Breaking Anger

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Things seem to be upside-down or at least backward in some places these days.  I don’t mean that society is necessarily in decay any more than it has ever been.  I don’t see it as better or worse than days of yore.  I don’t mean that people are backward regarding education.  We seem to be moving forward in general knowledge and a grasp of technology.  Things are upside-right and forward in many ways- economy, diversity, mobility, opportunity and much more.  What seems to be upside-down is the essential yearning of many people I am meeting these days.

The basic yearning of people has been fixed for the most part among civilized people in civil society.  People in every culture yearn for love, acceptance, security/safety, friendship and significance.  Those are the big five hopes and aspirations of people at least in the 50+ countries I have visited or lived in.  And, among most here and abroad, I think this is still the case.  But, these virtues are being supplanted by something much more sinister by large segments of our society in particular- anger.  Instead of seeking love, acceptance, security, friendship and significance, many are seeking expression of their unquenchable dissatisfaction and down-right anger toward the world in general and the things they don’t like specifically.

I am not sure where this is coming from other than Satan himself and our sin nature itself.  Our ability to view everything that is wrong in the world instantly through technology is perhaps a contributor.  But, it seems that some folks who have not experienced either the love of God or deep, loving friendship are seeking to be joined by others around the theme of intolerable injustice rather than the more noble longings of love and friendship.  It is often expressed in taking up third party offence, sometimes with vitriol that transcends that of the offended party.  For these, their anger persists as long as there is something wrong in the world.  It seems as though some are committed to living in a state of unrest and distress until all things in the world are fixed, which Jesus promises will be a long, long time (cf. John 16:33; Matthew 26:11); as long as time marches on.  Peace and contentment seem, to them, to be a betrayal of those who are hurting rather than an example for them.

However, since anger still carries a stigma in our culture, we have been adept that modifying the term and turning its vice-like components to virtue.  We now prefer words such as offence, strong sense of justice, giving voice to the voiceless or expressed concern for the marginalized.  These are more socially acceptable and have the sound of virtue and can actually be virtuous activities.  But, when I listen to many who carry the offence, seek justice (a good biblical term in Isaiah 1:17) and care for the poor (a concept filling the Old and New Testaments), I hear something that is not holy at all.  I just hear angry people.  They hate what is happening and sadly hate the perceived culprits.  They want to bring down organizations, people and even nations.  The lust for justice transcends that for which they seek justice.  Their victory is always bitter and never sweet.  If one battle is won, another is begun.  The heart does not change when the injustice is eradicated.  It remains entrenched in discord.

All of this results in vast marches with ill-defined purpose and unclear understanding of what a hopeful outcome might be.  It results in burning the property of others without shame.  It results in excoriating the opposition and dismantling the good with the bad.  Ironically, to those who are this angry, anarchy is better than any alternative.  However, in civil society anarchy has always been viewed as worse than most alternatives.  The nose can be easily removed to spite the face.  Again, if you are yearning for love, acceptance, security, friendship and significance, you won’t find the people described above here.  The camaraderie that these people seek are earthly ones and sick ones.  It is a yearning for mutual dissatisfaction and unrest.  It is a distressing life with no end to the distress in sight.  There is a sick satisfaction in being angry for many.  They feel as though their turmoil somehow mitigates the worlds pain.

Frederick Buechner referred to anger as the most delightful of the seven deadly sins.  He described it as eating a feast fit for a king.  Devouring every toothsome morsel of meat, enjoying its flavor until one realizes that the meat they have devoured is their own flesh.  Anger allows a person to feel vicarious pain and fully identify with the grief of others.  Sadly, however, it never helps the person with whom it seeks to identify.  It only discourages others and dissatisfies oneself- leaving two sad victims of the evil perpetrated.

The best activists in history included the likes of Jesus, Pope Gregory, Francis of Assisi, Wesley, Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.  All of them successfully brought about change. None of them were angry in the way mentioned here.  Jesus was of course the one who enabled all success.  His reputation was one of love, grace, benevolence, kindness and mercy.  None of these are acceptable companions of anger.  Those who try to give their anger a happy face by calling it sanctified wrath are out of touch with both God’s word and Jesus’ model.  They mistake anger for godly passion and thus justify it.  They forget that love is the passion that transforms and changes things for the better.

Jesus’ half-brother, James knew that anger pops up in our hearts as easily as words pop out of our mouths.  He said, “My dear brothers, take note of this:  Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for [a person’s] anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires” (James 1:19-20).  We know that words take restraint.  It is unnatural to be slow to speak when we have something to say.  James put anger in the same sentence noting that there can be slowness or restraint with that can naturally well up and pour out.  But, when our hearts are sanctified, our words and emotions fall in line as well.  When we listen to God and embrace His heart, we can be just as passionate as all of the great reformers in history, living out a holy passion in love, grace and truth.

I am committed to insuring that my speech and anger are restrained and subdued.  I am committed to loving in a world that is becoming increasingly hostile without any reason other than sin itself.  Anger never brings about the righteous life that God desires.  Love always does.  Please do an anger check when you think about how you feel about things around you.  Convey your thoughts regarding things of importance to you in society.  If the thermometer of anger increases, please rethink your cause and evaluate your heart.  If there are things that make your blood boil and cause you angst or constant unrest, Jesus has a cure for that.  His sanctifying grace will take the anger away and heighten a loving heart for justice and the marginalized.  In anger’s place, he will give love and peace- the kind that passes understanding.  Then, the cause you serve or the justice you seek will be sweet when achieved.