Yelling, dishes flying, quiet seething, festering rage. No matter how it manifests, anger is destructive.
I’ll tackle anger first in this series because, to be honest, it is one of the trials of my own life. I have a temper and a half. I may try to laugh it off and blame it on my heritage, my “Cuban temper,” but to be real; it is something I have struggled with for years.
The negative aspects of anger are pretty obvious; it leads to rage and wrath and eventually to hatred and violence.
The origin of anger is usually that we didn’t get our way or we feel disappointed in some manner, let down or upset that someone did not act in a way we think they should have. Frustration (to have plans and efforts defeated, or made worthless) often leads to anger. We decide to give of ourselves in some manner and then things don’t turn out like we hoped. It feels personal, we get angry.
Injustice, this is a big one, and perhaps one of the only bona fide “excuses” for anger. Most of the time though, the person we are trying to protect from perceived injustices is Me. Share the wealth a bit hey? Let’s spread some of that “righteous indignation” around and champion for people who don’t have a voice.
The purpose of anger would be to spur us to action. Unfortunately since most of the time, anger is ignited by an outside source; just exactly what this action should be is quite limited.
To be honest, while there are things in this world that are worth being angry over, many of the things that drive us to anger are not. You should be angry at sin. You should not be angry that your spouse (fill in the blank).
The appropriate response is first to not let the anger get a foothold in our minds (that’s where the “sin not” part comes in). The hard part is understanding that since we can’t control other people, the only way to work around the disappointment is to adjust our expectations. Can I say it this way? You can’t change others so you’d best just change your mind. (is that a country song? Or did I really just come up with that?)
There are so many variables but I’ll address the ones that apply to me and hopefully they will help you as well.
- Spouse. I can’t change him. Anger only drives wedges and ruins harmony. My only appropriate action is to change my expectations. This probably also applies to parents, church, work, and road rage. I know this is easier said than done. I’m married to the perfect man, but the rest of you sometimes have to deal with… Ok, I can’t finish that sentence even as a joke. He’s not perfect. I’m not perfect. There are clashes. Thunderstorms if you will. I can’t change him. And when I’m very honest with myself, I really don’t want to change him. God made him and He is far smarter than I am. What if one of the things I decided to change was one of the things God put there on purpose? So even if I could, I shouldn’t, and since I can’t, it’s all a moot point. Instead, I have to change my expectations or I’m going to be in an repeating cycle of frustration and anger.
- Children. If I’m angry with them, it is more than likely because I should be training them differently or more consistently. Anger begets anger and the scripture specifically tells me not to provoke my children. When I react in anger to my children, it sets of a chain of emotions that are all quite harmful. I don’t want that. I need to change that. Not next time. NOW. If my kids are up for the eleventy-seventh time since they were sent to bed, it is almost certainly because I have let them know that I don’t really mean that they have to go to bed. If I don’t mean what I say, where on earth do I get the right to be angry at them not doing what I say? I have not taught them to obey. MY problem. Needs to be dealt with, not get an angry reaction. And when the angry part wins, I need to immediately apologize, because doing so trains me.
- Sin. Let me be blunt, human trafficking, child abuse, genocide… these should make us angry. I am very guilty of simply choosing to not think about things that I find abhorrent. They are too big for me to fix and they are emotionally exhausting to even think about. I realize that the Lord gives burdens for different issues to different people, but ignoring things because they are yucky to think about? Just as unacceptable as fruitless anger. These are the true injustices that are supposed to make us angry and goad us to action.
Eph. 4:26 Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: Matthew Henry says that we should be sure to not try and turn the “be ye angry” into a command, for God knows we are apt enough to be plenty angry on our own. Instead the imperative is on the “sin not.”
The other very interesting thing (for me at least!) is that doing a word study on anger in this verse show us that it means to show a “settled opposition” –as in an opposition to sin. A sinful anger would focus on the offender rather than the moral content of the offense. to have a proper response, this is a vital distinction.
Perhaps the most difficult part of the verse for us to obey is the part that tells us to not let the sun go down on our wrath. So you find yourself aquiver with agitation over some injustice, don't make stew with it. Deal with it now. Anger that sits, festers. Just as pain in our body needs to be considered, and taken care of, so does anger.
What caused this emotion?
Is it something I should be angry over?
Is it something I can change outside of myself (make a donation to an organization that fights human trafficking) or does the change need to occur within me (adjust my expectations of my spouse or co-workers, train my children more consistently)?
What is my plan? Not just, “oh I need to do better on that.” I’m here to say; telling yourself that you will do better next time is useless. It is almost always followed by the thought, “but not this time, because they deserved it.”
I wish I could write a glowing report about my full deliverance from all anger issues. However, I believe that emotions are part of us and since God created them (and he also feels emotion), he’s not likely to remove them any time soon. What he can and will do, is change our response.
I do want to give you hope though and I would never want to be cliché and tell anyone to “just pray about it.” I firmly believe that there is a good bit that we have to make the effort to do. However, God is not leaving us out on a limb to deal with these potentially destructive emotions on our own. I do urge you to make it a matter of prayer; ask the Lord to show you a specific plan of action. Romans 12:2 tells us to renew our minds. That word literally means a change or new development. The goal isn’t to never again feel anger; to do that, we would lose the ability to see injustices. The goal is to gain a proper understanding of how these emotions are supposed to function and get a handle on how to let anger be a call to action rather than have it turn to rage and control us.