Anger is tricky.
I’ve heard many sermons throughout my life. I remember very few. I assume that it reflects upon my retention skills rather than the lack of poignancy of most preaching. Perhaps you, too, remember few of the numerous sermons you’ve heard. Yet there are those moments in time, those lines that come amid profound sermons that grab hold of you.
“God is not angry with you.”
This is one of those lines I’ll never forget. A student preacher delivered this to a gathering of eight people. All of us assembled in a small chapel, awaiting our turn to preach for a class. Students aren’t yet expected to speak with profoundness; students are expected to be students. But those poignant, simple words still ring aloud in my head: “God is not angry with me.” Those words speak peace and comfort. They are beautiful and necessary words. Yet they beg the question . . .
Then why is God so angry?
The Old Testament is full of instances when God grew angry at the people of Israel. Rightly so, the people of Israel were often stubborn, prone to worshiping lesser gods, lacked faith on many occasions, and frequently disobeyed God’s direct words. Their actions incited God to anger. Sin has that effect on a holy God. God gets upset when we fall prey to lies that over promise and under deliver. Good fathers don’t get angry with their children when they make mistakes; they get angry about the decisions their kids make, because fathers know the consequences of those decisions.
In fact, if God never got angry, then we should be worried. The Bible says, “The Lord loves those he corrects, just like a father who treats his son with favor” (Proverbs 3:12).
Are we any better than the people of Israel? We sin. Let’s hope that God cares just as much for us.
I grew up afraid of letting my father down. Really, who doesn’t? While he never placed undue expectations upon me, I just wanted to make him proud. Since I became a father to two stepdaughters, I see everything differently. I quickly realized that the disappointment and anger good fathers express when their children mess up is not directed at their children but at their decisions. For my teenage daughters, I see past the present. I see the traits that are developed from habitually not cleaning up after yourself and the dangers of dating that particular teenage boy.
God gets angry because God sees the results of our actions before we do.
Anger is tricky. God gets angry, but God isn’t angry with us.
Dirty, Little Sin
As Christians, we process grief; we show love; we understand compassion; we accept forgiveness; yet when it comes to anger, we reject it as not being useful or holy. There simply is no use for anger in many Christians’ worldviews. We often get told to just “let it go,” “get over it,” or “count to ten.” Anger is treated like a dirty, little secret that needs to be kept quiet, not to be addressed, and to be kept hidden from the world.
Anger exists as the ultimate evil. Happiness exists as the ultimate good. So be happy. This is the philosophy that is often associated with anger.
God gets angry. Why can’t we? There must be more to anger than simply being a forbidden emotion. God doesn’t make humanity in God’s own image and then deny us the ability to be human. Being truly human is to fully embrace who God made us to be. If God gets angry, perhaps we ought to get angry, too.
Anger is tricky. Yes, it possesses both danger and destruction; but so does love. In the next few chapters, I will discuss from a biblical perspective what anger is, how God gets angry, when we need anger, and when we need to let go of anger.
More than Peace—Shalom
When I hear that word, I think of it as a greeting, something similar to “Aloha,” or “Live long and prosper.” Yet shalom exists as a fundamental understanding of God’s purpose as presented in the Old Testament. Shalom connotes peace, rightness, truth, and balance. This is God’s plan for humanity, to live in shalom with one another, with ourselves, and with God.
In conjunction to shalom, every Jewish person in the Old Testament possessed a ga‘al. A ga‘al was a family member or friend who served as a “redeemer” and whose purpose was to restore shalom when it was broken. This serves as a key principle to understanding the proper uses of anger. In Genesis 14, Abraham served as the ga‘al when Lot was abducted by the local warlord. Abraham and his servants rescued and restored Lot’s family. Imagine Abraham’s anger when he discovered Lot’s capture. The prerequisite for any good ga‘al is caring for someone enough to be incensed at the breaking of his or her shalom. Jesus serves as our ga‘al; and so as Christ followers, we are to be Christ to the world. This means that we are in the restoring peace business.
Anger always alerts us to the breaking of shalom. Now, anger can cause the destruction of peace, rightness, truth, and balance in our relationships; or it can cause the reconstruction of peace, rightness, truth, and balance in our relationships. Either way, it brings to our attention that something needs to be addressed, accepted, fixed, repaired, or changed. The New Testament further deepens the idea of anger over the Old Testament understanding of “an eye for an eye.” Anger doesn’t have to equal violence. Jesus gives us other ways to deal with problems, besides digressing to a 5 year old in a pinching contest. He teaches that forgiveness is coupled with indignation and that prayer is the greatest outlet for frustration.
In preparing for this book, I became awakened to my own anger. I had no idea that I had been carrying around so much anger for certain people and about certain situations. If anger is a dirty, little secret, you forget that you possess it. It’s not until you own up to it that you can address it. By owning up to my own anger, I realized that I have been “doing anger” all wrong.
There is a constructive way to use anger. Conversely, there is a destructive way to use anger. Guess with which of these two practices I found myself engaged?
Which do you practice?
Notice that I chose the word use instead of deal in referring to anger. We deal with the common cold. We use a tool. We have a capacity for anger for a reason. Let’s discover what that reason is.
I want to reclaim anger. The Bible tells us that God gets angry. Even Jesus expressed his anger from time to time. (Don’t ever abuse the poor in the name of God.) Constructive uses of this emotion are modeled for us by the Divine. On the other hand, find any TV show labeled “reality”; and you will find any number of destructive examples of anger.
Sin corrupts healthy things. Sin changes love into lust, passion into envy, success into pride.
Sin corrupts anger, too. So let’s learn what the psalmist meant by “Be angry, and do not sin” (Psalm 4:4, NKJV). In doing so, may we reclaim, in some small part, what it means to be human!
This is the first chapter of a book Reclaiming Anger in the CONVERGE Bible Studies series.