Anger is one of those difficult emotions to talk about because many people don’t deal with their anger in a productive way. When we talk about anger it’s common for some people to feel shame either because of the way they have acted out when they were angry or because they feel they are responsible for someone’s actions when they were angry. My goal in bringing up anger isn’t to make you feel bad, but to actually help remove that shame.
The truth is, I’ve been an angry person and there are days that I still struggle with how to deal with my anger. Once when I was in college, I was on the phone with my girlfriend, I don’t remember the conversation, but I do I know that my anger caused me to I crossed a line. There was a split second where in my head I thought, “what she has just said makes me very angry” and I had a choice to make, a stupid choice, but a choice. I could end the conversation and hang up the phone or I could hang up the phone and go into an animal rage… for some reason the animal rage thing seemed like it would make me feel better and so I demolished a 55 gallon trash can. I took a rubber made trashcan and bent it inside out. If it were a person they would have gone to the hospital… My roommates had no idea about the phone conversation came out wide eyed and saw what I did to the trashcan and were like, “Wow, what happened?” And all I could mutter was, “Stupid Trashcan.”
I felt so ashamed. I had crossed a line. In my rage I destroyed a trashcan. (Can I tell you that Rubber-made trashcans don’t always bounce back). That isn’t all that my anger destroyed. It destroyed my reputation with my roommates. Once everything calmed down it became a joke around our cottage. Don’t get Jonathan angry he will dent you like a Rubber-Made. Anger has the capacity to destroy.
But don’t think that anger is just a negative emotion, anger can also cause you to do great things. I think anger is a gift from your Creator. I know that Jesus was angry. Take a look at Mark 3:5, “And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.”
Do you know what made Jesus angry? The hardness of the people’s heart. They had made a rule, a false rule. They had taken God’s rule “to honor the Sabbath day and keep it holy,” and added so many other rules around it that when Jesus, who had the power to heal, walked into town, they forbid him to heal people on the Sabbath! Imagine your sister lying sick on a bed dying of cancer and there is nothing that modern medicine can do for her other than make her a little sicker and hope to give her a few more months to live and Jesus comes to your town on a Sunday. He’s willing to heal, but these guys actually show up at the edge of town and say, “No healing on Sunday’s, we’re watching you mister!”
I’d be angry. Jesus was angry. He was right to be angry. Anger can move you to action faster than compassion. Most people who want to change the world do so not because they are compassionate people, but because they have been angry at injustice. They see the wrong in the world and they feel like they are on a mission to fix it.
The apostle Paul actually tells us to be angry. “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil” (Ephesians 4:26-27, ESV). But we have to be careful about how we are angry. Anger is like handling a loaded weapon. You don’t play games with a loaded gun.
So anger isn’t wrong, but how we react can be wrong, because let’s face it, not many of us get mad about something and start a charity to provide clean drinking water in Sudan. Usually we get mad about something much more personal and centered on us so we yell, we argue, we punch, we shut down and don’t talk, we glare, we gossip, we tear down, we hurl insults, we cry, we do things we are not proud of and in just a moment we say or do something that we regret. The reason is because we are angry for the wrong reasons.
We feel right in the moment because we have endorphins running through our head. You can say the stupidest things when you are angry and it will make perfect sense to you. You will feel so right and justified about what you said or did in your mind. You can’t reason with an angry person it’s like they are high on stupid. They just keep repeating the same old stuff like it makes sense… “San Antonio is in California!”
James reminds us though that just because we feel right in our anger doesn’t, it doesn’t make us right. “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20, ESV). Most of our anger is wrong, because we choose to be mad for the wrong reasons. You see it’s easy to see injustice when it is happening to someone else. It is difficult to see when it’s us. We like to take up to our defense too quickly. It’s like calling your own fouls in basketball. It’s way to easy to be they guy fouling the snot out of everyone else and then calling the slightest bump on you. You don’t have the right perspective because human nature has a tendency to cause us to be lenient on ourselves and harsh on others.
I got into a fight at school one time because a guy accidentally bumped into me. I though he did it on purpose. I got angry and took up for myself. I quickly judged his motives as being accusatory. Had I been patient I would have realized it was an accident, as it was, I punched him in the face and then asked, “Why did you bump me in the hall way?” And as he nearly knocked me out with his return punch, he said, “it was an accident.” After that I learned that it’s always good to ask questions before you throw punches.
When it comes to anger you need to deal with it quickly. It’s like milk. Milk is initially good and good for you, but if you leave it sitting out past it’s expiration date and you get something different. Your anger is the same way. Hold on to it for too long and it will turn into bitterness! Bitterness can sour everything in your life. Paul says, “be angry and do not sin.” Milk is good for you, it’s good for your skin, your bones, etc. but rotten milk… not so good, at least for your stomach. Deal with your anger quickly. (and by deal with it I don’t mean beat up a rubber made trash can).
Jesus had a great strategy for dealing with anger. It involved going to the one who made you angry and seeking reconciliation. See what he said in the Sermon on the Mount:
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:21-24 ESV)
What is really cool about Jesus’ words here is that he lived them and went beyond them. We were separated from God, isolated by our rebellion, choosing our own way over the design of our creator. God had every right for his anger and wrath to burn against us (indeed it was stockpiling for the day that it would be unleashed), but he choose to send Jesus to endure the wrath we deserved so that we could have a relationship with God. He didn’t wait for us to apologize or to say we are sorry, the bible says that, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” It’s important to know that even though God was the offended party, he initiated reconciliation. When we turn from our sins and trust Jesus our sins are forgiven because he has already paid the price.
If you are a believer, who are you to hold on to your anger? Don’t you know that Jesus paid for your sins? If he paid for your sins, could it be that he has also paid for the sins against you? On my best days when I am tempted to anger my heart cries out to God and I am reminded of his great love for me and that his wrath was satisfied in Jesus. So I ask Him that I would be satisfied in Jesus in those moments too. My anger becomes a vehicle to appreciate the love of God all over again. No more rubber-made trash cans and I’d like to think that one day my anger will be more like Jesus’ anger than the trash can destroying variety. Indeed I know it will because I’m promised to be conformed to his image (Romans 8:29).