Emotion #4: The Torment of Anger – Pt. 1
“You’re familiar with the command to the ancients, ‘Do not murder.’ I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother ‘idiot!’ and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell ‘stupid!’ at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill. This is how I want you to conduct yourself in these matters. If you enter your place of worship and, about to make an offering, you suddenly remember a grudge a friend has against you, abandon your offering, leave immediately, go to this friend and make things right. Then and only then, come back and work things out with God” - Matthew 5:21-24 MSG
The Root of Anger
Where does anger come from? What typically drives us to anger? For many, it's triggered by one of the other deadly emotions. Levels of anger might be caused by pride, confrontation of a fear, the twinge of jealousy, or the burden of a shame. People can easily offend us in areas where we are already wounded, and our past angers can enter our present situation in a flash of emotion.
Anger is “an emotional state that varies in intensity from mild irritation to intense fury and rage”, according to Charles Spielberger, Ph.D., a psychologist who specializes in the study of this deadly emotion. Unmet expectation is often at the root of anger. When things don't go as we plan or people don't do what we want them to do, our disappointment can lead to different intensities of anger. Experts encourage us to manage and redirect anger, but what does God's Word say about managing the anger in our lives? God knew people would hurt us, wound us, and betray us. He knew people would lie to us, steal from us, and gossip about us. What does He expect of us in these situations? God knew anger would be a part of our lives or He wouldn't have addressed it the way He does:
“So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” James 1:19-20
God tells us to react slowly to situations that might cause the rise of our anger. And then He asks us to be slow to get angry. That sounds logical. We'd buy into that as a general rule of behavior, right? So, why is it hard to do those two things when the title wave of frustration comes over us and we want to give voice to the rage or hurt we feel? What can we do when anger slams into our hearts?
Unless we're willing to release the people or the incidents in our lives that we deem unfair, we will never be free from anger. Our goal is to avoid letting anger fester, grow, and eventually dominate our lives and the people in our lives. We want to experience freedom, abundance and fulfillment, and live a whole, fulfilling life.
“Be angry, and do not sin”: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil.” Ephesians 4:26-27
Anger Must Be Surrendered
A simmering anger lies right below the surface for some people; an anger that goes undetected until triggered. Let's look at Tom, an example of the impact of brewing, stewing anger.
Tom had outbursts of anger that were triggered by situations with his wife or kids. But what they did or said was not the source of his anger. He was mad at and disappointed in himself. He had spent years living a secret life that involved delving into pornography and prostitution. Because he had so much disgust for himself, simmering anger was constant and always ready to explode. One day while waiting for his wife, Barbara, to come out of the store, he suddenly lost his patience and decided her time for shopping was up. She'd only been in the store for five minutes, but to Tom it was five minutes too long. He marched into the store fuming, walked up to the counter where she was checking out, and unleashed the anger he'd been holding in. This wasn't a response to the situation at hand; it was a response to years of self-loathing. Barbara stood there humiliated and her own anger arose. This wasn't the first time Tom had berated her; he'd been doing this for years to her and the children.
Would you be friends with someone like Tom? Would you let his outbursts of anger at home or at work slide? In Tom's case, he held back his strong wrath at work. In fact, if someone at work were asked, they would say Tom was one of the most polite, friendly men they knew. I spoke with a domestic abuse counselor, and she shared that this is often the case with those who are abusive. They present charming personalities in the workplace and even with their families and spouses when necessary. But their dark side is very dark. Their anger is poison, and when unleashed, the venom is lethal. By squelching his anger during the day, Tom saved a mighty rush of it for his family when he got home.
For Tom to surrender his anger he would have to surrender control. Most of us struggle with the surrender of control part, but when faced with losing our families or the purpose of God for our lives, hopefully most of us would wake up to the necessity of giving our lives over to God's care. Once we confess and reveal our anger, the unforgiveness and bitterness that rages inside of us, we can walk a new path.