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Paul Coughlin Christian Blog and Commentary

Thumos in the Bible

  • Paul Coughlin

    Paul Coughlin is a former newspaper editor and is the author of numerous books, including the No More Christian Nice Guy, and Raising Bully-Proof Kids. He is the Founder of The Protectors: Freedom From Bullying—Courage, Character & Leadership for Life, (www.theprotectors.org), which provides a values-based and faith-based program that combats the cruelty of adolescent bullying in schools, summer camps, Sunday School, and other places where bullying is prevalent.

    He is a popular speaker who has appeared on Good Morning America, Nightline, 700 Club, Focus on the Family, C-SPAN, The LA Times, FamilyLife Radio, HomeWord with Jim Burns, The New York Times, Newsweek and other media outlets. He is a regular keynote speaker with Iron Sharpens Iron Men’s Conferences.

    His freedom-from-bullying program is used by hundreds throughout North America as well as in England, Australia, Uganda, New Zealand, Brazil, and South Africa. The Protector’s has partnered with Saddleback Church’s Justice & Trafficking Initiative in creating the first-ever Justice Begins on the Playground seminar that helps both faith-based and values-based organizations diminish bullying.

    He is a Boys Varsity Soccer Coach in Southern Oregon, where he was voted Coach of the Year twice, and where he is also a member of the Board of Trustees. He and his wife Sandy have three teenagers and live in Medford, Oregon. Contact him at: paul@theprotectors.org

  • 2009 Nov 13
  • Comments

Thumos is found eighteen times in the New Testament; seven of those occurrences refer to God's wrath.  In Galatians, we see an example of shadow thumos in the word jealousy, which when smoldering breaks out in wrath.  Thumos and another word for "wrath" (orge) are coupled in two places in Revelation:  "the fierceness (thumos) of his wrath [orge]" and "the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God."

 

For most of us, that's as far as our one-dimensional understanding of this beneficial-slash-harmful attribute goes.  The following is a good example: One popular New Testament commentary shows how narrow is our comprehension of this vibrant attribute.  The author states that thumos means "wrath" and "hot."  "Wrath is like a volcano….stuff a cork in it."

 

This perspective leads to the emaciation and wilting of many souls, largely because it ignores the creative seed in properly handled anger and because it overlooks anger as an intrinsic component to righteous indignation, which should lead to deep and abiding love for those who are weak and oppressed.  The Bible shows a more noble side to this attribute in the way Jesus demonstrated muscular indignation—the kind that battles for transcendent truths, protects others who are being stripped of their worth, and loves those in need in practical ways—as opposed to anger that stems from not getting what we want.  In Jesus we see a thumos that guards and provides for those whom leaders have exploited and abused.

 

Noble thumos burns for the good of others, for God's will to be done on earth as in heaven, and thus it causes people to act; wrathful anger is usually personal, born of envy, self-absorbed, and vengeful.  Stuffing a cork in thumos will diminish your spiritual growth and weaken your faith-in-action!  Anything that says otherwise is a misguided recipe for being unable to wrestle with and tackle real issues in real life.

 

Today's Official Script, though favors lower-thumos and contemplative folks over bolder and more active ones; people who prefer reading to doing; theological polemicists and parsers to mission-minded burden lifters.  Today we applaud the kind of strength that suffers but not the kind that says no, lives courageously, and rescues others the way Christ did.  Why not honor both?

 

And why do we applaud heroic strength in films (for instance) if there's something wrong with having it at church?  This is a sign that we don't honor what our souls tell us is right and good because somehow it doesn't appear "spiritual" enough.

 

Machiavelli observed:

 

This way of living, then, seems to have rendered the world weak and handed it over as prey to wicked men, who can safely manage it when they see that most men think more of going to Heaven by enduring their injuries than by avenging them.

 

The world, he concluded, "has become effeminate and Heaven disarmed" by this kind of faith—the version of Christianity I call "the Official Script."

 

So far I've been giving Official-Script illustrations without providing a real definition of what it is or where it came from.  The Script is a cut-and-paste version of a biblical outlook; while it's an essential part of a life well-lived, it masquerades as the entire thing.  In that sense it's similar to Thomas Jefferson's homemade New Testament, which he called The Life and Morals of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.  Jefferson jettisoned everything supernatural—angels, prophecies, miracles, divinity, and of course, the resurrection.  He considered belief in the metaphysical an embarrassment to a learned man.

 

Our Official Script today retains the supernatural, but it does something similar.  It's scandalized by the mysterious rather than the miraculous.  In an attempt to make the gospel appealing to contemporary bias and prejudice, the Script endeavors to explain and reason through everything.

 

Its grasp overextends its reach and thereby renders God's Word increasingly flaccid and lifeless.  Again: Reason alone has never created or brought about virtue.  The French Revolution is one of many historical examples showing that the idolization of reason often leads instead to destruction and misery.

 

News flash from God to us:  It's okay not to know everything!  In fact, it's good—this leads to deepened faith, spirited animation, and established righteousness in you.  My mysteries keep you hooked, curious, aware, motivated…and I designed it that way.

 

Yes, righteousness.  In Paul's first epistle to Timothy, a letter full of warnings, probes, admonishments, and direct judgment upon those who work against the addressee, Paul concludes with a description of righteousness that sometimes snares today's evangelical eye.

 

            Pursue a righteous life—a life of wonder, faith, love, steadiness, courtesy.

 

Wonder is integral to what it means to pursue righteousness, just as it's inseparable from the creation of courage.  Today's evangelicals often read this verse, miss Paul's point about wonder, and say or think something like, "Hey, wait—what about keeping the main thing the main thing?  What about piety?"

 

The Official Script, ultimately, is what we want to hear as opposed to what we need to hear, and I'm no different than most people when it comes to this convenient game.  I'd rather avoid the things I don't want to hear.  And sometimes I do.

 

There's no better explanation for the Official Script's predominant trait than what we discover in Paul's other letter to his beloved protégé.  With patches of Paul's loving thumos threaded throughout, 2 Timothy deals primarily with the character of a Christian minister.  And here he exposes the underlying motives of those who cling to the Official Script:

 

The time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine.  Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.  They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.

 

I don't know when that time began, which is irrelevant anyway.  What I do know is that when I compare the Bible's overall content, tone, and flavor to what I hear when I flip through the "Christian" programs I find on TV, I can hardly locate similarities.  The only exception I've found recently is on a Catholic cable channel.

 

What we want to hear is pretty much that which makes us comfortable and preserves that comfort.  For example, Scripture doesn't show the luminaries of our faith turning to Christ so they can climb corporate ladders.  But as Americans, we love our money, our bulbous cars and our bulbous homes, so we turn many portions of God's Word into business training classes.  Many of the biblical passages used to promise wealth and advancement are tortured beyond recognition.  The deception continues and at a blistering pace.

 

The Official Script is part myth, part lullaby, and part nursery rhyme.  It's unable to alleviate real suffering and in the process emulate the real Christ.  Also, no one denomination or person defines it or owns it.  It's one large act of group-think (as opposed to God-think). 

 

The truth about life—primarily, that it's hard—is less appealing than the illusions currently swirling around.  Like one of the real biggies:  that you can have a really peaceful life right here, right now.  (Yeah, you can, if you duck and flee all the battles that rage.)

 

Intriguingly, but also frighteningly, this is one of today's main evangelical credos and a basic premise of Eckhart Tolle's A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose.  Neither evangelicalism nor the New Age is accepting (much less embracing) the fact that deep and abiding love, like deep and abiding courage, is risky and sacrificial.  There's no legitimate or truthful way around it: You live, you get hurt.  "Take your share of hardship, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus."

 

            "You are a king, then!" said Pilate.

Jesus answered, "You are right in saying I am a king.  In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.  Everyone on the side of truth listens to me."

 

Truth is demanding and uncompromising, but it's infinitely better than illusion.  Still, most of us prefer illusion—it's less taxing and less disruptive.  This brings us to the Script attribute that's perhaps the most damaging.

 

The Official Script pretends that the narrow path of spiritual growth and maturity is wide.  The fact remains, as it's always been, that those who love God, exercise genuine faith, and love truth, are in the minority.  Love, faith, and truth are simply too much hassle for most people to care about.

 

The Official Script makes people feel good as opposed to helping them become good.  It's what our fears and our ego want to be true—we want self-preservation and self-glorification to be true and right, to be essential to reality, as opposed to what the Holy Spirit reveals to us as being unassailably and everlastingly true and right.  Things like losing oneself so that one will live, and bringing glory to God instead of to ourselves.

 

The Official Script is hell-bent on removing challenge and difficulty, which are two of the most effective raw materials in forging growth and faith; they're God-given materials that lead to the kind of life that people remember when you're gone.  The Script, instead, erases legacy, deconstructs potential heroism, and wipes away adventure.  It continually reminds us about our sinfulness, hardly telling us anything about our God-given Glory.  It mistakes feeling horrible about ourselves for being humble.

 

Finally, the Official Script has one ironclad law:  It will always bunker around and suckle the status quo in crowning mildness king over and above all other temperaments.  Some of the status quo is good, and some of it is not.  But because the Script-holders have been blinded in pursuit of comfort and mildness, they rarely are capable of distinguishing between them.

Thumos is found eighteen times in the New Testament; seven of those occurrences refer to God's wrath.  In Galatians, we see an example of shadow thumos in the word jealousy, which when smoldering breaks out in wrath.  Thumos and another word for "wrath" (orge) are coupled in two places in Revelation:  "the fierceness (thumos) of his wrath [orge]" and "the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God."

 

For most of us, that's as far as our one-dimensional understanding of this beneficial-slash-harmful attribute goes.  The following is a good example: One popular New Testament commentary shows how narrow is our comprehension of this vibrant attribute.  The author states that thumos means "wrath" and "hot."  "Wrath is like a volcano….stuff a cork in it."

 

This perspective leads to the emaciation and wilting of many souls, largely because it ignores the creative seed in properly handled anger and because it overlooks anger as an intrinsic component to righteous indignation, which should lead to deep and abiding love for those who are weak and oppressed.  The Bible shows a more noble side to this attribute in the way Jesus demonstrated muscular indignation—the kind that battles for transcendent truths, protects others who are being stripped of their worth, and loves those in need in practical ways—as opposed to anger that stems from not getting what we want.  In Jesus we see a thumos that guards and provides for those whom leaders have exploited and abused.

 

Noble thumos burns for the good of others, for God's will to be done on earth as in heaven, and thus it causes people to act; wrathful anger is usually personal, born of envy, self-absorbed, and vengeful.  Stuffing a cork in thumos will diminish your spiritual growth and weaken your faith-in-action!  Anything that says otherwise is a misguided recipe for being unable to wrestle with and tackle real issues in real life.

 

Today's Official Script, though favors lower-thumos and contemplative folks over bolder and more active ones; people who prefer reading to doing; theological polemicists and parsers to mission-minded burden lifters.  Today we applaud the kind of strength that suffers but not the kind that says no, lives courageously, and rescues others the way Christ did.  Why not honor both?

 

And why do we applaud heroic strength in films (for instance) if there's something wrong with having it at church?  This is a sign that we don't honor what our souls tell us is right and good because somehow it doesn't appear "spiritual" enough.

 

Machiavelli observed:

 

This way of living, then, seems to have rendered the world weak and handed it over as prey to wicked men, who can safely manage it when they see that most men think more of going to Heaven by enduring their injuries than by avenging them.

 

The world, he concluded, "has become effeminate and Heaven disarmed" by this kind of faith—the version of Christianity I call "the Official Script."

 

So far I've been giving Official-Script illustrations without providing a real definition of what it is or where it came from.  The Script is a cut-and-paste version of a biblical outlook; while it's an essential part of a life well-lived, it masquerades as the entire thing.  In that sense it's similar to Thomas Jefferson's homemade New Testament, which he called The Life and Morals of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.  Jefferson jettisoned everything supernatural—angels, prophecies, miracles, divinity, and of course, the resurrection.  He considered belief in the metaphysical an embarrassment to a learned man.

 

Our Official Script today retains the supernatural, but it does something similar.  It's scandalized by the mysterious rather than the miraculous.  In an attempt to make the gospel appealing to contemporary bias and prejudice, the Script endeavors to explain and reason through everything.

 

Its grasp overextends its reach and thereby renders God's Word increasingly flaccid and lifeless.  Again: Reason alone has never created or brought about virtue.  The French Revolution is one of many historical examples showing that the idolization of reason often leads instead to destruction and misery.

 

News flash from God to us:  It's okay not to know everything!  In fact, it's good—this leads to deepened faith, spirited animation, and established righteousness in you.  My mysteries keep you hooked, curious, aware, motivated…and I designed it that way.

 

Yes, righteousness.  In Paul's first epistle to Timothy, a letter full of warnings, probes, admonishments, and direct judgment upon those who work against the addressee, Paul concludes with a description of righteousness that sometimes snares today's evangelical eye.

 

            Pursue a righteous life—a life of wonder, faith, love, steadiness, courtesy.

 

Wonder is integral to what it means to pursue righteousness, just as it's inseparable from the creation of courage.  Today's evangelicals often read this verse, miss Paul's point about wonder, and say or think something like, "Hey, wait—what about keeping the main thing the main thing?  What about piety?"

 

The Official Script, ultimately, is what we want to hear as opposed to what we need to hear, and I'm no different than most people when it comes to this convenient game.  I'd rather avoid the things I don't want to hear.  And sometimes I do.

 

There's no better explanation for the Official Script's predominant trait than what we discover in Paul's other letter to his beloved protégé.  With patches of Paul's loving thumos threaded throughout, 2 Timothy deals primarily with the character of a Christian minister.  And here he exposes the underlying motives of those who cling to the Official Script:

 

The time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine.  Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.  They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.

 

I don't know when that time began, which is irrelevant anyway.  What I do know is that when I compare the Bible's overall content, tone, and flavor to what I hear when I flip through the "Christian" programs I find on TV, I can hardly locate similarities.  The only exception I've found recently is on a Catholic cable channel.

 

What we want to hear is pretty much that which makes us comfortable and preserves that comfort.  For example, Scripture doesn't show the luminaries of our faith turning to Christ so they can climb corporate ladders.  But as Americans, we love our money, our bulbous cars and our bulbous homes, so we turn many portions of God's Word into business training classes.  Many of the biblical passages used to promise wealth and advancement are tortured beyond recognition.  The deception continues and at a blistering pace.

 

The Official Script is part myth, part lullaby, and part nursery rhyme.  It's unable to alleviate real suffering and in the process emulate the real Christ.  Also, no one denomination or person defines it or owns it.  It's one large act of group-think (as opposed to God-think). 

 

The truth about life—primarily, that it's hard—is less appealing than the illusions currently swirling around.  Like one of the real biggies:  that you can have a really peaceful life right here, right now.  (Yeah, you can, if you duck and flee all the battles that rage.)

 

Intriguingly, but also frighteningly, this is one of today's main evangelical credos and a basic premise of Eckhart Tolle's A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose.  Neither evangelicalism nor the New Age is accepting (much less embracing) the fact that deep and abiding love, like deep and abiding courage, is risky and sacrificial.  There's no legitimate or truthful way around it: You live, you get hurt.  "Take your share of hardship, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus."

 

            "You are a king, then!" said Pilate.

Jesus answered, "You are right in saying I am a king.  In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.  Everyone on the side of truth listens to me."

 

Truth is demanding and uncompromising, but it's infinitely better than illusion.  Still, most of us prefer illusion—it's less taxing and less disruptive.  This brings us to the Script attribute that's perhaps the most damaging.

 

The Official Script pretends that the narrow path of spiritual growth and maturity is wide.  The fact remains, as it's always been, that those who love God, exercise genuine faith, and love truth, are in the minority.  Love, faith, and truth are simply too much hassle for most people to care about.

 

The Official Script makes people feel good as opposed to helping them become good.  It's what our fears and our ego want to be true—we want self-preservation and self-glorification to be true and right, to be essential to reality, as opposed to what the Holy Spirit reveals to us as being unassailably and everlastingly true and right.  Things like losing oneself so that one will live, and bringing glory to God instead of to ourselves.

 

The Official Script is hell-bent on removing challenge and difficulty, which are two of the most effective raw materials in forging growth and faith; they're God-given materials that lead to the kind of life that people remember when you're gone.  The Script, instead, erases legacy, deconstructs potential heroism, and wipes away adventure.  It continually reminds us about our sinfulness, hardly telling us anything about our God-given Glory.  It mistakes feeling horrible about ourselves for being humble.

 

Finally, the Official Script has one ironclad law:  It will always bunker around and suckle the status quo in crowning mildness king over and above all other temperaments.  Some of the status quo is good, and some of it is not.  But because the Script-holders have been blinded in pursuit of comfort and mildness, they rarely are capable of distinguishing between them.