Every once in awhile, someone will suggest some topic I might address here. My friend Bob suggested I might take a look at anger management. Now, that’s a tough one, I struggle a lot to keep my anger in check. Hopefully we can learn a little something together.
There are lots of things in our world that can well up anger inside of us. We’ve just completed an election, there will be winners and losers, and there will be anger. I think maybe our political divide has gotten too tribal, so we invest a lot of who we are in the political viewpoint we hold. I think its good to be passionate about what we believe, what we feel. What’s not so good is when we let that passion overflow and become fanaticism. In that scenario we begin to divide between us and them, friends and enemies, tribe against tribe. We demonize and dehumanize those on the opposite side from us. This gives rise to much anger and resentment when an election or decision comes down that we don’t like or agree with.
Our anger can be stoked by personal attacks or affronts that go against our grain. When someone comes at us on the offensive, attacking what we believe or stand for, attacking what we’ve said, attacking who we believe ourselves to be, our anger can get the best of us and have us acting out in unseemly ways.
Sometimes, our anger can be brought to the fore because of an injustice we’ve experienced or seen to occur to others. When we witness persons treated harshly, or oppressed, or their wellbeing not treated with urgency, or someone’s dignity being diminished, we may rightly feel anger.
Is our anger something we should strive to control, or is it simply something that is and we roll with it? I seek to control my outbursts of anger. I fail miserably much of the time. My anger leaves a very unpleasant feeling inside of me. I don’t like being angry, and even when I feel justified in my anger, I resent the cause of my anger.
When I look through the scriptures, I find quite a bit written about anger, hmmmm, maybe that means its important for us to pay attention to.
In James 1:19-20 we’re told; “19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,
20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” Slow to become angry, interesting. Maybe we are being told anger is something we really should pay attention to and keep in check. It also delineates human anger, from divine anger. Human anger, we’re told, does not produce the righteousness God desires. That may be something we should consider. Would human anger be what wells up in us because of personal attacks or things that affect us personally? I wonder if what we are being told is to hold our anger in check when the issue is personal? I wonder if divine anger has more to do with justice issues others have to suffer through?
In Ephesians 4:26-27 we read; “‘In your anger do not sin’ : Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold.” This is enlightening. “In your anger do not sin.” Maybe we are hearing anger should never lead us into dehumanizing or mistreating others. We are told to “not give the devil a foothold.” That too is revealing. Our anger can allow all manner of evil and unholy thoughts and actions to come to the surface in us. We are to guard against allowing our anger to then allow evil to take hold of us. Another thing we hear in this passage is to “not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” Might it be that we are told our anger should not last long. Might it be that there should be a time limit we allow our anger to burn hot in us? We know anger is not healthy for us. We know anger can cause our bodies to react in very debilitating ways. God made us, and knows us intimately. Could it be God is saying anger is one of the last things we should allow to come upon us. It should be exhibited and allowed to surface as a last resort?
Ah, Ecclesiastes 7:9 has a profound statement on why we should keep our anger in check. “Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools.” I resonate with the writer of Ecclesiastes. I find I do not act in helpful or appropriate ways when I am angry. When I’ve found myself angry about something, I’m quick to formulate a plan of how to seek retribution or vengeance. I’m thinking furiously how I can counter what has made me angry. I write, so I begin to write a letter or email. I can feel all the fury of my anger as I tap out the words. I read what I’ve written and feel very justified in my response. Then I try to say to myself, “Self, is this really what you want to say? Is this really the right approach to address this issue? Is this what Jesus would say?” More often than not, I press the delete button. But the exercise of getting my anger out into written form serves me well. I can feel the anger flowing into what I’m writing. Then I review what I’ve written and somehow I allow God to prick my consciousness and ask me if this is really what I want to say?
The wise writer of Proverbs 15:1 says; “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” I can attest to the validity of this statement. Every time I feel angry, but subvert the anger to speak in gentle and loving tones, it has the effect of calming the situation I find myself in. I wish I could remember that more often before I speak.
The Psalmist says in Psalm 37:8 “Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil.” Again, wise words for us to hear and adhere to. Anger and wrath are powerful things and are not necessarily controllable. Refraining from allowing these to issue forth from us is very wise counsel.
Each of us have to deal with our own feelings of anger and assess when that anger is appropriate. If in fact, we can keep our anger in check when it would lead to hurtful words being spoken, or destructive actions being engaged in, we are doing what God desires. Angry words are never words of grace, or mercy, or forgiveness, or love. Angry words have only one aim, that is to harm. To think of how we can respond in anger may at first give us solace and a sense of justification. But if we allow the God who dwells in us to come to the surface, we will realize that’s not how we are to act with one another.
I’m not saying keeping our anger in check is easy, its not. What I am saying is, on those occasions when I have been able to do so, the result leaves me feeling closer to who God has made me to be.
May God’s love and grace so cover us that we are examples of that love and grace. When occasions of anger present themselves, may God give us the ability to slowly and wisely choose our words and actions.
Your fellow traveler on the Way,