In an age defined by emotional rage, political divisiveness and correctness, the recurring themes of the victim-culprit blaming, I have been comforted by God’s message to us in the cross. This passage comes from Frank Lake’s short book on pastoral counseling, in which he deals with both the problem of rage in social justice/injustice, but also the problem of individual victimhood and its corresponding rage. Where can it go? What can be done with it? Lake offers the supercessory response offered to the angry by God in the cross of Christ. 

Many years ago, I met, in a friend’s rectory, which he kept as a home for men discharged from prison, a young man of immense physical proportions, heavily muscled, with the broadest of shoulders. He had the stance and look of  a boxer who could floor his opponent in the first round. I heard his remarkable story.

He had ‘done time’ and after it had been invited to stay with my friend. He had developed a habit of climbing a narrow stairway into an attic prayer-room, sitting there to gaze at the crucifix, letting its meaning seep into his soul.

Some further undetected and unadmitted offenses came to light and he was sentenced to a further period in jail. He took in with him, in his pocket, a small crucifix. Some time later a letter arrived, asking, without explanation, for another crucifix to be sent him. When at last he was out and back home, he was asked, in passing, what became of the first crucifix. His hand reached into a pocket and drew out a few shattered pieces of wood and the twisted metal which had been the Lord’s body, all that was left of the first crucifix.

He explained, in a matter of fact sort of way, that he had felt cruelly provoked by a prison officer who seemed to “have it in for him.” On the occasion of one particularly flagrant taunt he had found his right fist coming up to punch the man in the face and knock him out of action. By a miracle of inner prompting he had managed instead to force that hand into the pocket where his fingers opened just enough to grasp the crucifix. All the fury of his violent anger went into that hand. He crushed the crucifix to smithereens. The twisted fragments bore witness to the strength of his retaliatory rage. His violent anger, which had been justified enough in its way and almost certainly just also in its origins, had spent itself on the Cross of Christ, accepting the Lord’s request to make him, not anyone else, the victim.

As Robert Leighton, Archbishop of Glasgow in the seventeenth century wrote to a very depressed woman, “I bid you vent your rage into the bosom of God.”…Christ was crucified in order that now our anger can spend itself, obediently and in faith, hurting the one provided, the Lamb of God. Sin becomes ‘not believing in Jesus,’ not trusting him to take it, and in taking it, take it away.

Religious people, who are so often depressed, are as trespassed upon as violent victims, but the violence of their retaliatory rage is muted and turned back upon themselves. They were, and still are, in mortal terror of the consequences of letting it out.