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  • Listening to the World:Prophetic Anger and Sapiential Compassion
  • Felix Wilfred

Pope Benedict XVI has insisted all along how the absence of reference to God has caused dehumanization in our world. Unfortunately, what does not seem to occur to him and those who think along these lines is how the absence of concern and engagement with the issue of suffering—poverty, oppression, racism, and sexism—causes dehumanization. Suffering epitomizes the condition of our contemporary world. This is the meeting point of any meaningful common discourse of religious traditions, independent of the God question. For those believing in God, the very God question is itself bound up with the question of suffering. As Gustavo Gutierrez has rightly pointed out, the real question today is how to speak about God in a world of suffering, and indeed suffering of the innocent.1

a world not angry enough

What defines us as individuals and groups is the way we respond to suffering. This is a crucial question. For, as Hannah Arendt has drawn to our attention, there is something like a banality of evil.2 Its everyday genesis and manifestations are not anything sensational, as they are mostly committed by ordinary men and women who go about their daily lives and are by no means moral monsters.

The first sentiment in responding to suffering should be a sense of horror, trembling, and indignation at the injustice inflicted on the victims, and that is very important. We note that the environment we live in is so politicized that human beings are less and less shocked by the horror of evil. Suffering has become a matter of statistics, codification, media commercialization, and photography.3

What strikes us is the fact that anger characterized men and women of great leadership, because they were upset with the existing situation and they imagined a different order of things. Moses was such a man in the biblical tradition. In modern times, such was the case for example with B. R. Ambedkar, the foremost leader of the Dalits (“Untouchables”) of India, and Martin Luther King Jr. of the civil rights movement in the United States, both of whom were great, angry leaders. We could [End Page 63] characterize this as “holy anger.” It aims not at destroying the enemies or punishing them but at redeeming a society from the consequences of suffering.

prophetic anger: some salient features

When we speak of prophetic anger, the question that could be raised is: Whose anger? It is first and foremost the anger of the victims. For it is they who know the pain evil inflicts in the form of grinding poverty, violence, and humiliation. Along with the victims, we have those in solidarity with them who express rage at the situations of gross injustice. Anger is of different kinds. Anger can and does often accompany the spirit of vindication and revenge.4 This anger is aimed at others as enemies, and as threats to oneself. But prophetic anger has a direct reference to justice. The anger of the victims has something visceral about it. The whole being of the victim reacts to the injustice and oppression suffered—be it women; discriminated-against ethnic, religious, or linguistic minorities; or any victim of human rights violations. There is then ample room to speak about “black rage,” “Dalit rage,” and “gender rage,” which express the anguish of the victims pushed to the wall through long-standing oppression and yet having the strength to imagine something different. Prophetic anger is a healing anger. It opens the wounds of society and has ultimately the goal of healing them.

Prophetic anger is the result of being gripped by an encounter and experience of something wonderful and exceedingly beautiful beyond the present distortion of reality. This is something different from a mere human passion. Like symbols that help us convey what words and speech are incapable of, so anger is a medium to bridge the gulf that divides the lofty realities and the misery of the prevailing situation. The encounter and experience that is in the prophets also finds expression in prophetic anger as it is directed at the cause behind the suffering of the innocent.

Prophetic anger is directed...