Some of you have heard me previously talk about a guy I listen to (and learn from) quite a bit named Charles Morris. Charles heads up a ministry and program called, Haven Today and, for numerous reasons, the topics he covers and way in which he presents them, just resonate with me.
Recently, in one of his posts, he asks the question, “Why are people so angry?” Almost immediately, before reading any further, several thoughts sprung forward in my mind as I suspect they may in yours. With all that’s happening in our world right now, few of us are likely surprised at some of the anger we’re seeing in others or even in ourselves. And yet, there seems to be something more to it.
So In this week’s post, I thought I’d take a few minutes to look deeper in to this and explore with you some of the things that cause anger to well up within us. In doing so, I’ll borrow from and paraphrase some of the points Charles wrote about. And I’ll attempt to add a few thoughts I’ve learned elsewhere along the way.
If you never get angry, I’d like to talk with you so I can learn your secret. For the rest of us, let’s consider for a bit what’s really going on when we feel the emotional temperature of anger rise within us.
Like fanning the flames of a fire, each new report of unemployment, increasing infection and death rates, senseless violence or outright hate spewed toward one group or the other just add fuel to everything that happened before it. Even more challenging; we’re being asked to believe that we should shout out our beliefs and opinions about these and other things, whether or not that’s our nature or we’ve even had the chance to consider all of the “facts.” Mom tried to teach us, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” And yet, that adage along with kindness, thoughtfulness, allowing for other’s opinions and simply treating others as we’d like to be treated do not seem to be popular options in our current state.
See there, without (consciously) even trying, the words I’ve just written may have caused a little something to begin to rise up inside you. Truth is, many of us are just fed up. Raymond Novaco, professor of psychology at UC-Irvine, suggests that with everything that’s being thrown at us these days, “We’re living, in effect, in a big anger incubator.”
Anger, as you may already have learned, is not, in and of itself, good or bad. It is our body’s way of telling us that something is amiss. Our psyche’s internal alarm system that sends an almost immediate notification to us that things are not as we’d like them to be.
There is such a thing as righteous anger, especially in response to all of the evil things that can take place in our world. What type of anger is righteous, you may ask? Another writer, Jon Bloom of desiringGod.org shares that “righteous anger is being angry at what makes God angry. And “righteous anger” is the right word order. Because God is not fundamentally angry. He is fundamentally righteous. God’s anger is a byproduct of his righteousness.”
So the question then, as you may also have heard, is what do we do in response to our anger; to that “alarm bell” going off within us? Then what happens or how are we supposed to respond?
In his letter to new believers in Ephesus, Paul instructs, 26Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27and give no opportunity to the devil. Ephesians 4: 26-27 (ESV)
To make sure you captured all of it, go ahead and read at least those first two words in the verse again. Paul tells us to go ahead and “be angry.” And then he quickly follows with the “how.” He tries to help us in our anger by telling us not to sin and not to let the sun go down on our anger. And then the “why.” So that we don’t give opportunity to the devil. In other words, to work to engage and practice only in righteous anger.
Not letting the sun go down on our anger also teaches us that when we’re angry, before we just “reflex”, we should go ahead and try to figure out why. Yet, if we let too much time pass, since we’re sinful by nature, our enemy, the devil can use the tyranny of urgency and our sinfulness to cause us to respond in ways we’ll likely later regret (or at least others will regret and with which they’ll take issue). If, on the other hand, we turn our anger over to the Holy Spirit for insight and direction, he’ll help us to understand what’s really behind it and how best to respond in love. Perhaps you’ve heard as I have that at the root of our anger typically lies one of two associated emotions: hurt (pain) or fear. So some questions to ask when we’re angry are:
- What or (who) is causing me to hurt about this?
- Where (how or why) am I hurting?
- What am I afraid will happen as a result of the thing that has caused my anger?
- What is the most loving way to respond?
Jon Bloom goes on to say, “…what makes God angry is the perversion of His goodness; the turning wrong of what He made right. God calls this perversion evil. Evil twists and disfigures God’s glory, vandalizing what is most valuable, and profaning what is most holy. Evil poisons and distorts reality, resulting in the destruction of joy for every creature that chooses the perversion over God’s good.”
“God’s righteousness demands His anger over such destructive perversion and that He mete out commensurate justice against those who commit such evil.”
“So our anger is righteous when we are angered over evil that profanes God’s holiness and perverts His goodness.”
Yet, as the apostle James reminds us, “The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” because the anger of man is more concerned with man than with God. (James 1:20).
Oh, Christ-follower, there is so much more that has been written about anger, both in scripture and beyond. Perhaps we’ll study it further in future posts. For now, we can likely agree with my teacher Charles as he points out that, at its core, ‘anger is a heart issue.’ “Left to our own devices, we will wallow in our own (anger and) bitterness toward one another. And yet Jesus says:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love you enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” – Matthew 5: 43-44.
‘On our own, this is nearly an impossible call to live out. But with the encouragement of the Holy Spirit and one another, we can learn to extend grace, even in our anger and especially in our disagreements.’
And so it is, with Charles, that I pray that His grace will reign in our hearts, even as bitterness and resentment may flourish in the world around us.
Right here with you,
If you’d like to read more about the topic of anger and benefit through some of the articles that helped influence this post, please check out the following (click on the titles to be linked):
- Why Are People So Angry? (haventoday.org)
- How Can We Be Angry and Not Sin? (desiringGod.org)
- 3 Ways to Get to the Root of Anger (markmerrill.com)