We’d just found our housemate unconscious on the cold cement floor and my heart was raging mad. Not at her, but at our guests who cared more about having to wait forty minutes in their warm, comfortable vehicle than about our friend’s life.
I wrote that story last week. Some of it, I think, was good writing. Some felt weak. This morning I realized why. I was afraid of my anger. I tried to soften it, cover it, apologize for it when I needed to let it be seen. It was part of the story and, in this case, a marker of real wrong at work in the situation.
Satan has two tactics when dealing with our anger. The first is to whisper that we ought to be ashamed of ourselves for feeling angry, that our anger is bad and dangerous and to be feared, and that we’ll never please God if we feel angry. And so we try to destroy or hide our anger instead of allowing it to energize us in the battle against Satan and toward relationship with God and each other. If he fails at that, Satan tries to turn our hand to train the powerful weapon on other people or back on ourselves, taking a tool intended to spur us to action in the service of life and teaching us to use it in the service of destruction instead.
In one sense, anger is a product of the fall: we didn't know anger until after the fall. There was no need for this energy-full emotion that makes us feel what is wrong, involving us in the reality of it and spurring us toward making it right.
At a much deeper level, our capacity to feel anger is part of our imaging of the God whose infinite love and longing for right relationship includes anger against anything that threatens to destroy His beloved creation.
It's a deep and daring trust that is willing to feel God's anger, knowing it will call us to action.
Anger can kill. It requires great respect and caution. But the reality is, we will feel it. We’re meant to feel it. In this broken world, there’s no way to love without sometimes feeling anger. I watch Jesus turning over the tables of crooks in the temple, restoring His Father’s house to a sacred place of relationship. (Luke 19:45-46) I see him indignant at the tomb of Lazarus, his anger over the destruction Satan had brought on his friend paired with decisive action: “It doesn't have to be this way!” (John 11)
Surrendered to the Holy Spirit, controlled anger can help push us up the hill of our apathy and fear to act in ways that bring holiness in the world. I hear the anger in the voices of some of the most godly men I know when they don't just speak of other men enslaving women in prostitution, but act to do something about it. I once stood up to a gynaecologist who was verbally abusing one of my junior residents; it was anger over the injustice that fuelled my small courage.
Carefully handled, anger can be a gift. Join me in letting God teach us to use it well?
“Be angry, but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil.” (Eph 4:26-27 NRSV)
For further exploration:
Since our anger—like every other part of us—has been distorted by the fall, there’s no doubt that this powerful emotion needs a trigger guard and cautious handling. We’re given guidelines and constant Holy help:
- Never train your sights on other people. (Eph 6:12)
- Learn when to let it go. (Eph 4:26-27)
- Hand it over to the One who can handle it before it gets too hot to hold. (Psalm 94, 109, etc)
Here are a few questions that help me in the handling of the gift of anger. What others would you add?
- What is underlying my anger in this situation? (Love? Fear? Envy? Hurt pride?) Is there sin I need to confess?
- What does this anger show me about what really matters to me? To God?
- What might be God’s invitation to me here?