Anger is a great universal of human existence. All of us know what it feels like to be in anger’s grip. It can be overpowering and sometimes it feels good and at other times it leaves one feeling guilty. All of us have said and done things in anger that we regret and wish we could take back.
Pop psychology tends to view anger as clustered around one of two poles. The poles are ventilation and suppression. Ventilationists attempt to control anger by externalizing it and hope to experience a quick emotional release. They tend not to get ulcers as much as they give them to others. The suppressionists attempt to control anger by internalizing it or stuffing it. This response can create serious psychological and physical ailments. Suppression tends to aggravate aggression, and anger becomes a habit and a way of getting your way. Ventilationists tend to confuse any control over anger with suppression. For the suppressionist way of identifying and dealing with anger the results are quite harmful. Both the ventilationist (blow up) and the suppressionist (clam up) lack a biblical framework regarding the nature of man: created, fallen, redeeming/restoring which resonate with the Gospel.
Anger is something we do with all our person. To put it another way, every part of our human nature is involved. In terms of our body, anger reveals itself in a flushed face, a spike in adrenaline, clenched muscles, tight jaws, rising blood pressure, flared nostrils, irregular breathing, etc. Idioms often used to describe anger would be steaming, smoking, swollen up, etc. Anger is a passion and we feel it as we become upset, measured by an emotional Richter Scale from mild irritability to blind rage. However, we do not have to rant and rave to be angry. Grumpiness, cutting remarks, sulking, self pity and a critical spirit manifest anger. An icy demeanor, as well as statements such as “I don’t get angry I get even” beg the question. Anger also consists of thoughts, mental pictures, attitudes and judgments. Often internal video tapes are replayed over and over again to feed our anger and disgust at perceived injustices. Anger shows up of course in our behavior. Words, cursing, gestures, violence, walking out, heightened decibel levels and threats are evidence of anger. Anger rarely stands alone, it is often intertwines with fear, guilt, fight/flight, etc. Anger can also complicate many other problems. For example, substance abuse is often an attempt to medicate the pain of anger. He or she drinks to control their rage or to mellow out. Engagement with sexual immorality and pornography can be a temper tantrum because God has not given me a spouse. Adultery is often engaged in to get even. Suicide is often the ultimate attempt to get even. Anger plays its way out in all our relationships.
Many of us (if not all) are angry with God and treat Him as we would treat others we are angry with. If I believe God exists to give me what I want (need?) I will burn when He doesn’t deliver. If I curse the heat or humidity I assail God in three ways. First, I forsake Him as the fountain of life and act as if He doesn’t exist. Second, I replace Him as God by elevating my will for comfort to supreme status I the universe. Third, I grumble against Him, criticizing the real author of “bad” weather for displeasing me.
Anger is bodily, emotional, mental, behavioral often intertwined with many other problems. You do anger with all that you are. But where does it come from? Anger is natural to human beings in two very different ways. It is natural as a component of the image of God in man. Adam and Eve should have responded to the serpent with anger thus reacting with strong emo-
tion, violence and an attempt to kill him. We are hardwired with a capacity for anger at wrong and evil as an expression of our love for God and those who could be harmed. Since we have received mercy we have the capacity to hate wrong and love those who do it. We are also hardwired for resentment and hatred. Righteously aroused anger can degenerate into self-righteous actions such as gossip, self pity, vengeance, cynicism and accusation. Nobody ever has to teach us how to throw a tantrum, we instinctively know that.
Anger is learned in two different ways. First it is taught and modeled to us by our families. We pick it up and learn what to be upset about and how to express it appropriately or inappropriately. Cultural influences also shape us. A second way anger is learned is by practice. It becomes a second nature to us, a manner of life. Some are rather obvious about expressing anger and telegraph it and others are more prone to guerilla strikes out of nowhere. Some use intimidation and control; others sit in the corner and sulk, and withdraw from and avoid others.
Anger is a moral matter. Anger both evaluates and is itself evaluated. Anger is a self-contained judicial system and it judges against perceived evils. Anger is evaluated i.e. God judges our judging. God evaluates both my criterion for judgment and my ways of reacting to perceived evil. Anger is not neutral, it is not merely getting something off one’s chest or being honest. It can be self centered and very harmful.
What is some criteria by which we can evaluate our anger with wisdom? Do you get angry at the right things? Autonomous men generate their own set of expectations and their own laws or their own criteria. Good and bad are evaluated on the basis of their laws and react angrily when they are violated. The wise man submits to God’s revealed criteria of good and bad, right and wrong and gets angry appropriately.
Do you express anger in a right way? Sometimes we are not able to remove the speck in another’s eye because of the tree trunk in our own eyes. Do we merely condemn or do we offer help and hope? Jesus’ anger in driving out the money changers from the temple was an attempt to help them see their sin and self righteousness and to repent.
How long should our anger last? Ephesians 4:26 says, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger”. If it lasts too long we give the devil an opportunity to get a foothold and wreak havoc. If we allow anger to fester into a grudge or resentment we can become poisoned with malice and contempt. The day of our anger is also the day of our mercy.
How do you control anger? Alone, you cannot. But by acknowledging our weakness and trusting God’s grace and power we can see it brought under control. The Holy Spirit will produce His fruit as we trust Him (Galatians 5:26-27).
What motivates anger? What should motivate anger in us is the glory of God and the well being of others. What usually is the motive for our anger is pride, self-centered self righteousness which are all fruits of idolatry. If you get in the way of my worship of power, pleasure, comfort, control or approval you may quickly become an object of my wrath. Therefore we must examine the motives for our anger.
What are the effects of our anger? Sinful anger creates more problems, conflict, chaos and harm than we know. Righteous anger can do more good, offer more help and grace than we often think.
“Be angry and sin not!” Ephesians 4:26