Bowed Heads

I WAS ROUSED this morning by the smell of rain, by the pungent aroma of water seeping into the parched earth. My mind was drawn to what flooded the soil of Inang Bayan not too long ago, and by association of ideas this verse blew me wide awake: “Your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground on which it was spilled” (Gen. 4:10).

In the United States, more have died from COVID-19 than in the war with Vietnam; but in the Philippines, those who have died from the war on drugs exponentially outnumber COVID casualties. This is a fact, no matter whose official count you use.* None of these deaths is acceptable, yet there’s something terribly wrong with the Philippine correlation.

We are horrified by death, but how disturbed are we by the hostility which frequently causes death? For many of us, animus is par for the course. We get angry and we feel justified in anger because there is so much around us to be angry about. We take a stand, which becomes a side, then we draw the line, and soon, we are angry at those across us. It is all right to defend principle. It is the anger with which we smash our opponents that is the problem.

Anger breeds disdain. It distorts our perspective. It destroys our view of each other, so that the person we rage at is no longer an individual with a heart, mind, body and spirit, but a damnable mass to be mangled to oblivion emotionally, verbally, and even physically.

The PNP are angry at pasaways. They are also angry at drug addicts. Abuses result. There are deaths. The AFP are angry with the NPA. The NPA is angry with the AFP. They fight endlessly. There are deaths. Fill in MNLF, MILF, Abu Sayyaf, et cetera in those sentences, and the result is the same. There are deaths.

There are people angry with this government for its obscene inefficiency and various deceptions. They can be clamorous and strident. The president’s rabid supporters are angry at his critics because he is “most excellent and deserves praise.” They are unthinking and overbearing. Both groups hurl excrement at each other online, befouling the air for everyone. The environment is toxic.

The president is angry, period. He spews imprecations, vulgarities, and maledictions, even at God. He has exhaled a miasma both dense and unendurable. Many feel we cannot climb out of the mess he has made. They are angry too.

Sadly, all of them have forgotten that there is a God to whom we can apply. This is partly because anger blinds us, saps our strength, and muddles our thinking. It is unnecessary. The God of justice can right all wrongs. He is at work, and it is in our best interest to assist Him. If we say we believe in God, then let us act on our belief. Our human capability is limited – surely, we realize that by now. We need our energy for vital tasks. Anger reduces us; it shrinks our potential; it triggers the bestial in us; it makes us inhuman. And it is in this mood that we blast and bludgeon with words or deeds until our fellow human beings stagger with bowed heads, equally diminished.

We were not created to absorb anger nor to be infuriated ad infinitum. God made humans “in His image” to be like Him, to manifest His attributes to each other: love, joy, goodness, patience, mercy, truthfulness, compassion, faithfulness, peace.

There are happy exceptions, and yet our relationships are so often fractured by anger. This is not God’s will for us. Siblings must not be perpetually cruel to each other, resentfully imposing adult penalties for childhood offenses. Nor should spouses debase each other, digging deep into conjugal history for grievances fraught with condemnation and contempt. Nor should parents demean their children, dismissing their interests and dampening their spirits. Nor should children humiliate their parents, as the young can so easily do in many creative ways.

We are meant to dispense justice – to render to each other what is due, be it credit, compensation, affirmation, gratitude, respect. We are meant to be righteous – to stand upright, not with bowed heads; to behave correctly: to be in right relationship with each other, and above all, to be in right relationship with God. Scripture reveals that this is what God desires. We are to be our brother’s keeper – not our brother’s murderer, so that his blood cries out to God from the ground on which it is spilled.

God expects us to look out for each other, not just in times of crisis, but all the time. This is a divine mandate that covers not merely individuals in their private capacities but especially the social officers and institutions Constitutionally tasked to secure public welfare. This includes our elected officials, the national police, and our armed forces. If they fail, they will be held to account.

Teaching about anger, Jesus said, “But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’** is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell” (Matthew 5:22).

We can uphold principles and hold a position without hurling invectives at each other. There is already a virus befouling our atmosphere, we need not worsen the pollution. This is a season for rational cooperation, sober judgment, compassion, mercy, and justice. If we fully honor our mutual dignity as men and women made in the image of God, we may recover our true humanity. May that be the new normal.

For all that we have done in anger to this point, let us sincerely repent.

“In your anger do not sin.” – Ephesians 4:26

 

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*“The Philippine National Police reported that 5,526 suspects were killed  in police operations from July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2019. However, this number does not include the thousands more whom unidentified gunmen killed in cases that the police do not seriously investigate, pushing the death toll to as high as 27,000 according to estimates by domestic human rights groups. Research by Human Rights Watch and credible media outlets such as Rappler and Reuters indicate that these vigilante-style killings were perpetrated by police officers themselves or by killers linked to the authorities.” (https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2020/country-chapters/philippines)

**vain, empty, worthless, only found in Matthew 5:22 . The Jews used it as a word of contempt. It is derived from a root meaning “to spit.” (https://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/raca/)

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