The ultimate trigger warning

iStock / Getty Images Plus/StockSanta
iStock / Getty Images Plus/StockSanta

There’s a guy I used to work with who gets triggered by almost every Christian-themed post I make on social media. As an example, when I shared a quote from a former pastor on a pro-life pregnancy center getting torched by extremists, the guy blew back a ton of venom and dismissed what media personalities, who clearly major in “easily fooled” studies at their chosen university, define as a “peaceful (wink, wink) protest”.

I mostly don’t respond because, to my way of thinking, it’s got to be awful to wake up every morning and have your life governed by a hair trigger like that. But unfortunately, there are countless others like him out there. So many in fact that cancel culture does its best to warn about or remove any news or language that “triggers” a negative emotional reaction to something they don’t like.

You’ll be shocked to learn that it doesn’t help.

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According to an article in the New Yorker, “The results of around a dozen psychological studies, published between 2018 and 2021, are remarkably consistent, and they differ from conventional wisdom: they find that trigger warnings do not seem to lessen negative reactions to disturbing material … Indeed, some studies suggest that the opposite may be true.”

There’s a reason trigger warnings don’t work as intended and why every culture in history has had problems being “triggered” whether they’ve had social media or not.

The root of the problem

If there was ever a time to issue the ultimate trigger warning, it was when God decided to deliver His moral Law to us.

Why? Because we hate it.

Look at this incredibly revealing verse from Paul’s letter to the Romans: “For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death” (Rom. 7:5, my emphasis).

Paul says that “while we were in the flesh,” meaning in an unsaved state, our “sinful passions” that we have had since the day we were born (Ps. 51:5) have been triggered (“aroused”) by God’s Law.

In other words, merely knowing about God’s moral pronouncements sets us off.

This has been happening pretty much forever; just look at what David wrote thousands of years ago: “Why are the nations in an uproar and the peoples devising a vain thing? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers take counsel together against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying, “Let us tear their fetters apart and cast their cords away from us!” (Ps. 2:1-3).

The Hebrew word for “uproar” is ragash, which means to be in a tumult or commotion with large amounts of rage. Pretty much defines our culture, wouldn’t you say?  

And why are we mad? Because we want to overthrow the demands of God’s moral Law that are on us, which David calls “fetters” and “cords.” 

Amazingly, the Bible tells us that being triggered in this fashion is God’s design. Paul tells us “The Law came in so that the transgression would increase” (Rom. 5:20).

Egads. Why would God want to trigger us like that and seemingly make things worse?

John MacArthur provides this helpful commentary: “The unbeliever’s rebellious nature is awakened when restrictions are placed on them and makes them want to do the very things the Law forbids. Although the Mosaic law is not flawed (Rom. 7:12), its presence caused man’s sin to increase (cf. 7:8–11). Thus, it made men more aware of their own sinfulness and inability to keep God’s perfect standard (7:7; Gal. 3:21–22), and it served as a tutor to drive them to Christ (Gal. 3:24).

As many Christian leaders have said, you can’t tell someone that they need to be saved until you first show them the thing from which they need to be saved. God’s moral Law does just this —  it triggers us and shows us our sin, moving us to repent and trust Him for salvation. 

This is why authors Jon Hinkson and Greg Ganssle often say to their students, “Let me tell you why, if the biblical story is true, you will hear it threateningly, and why you ought to apply a hermeneutic of suspicion to that very reaction.”

So, my former co-worker who gets triggered over anything I post that’s remotely Christian-based is experiencing and feeling precisely what God wants him to experience. And he gets no trigger warning; just hope that one day such a thing will drive him to Christ.

Robin Schumacher is an accomplished software executive and Christian apologist who has written many articles, authored and contributed to several Christian books, appeared on nationally syndicated radio programs, and presented at apologetic events. He holds a BS in Business, Master's in Christian apologetics and a Ph.D. in New Testament. His latest book is, A Confident Faith: Winning people to Christ with the apologetics of the Apostle Paul.

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