We can all agree: America’s cultural atmosphere is highly charged. The air hanging around nearly every conversation—political, racial, sexual, religious, or otherwise—seems infused with kerosene, ready for the smallest spark to burn attempts at civility to the ground. This social climate has been labeled “outrage culture,” and aptly so.
Instead of complex people enjoying constructive dialogue, whether face-to-face or online, we’re increasingly more like brute animals defending our territory. It’s like we’re all Gaston—wild-eyed and seething, with a pitchfork in one hand and lighted torch in the other, awaiting the signal to “kill the beast” on the other side.
And all the while, we’re unaware that the beast in the mirror is us.
Outrage Culture Reveals the Truth
But for all the fearsome aspects of the outrage culture, there is one surprisingly redemptive thing about it that Christians can use for good: It reveals biblical truth.
1. Outrage Culture Reveals the Truth about Morality
A quick scroll through social media makes it painfully clear that people really do believe in absolutes, especially absolute right and wrong. When outrage erupts, it’s because people think something very wrong was done that really isn’t okay. Outrage—even overdone or misguided outrage—proves that even moral “relativists” sense moral order deep in their bones.
This is good news for Christians because we know where this sense of morality comes from. Humans care about right and wrong because we’re made in the likeness of a holy God.
2. Outrage Culture Reveals the Truth about Humanity
In a society that desperately wants to believe humans are perfect just the way we are, the outrage culture pulls the curtain back, unveiling that “the way we are” isn’t only imperfect; it’s actually a horror show. The state of American discourse undeniably reveals that at some point, something must’ve gone terribly wrong with humanity. In fact, many are trying to figure out exactly what that “something” is.
Again, Christians can offer a helpful voice in the conversation here: The fall explains what’s going on. Though the imago Dei blessed all humans with inherent dignity, the fall brought universal human depravity, which explains why people can treat one another with such cruelty.
3. Outrage Culture Reveals the Truth about Sin
If the outrage culture proves anything, it’s that humans—even those who deem themselves non-religious—actually agree with God about sin, for they know it requires payment.
Think about any recent debacle. Did you notice how the public response often paralleled Christianity’s explanation of sin’s consequences? The level of wrongdoing demands corresponding discipline from on high. That discipline can take the form of self-payment (going to prison), repentance (public apology), loss of position (getting fired), or loss of relationship (divorce, loss of parental rights, and so on). The public outcry doesn’t stop until the wrongdoers receive the proper consequences. While we must be careful not to allow outrage to turn into mob-like anarchy or vigilante violence, its existence actually suggests that God’s response to sin isn’t only intuitive, but right.
Indeed, God deals with sin along similar lines: Our wrongdoing invokes rightful wrath and requires payment through discipline from on high. The consequences for sin are also similar: Because of our offenses, we lose both our relationship and also position with God. The same goes for our options when it comes to satisfying the consequences for that sin: self-payment (trying to please God now and paying our debt in an imprisoned afterlife) or repentance (a sorrowful change of heart that trusts in Christ’s full payment for sin on our behalf).
Use Outrage Culture to Share Gospel Grace
As hostile conversations swirl around us, Christians have an opportunity to share the hope of the gospel, using cultural outrage for good instead of evil.
1. Because of the Truth about Morality, We Can Comfort the Rightly Outraged
Though the outrage culture is known for overreacting, there are some issues Christians really should decry. We’re the people who care about the things Christ cares about, after all, and when those he loves are being overtly harmed, we should speak up and fight for them.
We can tell the rightfully outraged about the God who sees, knows, and has a plan to undo the horrors taking place in his world and perhaps even in their own lives. We say:
Yes, that person should have to answer for what they did, and you rightly feel this way because God’s morality tells us it’s wrong. Beyond that, I want you to know God has a plan for setting all of it right again. Let me comfort you with the news of the One who has the authority to right every wrong.
2. Because of the Truth about Humanity, We Can Disarm the Wrongly Outraged
In the age of everyone getting upset about everything, Christians have the unique opportunity to gently remind over-reactors that their wrathful, belittling, even animalistic treatment of others is out of touch with the reality that they’re just as broken as the person they’re railing against.
We tell them:
Yes, the person you’re snapping at should probably pay for what they’ve done, but so should you, and so should I. The fall is an equal-opportunity curse, which means you and I will have to answer for what we’ve done, same as the next person. God has a right to demand consequences for every wrong. But what’s more, God can also absorb those consequences. May I tell you about it?
3. Because of the Truth about Sin, We Can Relate to Wrongdoers
As we meet people who have fallen from grace, or even as we have conversations about them, we can sympathize. We’ve been there, too. The person who had a huge public failing isn’t alone at rock bottom with the whole world against him. Our sins deserve wrath and consequences, too.
Sharing the gospel with the wrongdoer says:
Yes, I’ve been at rock bottom too, in my own way, and let me tell you: The gospel can pay for this horrible thing you did. That’s the scandal of God’s grace and power. He can take a monster and make him a giant of the faith. Do you know the story of Paul?
As the surrounding society rages on, raising pitchforks to kill the beast on the other side—whatever the side may be—we’re the people standing in the fray, telling the good news of the God who can slay the thing that makes the outrage culture so horrible in the first place: the beast in us.