I'm talking about the blood-boiling, steam-coming-out-of-your-ears, venom-in-your-eyes type of anger...Or what about the last time you experienced slow-simmering, body-numbing resentment?
Perhaps you can't relate. Maybe you are one of the few calm, patient souls who never lose their temper or feel intense dislike for anyone. Well, this article isn't for you. It is written for people like me who occasionally lose it. As Christians, we know we are supposed to be longsuffering, understanding, forgiving and kind, but let's face it: there are days when it's downright difficult to model Christ.
The nature of anger
Last week, during my devotion before the beginning of a stressful workday, I was reading the Good News Translation of the 1st Chapter of the book of James. Then something suddenly stood out to me. Verse 20 said:
Wow. Human anger does not, cannot and will not achieve God's righteous purpose.
What then immediately came to mind were images of Jesus angrily turning over the table of the money changers in the temple (Matthew 21 verse 12) or looking at the hardhearted Pharisees in anger (Mark 3 verse 5) or calling them "whitewashed tombs" (Matthew 23 verse 27). These are examples of divine anger. Divine anger is an emotion of a perfect God in response to injustice and imperfection, to the harshness of the world that resulted from humankind's choosing to live life without a relationship with God. God is angry at sin (Proverbs 8 verse 13). Unlike us, He never sins in His anger (Ephesians 4 verse 26).
Holy anger is a reaction to wickedness in the world and to the attitude of evil people who mock or challenge God. This is illustrated in the writings of David throughout the book of Psalms. In one instance, David asked: "Do I not hate those who hate you, LORD, and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?" (Psalm 139 verse 21). The psalmist also said: "those who love the Lord, hate evil" (Psalm 97 verse 10).
Godly anger is in stark contrast to human anger.
Human anger stems from our frustration with not getting our own way, or things not working out to our advantage or people not acting the way we would want them to. This anger is selfish, mean-spirited and sometimes violent. It is borne out of our own desires, corrupted hearts, bitterness, malice, our own greed, ego, pride and, in short, sin.
It causes us to speak careless words, hurting others and ruining relationships. It is often hypocritical and shows up our own weakness more than the weakness of the person towards whom our anger is directed. When we act in human anger, we can lose credibility, trust and the respect of others. This rash anger affects our ability to be a good example of Christ to those around us. Hostility in the heart can be toxic to our well-being.
After reading that passage from James 1, the questions I was challenged with were: Is my anger getting in the way of the work God wants to do in my life? How many opportunities to reach people with God's love has my anger caused me to miss?
James goes on to make a suggestion in light of the futility of human anger achieving God's purpose. He says in verse 21:
"...get rid of every filthy habit and all wicked conduct. Submit to God and accept the word that he plants in your hearts, which is able to save you."
As Christians, we sometimes think once we have a regular routine of bible reading, devotion and church attendance, then all is well. We never take stock of the instances of human anger we display on a daily basis...for example, what you said to the guy who cut you off in traffic, what we really think about the co-worker who regularly gets on our nerves or even our anger at the actions of those closest to us. This anger can drive a wedge between us and what God wants to do in that moment, in your life and in theirs. Verse 26 of James chapter 1 says:
"Do any of you think you are religious? If you do not control your tongue, your religion is worthless and you deceive yourself."
I have been reflecting this week on Ephesians 4 verses 29 - 32, which is a fitting end for this brief reflection on anger:
"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."
Sharma considers herself a child of the Caribbean, having visited, studied, worked and lived in several Caribbean islands. But when she arrived in New Zealand, she discovered that she is also a kiwi at heart.
Sharma Taylor's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/sharma-taylor.html