We are living in angry times. Political conflicts keep escalating. Coping with the COVID-19 situation generates irritation and division. And now racial tensions have exploded. The reasons for anger are infinite.
The key question about anger is not, “Where does it come from?” Nor, “Is anger justified?” The key question about anger is, “What do we do with our anger?”
Jesus cleansed the Temple in anger. But Jesus restrained James and John from calling down fire from heaven on those who rejected him. There’s a time and a way to express anger. And there’s a time to restrain anger.
I cannot plunge into the political and justice issues sparking the rage of these days. But perhaps we can take small steps to manage the anger that makes our own lives miserable. And that could have far-reaching effect.
What does anger get us?
When Sarah and I were in a season of great stress in ministry, it carried over to our marriage and family. More accurately, my anger carried over to our marriage and family. We went to an insightful Christian counselor, Vince, who asked me a simple question I’ve never forgotten: “What does your anger buy you?”
Revenge. Our instinct is to hurt those who’ve hurt us. We want to “even the score” so they know what it feels like.
Power. When threatened, we can feel powerless. Anger is force. Anger is power. Anger can feel like an assertive expression of our self. “Don’t tread on me,” as the state motto says.
Distance. Like porcupine quills, anger keeps the offender from getting too close.
“Self-consolation.” Anger is our attempt to care for ourselves when we feel overwhelmed or threatened.
So, candidly, anger has some usefulness or “benefits.” But not without significant costs.
What does anger cost us?
As I responded to Vince with my list, I could see where he was headed. After considering the benefits, the logical step was then to consider the cost. (If only anger were logical!). We pay a price for anger.
The price for revenge is the deterioration of the relationship. The old saying warns, “Before carrying out revenge, first dig two graves.” Hitting back escalates the conflict. Romans 12:17-21 reminds us that revenge is the Lord’s concern, not ours.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” Martin Luther King Jr.
The price for angry power is often our own integrity. When I express anger, I often do the very thing I’m criticizing in another. The problem then shifts from the injustice I think I’ve suffered to the injustice I just committed. Now I’m the problem!
The price for the brief venting of anger is often the longer-term loss of peace of mind. A proverb says, “If you are patient in one moment of anger, you will escape a hundred days of sorrow.”
The price for anger is opening ourselves to greater evil. Paul warns that we cannot open the door to our anger without welcoming evil in as well.
“And don’t sin by letting anger control you. Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a foothold to the devil” (Ephesians 4:26-27).
When we give in to anger, we join evil’s team.
And the greatest cost to anger is that we grieve God!
“And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live” (Ephesians 4:30).
Anger is a power is like nitroglycerin: used properly, it saves heart patients; used improperly, it explodes!
Anger did not disappear from my life because I did a cost-benefit analysis with Vince. But that analysis did make me stop and name the consequences. By naming them, I became aware of them. That has helped me learn to take that all-important pause when I feel anger and frustration rising.
Invest in self-control through the power of the Holy Spirit.
By God’s grace, we have the choice and the power to put off old ways and put on the new way of Christ.
Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy. (Ephesians 4:22-23).
The gospel brings power to change as we surrender all areas of life, including our speech, our temper, everything!
Faithfulness calls us to do what we can to rectify injustice and to address the personal, systemic, and spiritual causes generating anger in this world. While these are huge problems beyond most of us, we can at least do our part to rein in our anger by bringing it under Jesus’ reign.
We put off our anger so that we can put on Jesus’ love and freedom.