The Answer to Rage – Preaching to the Affections (1)

People are angry. There’s a sense of frustration, grievance and even fury in the air. As we saw in yesterday’s post there’s talk of a Day of Rage today.

The anger is not a new phenomenon -something has been brewing for some time. We’ve seen it at work across the Western World with support for populist movements, UKIP and the Brexit election in the UK, the AfD in Germany, Gert Wilders in the Netherlands and Donald Trump in the US. It’s not just an alternative right phenomenon though as seen by the success of Jeremy Corbyn and the rise of Momentum here in the UK or Syriza in Greece. As we saw in our last post, rage can be stoked but it cannot be controlled. It may express itself in protest marches and riots, in votes for populist parties on the left and the right and/or at its worst in acts of terror against innocent civilians.

Much of this anger is rooted in a sense of injustice -that people have been left behind, that austerity has fallen most heavily on the most vulnerable and that many people have simply not been able to share fully in the benefits of economic prosperity.  It is an anger that quickly finds someone to blame whether it is the EU, the Government, Big business and Capitalism or immigration.  Finding something or someone to blame enables us to take our rage out on them.

As we saw in our last post, rage is deeply dangerous.

One vital answer to this problem is preaching but it needs to be a particular type of preaching -or to put it more accurately, it needs to be preaching at its fullest and best.  The Puritans used to talk about “Preaching to the Affections” by which they meant that we preach for a response and that response comes from the whole person.

In other words, preaching is not just an intellectual exercise. It needs to engage the emotions. Preaching that simply conveys information, that is intellectual interesting will not do this. Even preaching that provides 2 or 3 neat “how to” applications to take away falls far too short.  Such preaching does not touch on the state of a person’s heart. It may exegete the Word reasonably effectively (I would suggest it doesn’t fully do this either) but it fails to exegete the hearer.

People turn up to our services carrying all kinds of emotions. They come carrying anger and frustration but they also come with grief and sadness, fear and anxiety. Preaching God’s Word should engage with this.

          It will give voice and direction to the true cause of suffering so that there is a right place for godly anger at sin and evil. This must recognise that I too am a sinner not merely a victim. Confrontation with the full horror and ugliness and evil must prompt true repentance.

          It will speak compassion and comfort to those who are hurt and grieving.

          It will bring hope to those who are fearful and despairing

          It will bring peace to troubled and restless hearts.

Preaching to the affections requires a level of empathy -do we understand and can we identify with the experience of those we are preaching to. It requires a pastoral heart. We must love those we preach to.

Preaching to the affections is not about mere emotionalism. If we offer this then we are no better than the rabble rousers and have no more to offer than the platitudes of celebrities at a benefit concert. Martyn Lloyd Jones described Preaching as “Logic on fire.”  Good preaching does not separate the mind from the heart. Good preaching to the affections helps me to understand from God’s Word why I feel the way I do. It teaches me to recognise the danger of wrongly held and idolatrous emotions.

For example, the risk is that our anger turns to rage against God. We blame him and shake our fist to heaven. We learn to believe the lies that God is not good or sovereign and that this World was not made good.  We look for our own solutions instead of listening to him. Psalm 2:1-3  says

“Why are the nations so angry?
Why do they waste their time with futile plans?
The kings of the earth prepare for battle;
the rulers plot together
against the
    and against his anointed one.
“Let us break their chains,” they cry,
“and free ourselves from slavery to God.”

Older Bible versions such as the KJV put it “Why do the nations rage.”  Whilst there is a righteous anger that reflects God’s wrath – his settled opposition to sin and evil, the reality is that so much of our human anger reflects hearts in rebellion against God.  We need to be reminded that God is good, love, just and sovereign. We need to be reminded and convicted of our sin and rebellion.

So God’s Word teaches me as well to recognise when my emotions give voice to my conscience, challenging and convicting me of my deep need for Him for his love, mercy and forgiveness.