A disproportionate reaction is a reaction to an event or occurrence which seems out of proportion to the event itself. People’s reactions to spiders, for example, can be disproportionate to the actual threat posed; people with a real phobia of spiders may scream and become hysterical even at the sight of a small, harmless spider, whereas others may not even notice them! Usually, if we have disproportionate reactions to something, it’s because we can’t see it in a rational or measured way; we are influenced unduly by our fears or by the way we have been taught to see that event.
The crowd’s reaction to Paul’s testimony about God sending him to be a witness to the Gentiles seems disproportionate to us as we read this account (Acts 22:21-30). They shouted and screamed at him to the point where he could not continue speaking; they threw off their cloaks and flung dust into the air. Their speech was hostile (“Rid the earth of him! He’s not fit to live!” Acts 22:22). It can be difficult for us to understand at all why their reactions were so violent, and even if we begin to grasp the historical context of the Jewish people, we are still left with responses which cannot really be rationally explained (because God’s purposes were always that the Jewish people would be a light to the Gentiles and that all people would be blessed.)
When we face reactions that seem so out of proportion – a mother snapping at a child’s misdemeanour, a boss yelling at an employee who is only a few minutes late, a friend bursting into tears over what we thought was an innocent comment – we need to understand that what we see is usually only the tip of the iceberg. Jesus said that we speak out of the overflow of our hearts (Matt 12:34), and reactions or responses reveal what is going on much deeper within us. Our reactions reveal the dashed hopes, irrational fears, anxieties and worries which we may well conceal most of the time from other people, but which ultimately influence us to the point where we cannot hide them forever. If a reaction is disproportionate to the event, we need to dig deeper. What is the underlying fear? What is the real issue? It’s too easy to focus on the actual ‘blowout’ or response. Instead, we need to ask God to search us and help us to understand what is really going on: ‘Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.’ (Ps 139:23) That way, we can move forward in asking for and giving forgiveness, in understanding what makes us and other people tick, and ultimately in reacting in ways that reflect the self-control which is a fruit of God’s Holy Spirit in us. (Gal 5:22-23)
Some reactions on an individual and political level are also disproportionate: the fierce antipathy towards Christians shown by some individuals and some countries, for example, reflects not only personal bias but a hostility that has spiritual roots, for the enemy does not want to see God’s kingdom come on this earth. Paul reminds the Ephesians that ‘our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.’ (Eph 6:12) We need spiritual wisdom and discernment to understand reactions like this and need to use spiritual weapons to defeat this opposition. (2 Cor 10:5)