– Pastor Brandon’s article from the April 2016 Newsletter
I get angry.
There, I said it.
I may not like to talk about it, but it’s true.
Have you ever seen me angry? Probably not. Maybe a little here or there, but not full-blown, Brandon Carter anger. Few people have, but it happens on occasion. Does that make you uncomfortable? It should. No, just kidding. I’m always calm, cool, and collected—so don’t worry about it.
Okay, enough rambling. My real question is: what do you do when you get angry? Do you show it off for all the world to see? Yelling, screaming, name calling, etc? Do you bottle it up and shove it deep down inside, hoping it never sees the light of day? Do you cry, grunt, throw a pillow? Do you keep it quiet and play it cool…until you’re in the car by yourself when you yell all the things that you wanted to say to that person at the top of your lungs? Let’s be real people. These things happen. Can I get an “Amen?”
Anger is a fact of life; you will get angry. But don’t panic; everything will be okay. The God who made us is an emotional being, and we are created in his likeness to experience a full range of emotions. Joy, sorrow, anger are all gifts from our loving creator. So what should we do when we get angry? How should we handle it? Thankfully, God gives us some direction in his word:
Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need. Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:25-32)
Whether by our families or our society at large, many of us have been taught that anger is a “bad” emotion, and that we should avoid it all costs. We cringe when someone expresses anger toward us, and we may even feel a sense of shame or failure when anger creeps up inside our own hearts. However, we must learn to think about these things in a new and godly way.
Let’s take a look at what God says in this passage about anger. We’ll begin with the phrase “In your anger do not sin.” In the original language the text reads as two commands: “Be angry and do not sin.” This is a quotation from Psalm 4:4, and the Hebrew word behind the phrase “be angry” literally means “tremble.” In others words, this is anger so intense that there is a physiological response. It is shaking with anger. Can you identify? Yet, the text doesn’t say, “do not be angry” but rather, “be angry and do not sin.”
This is important because we need to realize that the feeling itself is not necessarily wrong. Anger as an emotion was given to us for a purpose, and like all other emotions, it can influence us to do right or wrong. It’s what we do with our anger that matters. It may be a source of great motivation or it could lead to our downfall. Anger over a difficult situation or an injustice may push us to find a solution and set things right or it may lead us to wound others with our words and actions. The choice is ours.
In the verse above, we are commanded not to sin when we are angry. We must not let our anger influence us to do what is wrong or to harm others. When others strike out against us, we must not reply in kind. Instead, we should be self-controlled, and show love even though we may be trembling with anger. Most often I find that this means holding my tongue and showing kindness rather than lashing out with verbal assaults in an attempt to wound others. Even when I’m upset, I can say things that build up rather than tear down.
My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.
– James 1:19-20
Next, we read “do not let the sun go down on your anger.” This means that we need to deal with our anger quickly rather than letting it stew for days on end. We don’t want to hold on to it and let it fester. If we do, then it will infect the rest of our lives and rob us of our peace and joy. It will leak out in unexpected places, and eventually someone will be the proverbial last straw. By letting minor offenses compound, we create situations that are difficult to repair once someone goes nuclear. Why not deal with problems early, while they are no big deal, instead of letting them build up over years and years?
Sure, this is easier said than done, but it is a healthier way of life. When a conflict with someone leads to anger, we should address the problem with grace and mercy. This means watching our words, tone, and volume. That’s right, you don’t have to yell and scream and be nasty just because you’re angry. Why not even admit your feelings to the other person? “I’m angry because…Next time will you please…” Yes, it’s a difficult conversation, but surely it’s more productive than calling each other names.
These conversations also mean genuinely listening to the other person’s point of view and trying to understand where they’re coming from. It may lead to resolution, or at the end of the discussion you may still disagree. But that’s okay. It’s not the end of the world nor the end of the relationship. You can still show respect and love to people who think differently than you.
Finally, God says that we must be ready to forgive. We all make mistakes at times, and we are all in need of forgiveness. I should be quick to apologize and seek forgiveness when I’m wrong, and I should be quick to offer forgiveness when others wrong me. Holding on to hurts and grievances simply brings misery to my own life. If I want true healing from these wounds, I must be willing to let them go and allow God to restore my peace and joy.
Instead of simply reacting out of anger, I need to examine my heart. This emotion functions as an alarm bell and alerts me to something that’s wrong in my world or in my heart. I need God’s help to sort it out. I have to take that anger to him and seek his council. I find it helpful to ask these questions: Why am I feeling this way? Is this particular situation the real source of my anger, or is there something deeper going on? How do we fix the actual problem? What’s the best way to handle the situation for the good of those around me?
A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a Wise Man keeps himself under control.
– Proverbs 29:11
This thought process is a skill just like every other in Christian life. We learn to read our Bibles, pray, show love, etc. In a similar way, dealing with difficult emotions such as anger is another area of growth in my spiritual development, and I must learn these lessons if I want to live and love well. With God’s help, I can truly let go of any anger that corrodes me and live a life full of his kindness and compassion.
If you want to learn more about this journey, I hope you’ll join us for Sunday School beginning in April as Bevin Yowell leads a discussion of Emotionally Healthy Spirituality.
– Pastor Brandon