Is Anger Ok?

Anger. It is something we have all done. Its something we have all experienced, serving as the object of someone else’s diatribe. As Psychology Today noted, anger is, “often pretty clear-cut. It’s rarely subtle.”

Though we have all encountered forceful and emotional expressions of negativity, few of us know what to do with our rage. Some encourage us to openly vent our frustrations. Others bury their feelings deep inside, proclaiming that everything is fine. Sure, they haven’t spoken to their friends in 50 years, but everything is fine. Lastly, others use anger as a source of motivation, referencing past insults and forecasts of doom to find the energy needed to become their schools next valedictorian or to smash the opposing football team. Anger remains both a common and complex emotion.

Thankfully, the Jesus of the New Testament addresses our challenges. He goes beyond the pithy statements found in Matthew 5:3-10 and explains how to be salt and light. In the process, he deals with things such as divorce, lying, and even anger.

According to Jesus, anger is not something to be vented, hidden, or repurposed. We are to abhor it and to repent of our sinful, negative emotions. If we remain angry, frustrated, or bitter, we will awake one day soon to find our souls imprisoned under God’s wrath with no way of escape.

Murder is Bad

When Jesus tackled the topic of anger in Matthew 5:21-26, he found his society’s understanding of rage to be artificially constrained and short sighted. The scribes and the Pharisees had restricted the discussion of anger to a discussion of murder. They said that anyone who murder their wife, coworker, or neighbor “will be liable to judgement (Matt 5:21).” Their vague restatement of Genesis 9:6, Exodus 21:12-14, and other passages on murder correctly affirmed the sanctity of human life and the need to address accusations of murder with spiritual diplomacy and legal nuance. Those who take the life of an unborn baby, a middle-aged mom, or of a bedbound senior-adult should be held accountable to the standards of divine justice. Jesus concurs with this assessment of the Old Testament law.

Anger is Bad

But Jesus did not believe the religious leaders of his day went far enough. They lost sight of the reality that God also hates our self-centered pride which fuels our anger. As Proverbs 29:22 notes, “one given to anger causes much transgression.” When men and women lash out at their children, mom and dad do so because they are selfish. The mud stains on the carpet ensure that mom and dad will have to exchange their quiet evening on the coach for some intense floor scrubbing. Because their divine plans have been interrupted, they lash out at the kids. In other words, they expressed anger because they wanted what they wanted and were willing to punish others to get it and maintain it. Even are close friends, our kids, and our spouses are not protected from the negative emotion that flows from our love of self.

According to Jesus, the eyes of the arrogant are just as deadly as “the hands that murder the innocent (Prov 6:19).” If we were to update the analogy, we could say that Jesus views the mini-van driving mom screaming at her kids and of the faced-tattooed, serial killer sitting on death row as one-in-the-same. Matthew 5:22 bluntly states, “everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgement.” To keep us from writing off this sentiment as the miscalculation of a poor biblical interpretation, Jesus circles around the concept of anger and expands his definition. He notes that those who insult their friends and call their friends fools will be punished for their unkind words (Matt 5:22). The concept of the term insult implies the notion that one is empty headed. In other words, to insult one’s brother would be to call him stupid, bone headed, or dumb. To call someone a fool was to label someone as being worthy of hell fire and damnation. When we insult the guy who cuts us of off in traffic, the politician who never seems to get things right, and the kids who all seem to do the opposite of what we asked, we commit the sin of anger. We are not simply Irish or passionate or misunderstood. According to Jesus, we are angry. We are sinning against God.

The Importance of Reconciliation

Because anger leads to eternal judgement, we should quickly exchange anger for reconciliation. Jesus tells two miniature parables in Matthew 5:23-26 towards this end. In the first, he tells his audience that they need to leave everything including an animal on the alter and go and be reconciled. Were we to update Jesus’s words, we would say that if one is leading the choir or preaching a sermon and realizes they have committed anger, they need to walk off the stage, drive to their neighbor’s house, and ask for forgiveness. Pastors, church leaders, and religious people do not get a special pass when it comes to anger. God does not look the other way when they fume with anger because they reached so many people or built such a large church. Jesus tells them to drop everything and repent.

To drive the point home, he tells a second parable of a man on his way to debtors prisons. He says that if the man cannot settle before court, he will wind up in prison and will never get out. The man in prison, lacks the ability to work and to gain the capital need to pay off his debt. In other words, Jesus declares that those who take their anger, bitterness, and vengeance to the grave will miss out on the mercy of God and know only the fires of hell. Before we get to eternity, we should seek peace with those we have offended. We should ask them to forgive us for all the wrongs that we have done. And we should stand at the ready to forgive others freely extending mercy to everyone who asks. Those who voice their negative emotions on Facebook and those who secretly nourish a lifetime of bitterness that pops out in the occasional ugly look or snide comment will miss the hope of heaven and spend eternity under God’s wrath. Instead of cultivating anger, we must invest in reconciliation, seeking peace with all. If we do not and allow our angry to fester it will destroy us. We must hate anger and pursue reconciliation for judgment is coming.

Is All Anger Bad?

However, the concept of God being wrathful or angry reveals that not all anger is sinful. Some things should be viewed with forceful negativity such as rape and murder. God’s righteous and just anger should burn against sin. Moreover, Paul tells us in Ephesians 4 to be angry and not to sin. A place exists for forceful, godly negative emotions.

When human anger is righteous, it should mimic the character of Jesus and provoke within us a strong desire that pushes towards justice and forgiveness. Godly anger pushes us to help the poor and to demand justice for the abused. But it then leads us to evangelize and pray for those who cheated the poor and committed the abuse. When Christ emptied the temple with a whip in Matthew 21:12, he returned the next day to call those same men and women to repentance. When he was hung on a cross and insulted, he extended his murderers forgiveness (Lk 23:44). Indeed, “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (Ps 103:8).” His people should do likewise (Jm. 1:19).

Divine Imagination: A Cure For Bitterness

bitternessWe can easily steal a moment at work to daydreaming about how we will tell off our boss one day. As we drift into sleep a few hours later, we imagine how we would get even with our aunt. And the next morning during our commute,  we scheme about how we will settle the score with our spouse. Bitterness, anger, and resentment readily feed the human imagination, pushing its owners further into the murky and foreboding cloud of sin.

When we allow our bitterness to proceed unchecked, we will inevitable awake one day to discover that the secret fleeting thoughts which promised only to take a minute or two of time have now devoured years if not whole lime times. And despite their promises of salvation, all those dreams of revenge fail to resolve the angst buried deep within out souls. We need another antidote for our bitterness. We need a divinely inspired imagination.

To escape the cancer of anger, we must place our trust in the power and goodness of God. In Samuel 26:9, David has the opportunity to go beyond dreaming. He has the chance the kill Saul, the man who has driven him from his home, his family, and even his house of worship. As Abishai tells David, “Let me pin him to the earth with one stroke of the spear, and I will not strike him twice.” David can redeem his pound of flesh to borrow from Shakespeare’s Shylock. But the future king refuses to get even with Saul. David says, “The Lord forbid that I should put out my hand against the Lord’s anointed (1 Sam. 26:11a).”

David will not disobey God’s Word and exact his own vengeance upon Saul. David walks away from Saul because the future king trusts the Lord. The antidote for hateful day dreams of revenge is divine imagination.

David spares Saul’s life because he knows God reigns and will make all things right. David tell Abishai,

And David said, “As the Lord lives, the Lord will strike him, or his day will come to die, or he will go down into battle and perish (1 Sam 26:10).”

David imagines all the ways God could make things right. Instead of fearing his enemies, David trusts the God who rules over his enemies. David knows God cannot be thwarted by power dynamics, money, race, gender, or prestige. Even the cruelest men and women of the universe can only wake up each morning by the grace of God. David knows that the God of the universe watches over David. Instead of speculating about all the ways he could get revenge. David speculates about all the ways God can save him. As David told Saul, may the Lord “deliver me out of all my tribulation (1 Sam 26:24).

David trusted God knowing the Messiah was coming. Now that Jesus has come, New Testament believers have more reason to trust Jesus. Paul reminds us that Jesus “is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think according to the power at work within us (Eph 3:20b).” Friends since the power that raised Jesus from the dead brings transformation to our hearts and to our world, we should daydream about the goodness, power, mercy, justice, and love of God. We should imagine an unlimited all powerful God who delights in recusing his people. Our God is indeed that and more. Pastor Dale Ralph Davis helpful notes,

Faith needs imagination to pull out all the stops if it is even to begin to grasp the grandeur, majesty, and ability of Yahweh…imagination will not lead us beyond but will help us arrive at the truth of God.

Divine imagination guided by the Holy Spirit sustains the Christian as he or she walks through the storms of life.

What do your hearts dream about? Do we trust the God who rescued David? Or do we fear the bullies, the cruel spouses, and the troublesome coworkers? Do we find salvation in plotting revenge or in imagining how God could save us? What do you imagine?

Why So Many Angry Parents?

parents-madHave you ever wanted to throw your kid through the window? If you are a parent (or at the very least a dad), I think most of us would have to say that at some point we’ve had that thought.

We like to portray parenting as a never ending series of Instagram moments filled with cuteness and joy. And a many times, our parenting calendar is full of these days.

But there are also all those moments when your son head-butts you for the umpteenth time, or pees on the floor, or talks about candy for hours on end. When those moments come, I find it easy to think, “I’m over it! Out he goes!”

Now for the sake of full disclosure, let me emphatically state: “I have never thrown any of my children or anyone else child out a window. Nor, have I ever come close to doing so.” However, I have felt the frustration, the anger, that is common to all of us parents. Parenting is tough stuff that challenges our very souls.

Understandably, we don’t like our anger. The Bible commands be angry and to not sin (Eph. 4:26). Moreover, the sinful anger that we are prone to disrupts our life, the life of our kids, and often turns an already bad day into and even  worse day. Our anger at its best does nothing to advance God’s agenda (James 1:20). So, we don’t like it. And we shouldn’t. But we keep getting mad. What gives?

Well it’s our desires. Notice what James 4:2-3 says:

You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.

We get mad at our kids because they frustrate our desires. We want to take a nap, we want to eat without having to get up 20 times, and we want to read three pages (just three pages mind you) without being interrupted. And when our kids keep us awake, when they force us to get up, and when they smash into our head without warning, we lose it. Why? We are angry because we did not get the peace and quiet, we wanted. We did not get our idol. And so, we lash out at the person who just interrupted our worship with an angry tirade of “If I have to tell you one more time….” (You fill in the blank.) Instead of our longed for peace, we find ourselves battling sin with sin. And Instead of our longed for tranquility with now have a home filled with fighting and quarreling.

Now some of you might be more spiritual than me. You might actually confess the whole situation to God saying, “Please give me a moment of peace from my kid (s).” And yet, your house still explodes three seconds after you crack open your book. What went wrong?

Well, you prayed and you implored God to work for the wrong reasons. Perhaps, you wanted peace so that you will not be embarrassed with Aunt Jane comes over. Perhaps you wanted peace because you were tired of parenting. Perhaps you wanted peace so that you could be more influential in your church. Regardless, you wanted peace so that others would think more of you and so that you could spend some time worshiping yourself. In that moment, you are not crying out for help; you are crying out for God to vindicate your idols. God does not do that. Hence, you wind up frustrated and angry all over again. (I’ve been here over and over again.)

The solution? Change our desires. Instead of getting mad at our kids, we need to confess to God that we want things, honors, and earthly pleasures that God has not called us to. We must confess that we have taken nice good things and transformed them into our god. We have to refocus our hearts on our calling as parents. We must realize that parenting is not an imposition to our well-being and happiness. We have to realize it is our calling. Through parenting, God shapes us, matures us, and sanctifies us. Instead seeking to make our name great through parenting,  we should implore God to give us the wisdom and patience that we need to parent well, trusting Him to show up! If we will confess our sinful desires, and replace them with a desire to see God glorified, we will find rest from our anger and peace.

Parenting is tough. Soon and very soon, our kids will put our faith to the test once again. But as we encounter our kids’ sin and prepare to correct them, we must remember that our kids are not responsible for our sin. Our kids do not make us angry, impatient, or unkind. Our hearts do that all on their own. As James 1:14 says, “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.” Are you ready to deal with your angry heart?