily translates into aggressive behavior directed at the perceived source of frustration, whether self, another person, or even an inanimate object. And if afraid to direct anger at the actual cause of frustration, a person will channel their anger in a different direction.

Typified by Pilate ordering Jesus' death, sinful anger destroys rather than creates life. Ironically, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross identified anger as the second stage in the grief process. Unable to restore life to the deceased, the bereaved become angry with the deceased for abandoning them.

Obviously, not all anger is sin. Righteous anger is an appropriate response to injustice that threatens harm. Psychologists have discovered that anger floods the brain with a chemical that heightens alertness, improves thinking, and enhances physical abilities. In other words, the distinction between righteous anger and sinful anger is that sinful anger destroys life whereas righteous anger helps to preserve it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"...Or, perhaps Pilate was so emotionally detached that life and death decisions did not affect him."

I find it much easier to believe this explanation. I wouldn't think a Roman Governor would give a hoot about one individual (poor, ragged) alleged insurrectionist. I don't think Jesus would be enough of a threat to generate anger.

Of course, being a detached killer is no less eveil -- perhaps more evil -- than being an angry killer.