Section 14C ..
Emotions and Psychology

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Christian Anger
By David Winters

(I do not consider myself an authority of any kind, merely someone trying to walk in accordance with God's Word and serve Him as best I can.)

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My last column touched on some of the hidden dangers of sin. One temptation of sin is obvious and it's what we usually think about when people mention "temptation": Thoughts of ourselves being tempted (and sometimes sinning as a result). Temptation is double-edged and I wrote about the second, hidden edge: Sinning, not as a reaction to personal temptation, but as a reaction to others' temptations and sins.

See What Is Sin?
Anyone who does not view sin as God views it is making a gargantuan mistake. Most people consider themselves 'good people' by the generally accepted ideas as to what constitutes respectable behavior. However. although their lives and conduct may meet the world's approval it may fall very short when it comes to the benchmark set by the Bible.

I wrote specifically about judging others, and about anger, as two of potential traps. I gave an example of God's anger, as well as an example of Jesus getting angry with onlookers just before He demonstrated His power by healing a man's withered hand on the Sabbath. But my only mention of our mortal anger was quoting James' exhortation to be slow to anger, as being incompatible with Godly righteousness. To reiterate:

    This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. James 1:19-20, NASB

Jesus Himself instructs us about anger, and His command carries with it a great sense of urgency:

    "Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift. Matthew 5:21-26, NIV

Paul, while quoting Psalms 4:4, also commands us to deal with our anger promptly; it sounds very much like Jesus' command:

    In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.  Ephesians 4:26, NIV

These two passages instruct Christians to handle anger quickly. We are not to let anger sit and fester, where it will doubtlessly cause greater problems down the road. Taken together with the first passage quoted, all three warn us to handle anger very carefully, as anger can frequently be inherently destructive.

There can be no denying that anger is very powerful. This power is what leads to its incredible potential for destruction. So what are Christians to make of anger, and how are we to handle it?

A quick look at anger itself might prove instructive. I have read of anger described very simply as a desire for change. This description makes a lot of sense to me, and I have thought about it many times since encountering it. I think it puts anger into a perspective where it can be mastered, instead of allowing it to master us.

Remembering this definition can give us cause, when becoming angry, to stop and think: Why am I becoming angry? What is it about this situation that I wish was different?

More importantly, it can also allow us the perspective to examine ourselves, leading to questions like, Is this a real problem, something to get angry about, or am I becoming angry because of my reaction to it? What, if anything, can I do to change this situation?

Most importantly, training ourselves to think when we feel anger rising should lead to the self-control necessary to ask the big questions: What do the Scriptures say about this kind of problem? How does God want me to react? How can I let my light shine in this? I want things to be different, but is this maybe what God wants?

Can you remember any time when you reacted out of anger and did something, something you might have done very differently, if you had asked yourself how God would want the situation handled? I can.

I think a reading of the book of Job is very instructive. If anyone can make a case for being angry at God, it was Job. With God's permission, Job's family and possessions were taken from him, and then he was afflicted with painful sores and lesions. But what was his response when his wife invited him to curse God?

    But he said to her, "You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?" In all this Job did not sin with his lips. Job 2:10, NASB

No anger at God in that response, just acceptance.

Job probably would have preferred that what happened to him, had never happened. This illustrates a subset of "things we wish were different," which consists of things that God has set forth in His plans for us, but which we don't want. The answer here is simple: We must submit to God's will. We may not like everything that God chooses for us, and we probably won't understand all of His plans for us, but this is immaterial. As Christians, we have pledged our lives to Him and to trying to emulate His son. Jesus followed God's commands even when He would have preferred something different. In the night before His crucifixion, Jesus prayed:

    And He withdrew from them about a stone's throw, and He knelt down and began to pray, saying, "Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done." Now an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him.  Luke 22:41-43

Jesus, though he knew that then only remission of sins was through blood, did not relish the pain of the crucifixion. Nevertheless, He submitted Himself to His Father's will. In the same way, we must submit ourselves to God. [Also See Salvation]

But for the most part, we will encounter unwanted things that aren't sent our way by God, aren't part of His plan. In many cases, they'll be actively opposed to His plan! Petty annoyances, such as a broken elevator; rudeness; inconsiderate drivers whose actions endanger us, themselves, and others; corruption in people who should be trustworthy; crime and sexual impurity; and all of the other harvests of sin, are what we face every day. When facing these situations, and when getting angry, this is when we need to stop and ask ourselves some questions:

Why am I becoming angry?
A: Almost invariably the answer will be, "Because I see something that I don't like." What is it? What don't I like about it? Why does it bother me?

Q: What is it about this situation that I wish was different?
A: (There are simply too many possibilities, each based on the individual situation, to do justice to this question with examples.)

Q: Is this a real problem, something to get angry about, or am I becoming angry because of my reaction to it?
A: Sometimes "problems" aren't intrinsically problems, but become problems because of our past experiences and/or how we look at things. It's important to know the difference. If something is really only a problem to us, we are obligated to examine ourselves to determine if it's really our own viewpoint that's at fault.

Q: What do the Scriptures say about this kind of problem?
A: As with the second bullet point, there are too many possibilities for me to delve into example answers. But the Scriptures do say things about how we should approach every problem:

    "Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,' when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother's eye.  Luke 6:41-42, NASB

We are all sinners, we all have faults, and in approaching all problems we must keep these facts in mind. Paul reinforced this when he wrote,

    This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. Romans 3:22-24, NIV

A third passage that I think is worthwhile to keep in mind, is Luke 6:36-38:

    "Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned. Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure -- pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return." (NASB)

These passages to not so much give ideas about what should be done in specific situations. Instead, they tell us how our attitudes should be in all situations. In my opinion, they are especially relevant whenever anger is possible.

Q: What, if anything, can I do to change this situation? How does God want me to react? How can I let my light shine in this?
A: These questions are intertwined. The first two seem to be asking the same thing, but from different viewpoints: The first asks what we can do with worldly motivation, while the second asks what we can do with Godly motivation. These two questions are actually asking the same thing because, for the Christian, there should be no such thing as "worldly motivation." Everything we do should be motivated by God's desires, and it should be done for His kingdom.

We are called to let our light shine in all things. When tense situations arise, we must act in such a way that people who are used to seeing anger and hostility, instead see peace and grace in us. The stranger this seems to them, the stronger is our living witness for Christ.

Q: I want things to be different, but is this maybe what God wants?
A: This question calls for prayer and, as I have written above, submission if the unwanted event is indeed God's will.

I realize that that's quite a list of questions to keep in mind when anger looms and the blood begins to heat. I'm not sure I'll be able to think of them all, myself, and I made up the list! But I suspect that the effort is worthwhile, because it could lead to cooler tempers and more Godly actions.

This column has turned out to have a much different feel. As much as anything else, it has been me thinking out loud about anger. As much as the "desire for change" description of anger has helped me to understand it better, anger is still a very complex thing and I think that my understanding only barely scratches the surface. This has been a difficult column to write because I'm still mainly mystified by anger, especially because I didn't want to present myself as someone who a) fully understands anger, or b) can offer authoritative answers on dealing with it. I hope that it has given you some ideas about how to deal with anger in a manner pleasing to God. Writing it has certainly given me some ideas.

Copyright ©2002 David Winters. All rights reserved.

Index To The Christian and Emotions