If you can control your anger, you’re greater than being able to control a city. That’s a paraphrase from Solomon the Wise, about a thousand years before Christ.
I like to write sometimes on the Seven Deadly Sins, of which Anger is one—even though a person can be angry without sinning. In one form or another, anger is in the headlines.
A report came out this month on the subject of nagging, which is often a muted, frustrated form of anger.
CBS New York reported (5/9/14) that “…a new study suggests husbands of nagging wives can actually be nagged to death. Danish researchers from the University of Copenhagen said having a nagging partner can significantly shorten one’s life, and could result in three extra deaths per 100 people per year. The study also said people nagged by their spouses are more likely to get heart disease and cancer.” Anger on the part of the one who nags can hasten the death of others.
Anger can also kill in more dramatic ways, including the one who is angry. How horrible it is when someone snaps and even commits violence because they can’t control their rage.
A new report just came out on angry outbursts by motorists, i.e., road rage. Paul A. Eiesentein summarizes it in an article called, “Get Out of My Lane!” (cnbc.com, 5/23/14): “According to a new study by travel site Expedia, some of the most rage-inducing behaviors are slowpokes who won’t move out of the left lane, tailgaters and people who text while driving.”
Then we see people going crazy on killing sprees fueled by anger, like the recent stabbing and shooting of victims in Santa Barbara, California. Anger seems to be on the rise in our time.
Our nation’s founding fathers designed our government on the premise of self-control. The more people could control themselves, including their anger, the less need for government control. To paraphrase Speaker of the House Robert Winthrop in an 1849 speech: We’ll either be ruled by the Bible or by the bayonet. Take your pick. Control from inside or control from outside.
In “The Dance of Anger,” Harriet Goldhor Lerner says, “Anger is a signal, and one worth listening to. Our anger may be a message that we are being hurt, that our rights are being violated, that our needs or wants are not being adequately met, or simply that something is not right.”
She adds, “Our anger may tell us that we are not addressing important emotional issues in our lives, or that too much of our self—our beliefs, values, desires or ambitions—is being compromised in a relationship…”
The Bible has much advice about handling anger, but nowhere does it forbid us to get angry per se. Indeed, God made us in His image. In addition to being a God of love, He is a God of wrath.
God’s anger is not petty, nor whimsically vindictive, but always in keeping with His eternal plan.
Over and over again in the Old Testament, God became angry with His people, especially when they turned to other gods, or when they forgot His mercy and His help in the past. The purpose of God’s anger was to bring His children back into a right relationship with Him.
When Jesus came to earth, He also became angry. For example, in the Gospels, He cleansed the temple because they had changed a place of worship into just a marketplace. “Killing Jesus” by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard provides some excellent background on the temple cleansing.
In Mark, Jesus overthrew the tables and drove the moneychangers out, declaring, “It is written, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer’, but you have made it a ‘den of robbers.'”
In His anger, He did not sin—and that’s the point. However, the rest of us have, according to the Bible, a sin nature—which severely limits our ability to be righteously angry. We are more likely to import our own selfishness and own sense of entitlement in our anger.
The Bible and especially the Psalms are honest about our feelings towards God, but it also warns us against being angry with God: “Woe to him who quarrels with his maker,” says Isaiah. When Job was angry with God, the Lord answered: “Would you condemn Me to justify yourself?”
When it comes to our relationships with other people, the Bible has much to say regarding anger:
•”Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil.”
•”A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
•”Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn his ways and get yourself ensnared.”
•”A man who controls his temper is better than one who takes a city.”
The key advice on anger is found in the Old Testament and New: “Be angry, and do not sin.” The New Testament warns not to do it, lest we give the devil a foothold in our lives.
Because Christ died on the cross and justifies us, we don’t have to worry about justifying ourselves. Therefore, when we are wronged, we can forgive (as we have been forgiven) and leave vengeance to God, who will settle things in His timing. This will disarm anger.
On a lighter side, I always remember Art Carney, as Ed Norton on “The Honeymooners,” saying, “Sheesh, what a grouch!” whenever Jackie Gleason, as Ralph Cramden, blew his stack. Humor can be like releasing a pressure valve to relieve the stress of anger.
How much better our world would be if we could learn to keep the deadly sin of anger in check.