Are You Managing Your Anger Well? Part One

4243823948_672835e4fb_mWe experience anger because we are made in God’s image. The Scriptures give us instances in the Old Testament of God’s anger with his people when they were disobedient (Exodus 32:9–14). However, his anger is always righteous and appropriate to the situation.

Our anger, by contrast, often falls far short of that standard. Because we are members of a fallen race, our natures tainted by sin, our anger at times may be explosive, hurtful, even punitive. If we are sensitive and aware our expressions of anger may leave us with deep feelings of sorrow and perhaps helplessness. But, as Christians we should not allow ourselves to say, “That’s just the way I am so take me or leave me.” There is hope in the Gospel.

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesian church about standards of conduct for Christians. He exhorted them to “Put away all falsehood (Ephesians 4:25a NLT). And, “If you are a thief, stop stealing.” (Ephesians 4:28a NLT). These practices were sinful and were to have absolutely no place in the Christian life.

But he spoke differently about anger, “And don’t sin by letting anger gain control over you” (Ephesians 4:26 NLT).

Apparently anger was not forbidden in the way lying and stealing were. It was nevertheless identified as a human emotion that, if not managed, could do great damage and could be the source of grievous sin.

I can see at least five ways we can display hurtful anger.

Sullen anger. This is not displayed by slamming doors or talking in a loud voice. But sullen anger puts a dark cloud over those against whom it is directed. Nothing is said but much is felt. Sulking, tense silence, or seething beneath the surface may be devices for sullen anger.

“Nice guy” anger. My wife and I boarded a narrow-gauge open platform train in California to ride up a mountainside to the site of an early mining effort. A couple with two children got on and took a generous amount of space. Then another family of four boarded and sat next to the first couple. They were crowded and the first couple made no effort to sit closer together as a courtesy.

There were a few words. Then the woman of the second family turned with her back to the first but sat with a frozen smile on her face for the rest of the ride. I believed her message to those who saw the exchange was, “See, I’m not angry. I’m too nice to be angry.”

Transferred anger. I once saw a cartoon divided into four frames. In the first frame a boss was chewing out his employee. In the second the employee was at home and his words to his wife were drawn as loud black lines. In the third frame, the wife was scolding her little girl harshly. In the fourth, the little girl held her ragdoll by one arm, spanking it with her free hand. Anger’s target often shifts.

Abusive anger. This may be marked by shouting, even screaming, or quiet but psychologically violent abuse. It’s out-of-control anger – like road rage or air rage.

Finally, there’s unrecognized anger. Once, when preaching to a large congregation, I referred to a category called “adult children of alcoholics”. I noted that they often seemed to live under three imperatives: Don’t talk / Don’t trust / Don’t feel.

After the service, a minister came to see me. He had written the imperatives on his hand. With energy he said “That’s me!” As the grown son of an alcoholic father he explained in detail how each of those orders fit his tended ways of functioning. He did not trust anyone – including me, he said. He had never seen his self-directed techniques before. All this denial was a heavy burden to carry. He needed and received professional help.

What can we do so that anger does not dominate us in sinful ways? A story from Doctor Ben Carson’s life leads us to the Gospel. When he was a teenager, in a burst of anger he stabbed at another boy and only the boy’s big belt buckle saved him. Ben Carson went to a nearby room of seclusion and spent a long time calling on God to deliver him from such anger. He reports that God answered that prayer.

Just as for Dr. Carson, the Gospel holds before us the means for curbing or directing our anger for Jesus’ sake, and enables us to live in freedom as redeemed men and women. But there are techniques to be learned. More on them, next week….

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Photo credit: Indi Samarajiva (via flickr.com)

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2 thoughts on “Are You Managing Your Anger Well? Part One

  1. I often think of what it means to be made in God’s image.Only yesterday I was thinking about the first mention of the creation of woman.

    ”So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” Genesis 1 :27

    I’d been pondering how ,biblically, man means both male and female. God created male and female differrent ,but alike in His own image.There is no mention of inequality in God’s perfect, pre Fall creation.

    Of course,after the great disobedience and the Fall from grace,everything changes.The world is broken and sin and death have entered. By their actions,man and woman face new consequences as a result of breaking faith with God.There are punishments and curses upon them now.

    One of these punishments is that ,in this new broken world ,man is given authority over woman,a curse for both man and woman.As I read the opening pages of Genesis , my understanding is this was not God’s original plan. Maybe the original plan was a natural and spontaneous cooperation between man and woman,true helpmates .

    But Adam and Eve’s disobedience wrecked that.This was no longer the perfect world God created.Paradise would not begin to be regained ,until the Incarnation,when God became man ,in Jesus Christ,to redeem us from sin and death.Back in Eden after the Fall,that was a long way off , away in the future.

    As I pondered these great first events,I thought with sorrow how we had marred God’s image in us.We had disobeyed our loving Creator and there would be many more instances of our disobedience in the years ahead.

    I thought how blessed we are to be made in God’s image,and how blessed we are to live in the age of our redemption by Christ’s blood.

    It never occurred to me that we experience anger because we are made in God’s image. Of course ! God has anger,so we have it.But God’s anger is perfect – righteous and good, a positive corrective anger.Great,constructive and noble is God’s anger.

    Our anger can be small minded, petty , ignoble ,spiteful, malformed. It doesn’t correct or make right.It makes worse.It hurts those we direct it at and it hurts us ,afterwards,too.Our anger often mars .

    Paul’s words ”don’t sin by letting anger gain control over you” ( Eph 4 : 26 ) are very evealing and instructive..The apostle doesn’t forbid anger.He says don’t let it gain control over you.He makes clear that is a sin,but not anger itself.

    Time and again the Bible makes it clear stealing and lying are forbidden.Not so anger.While anger is one of the 7 deadly sins , to never be angry , is not one of the 10 commandments.

    We are told be angry but do not sin in that anger.My grandmother used to tell us children ‘don’t go to bed hungry’.Paul advises don’t go to bed angry.

    ”Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: ”Ephesians 4:26 AV or KJV.

    But be careful Beware.For human anger cannot be relied upon to work that same righteousness as God’s good anger.

    ”For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.” James 1 :20 KJV

    Furthermore,human anger can have deadly consequences.

    ”But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgement. ” Matthew 5:22 KJV

    The 5 delineated species of anger ,I find very useful to consider , and shall remember the list.

    SULLEN ANGER seems to be a dishonest anger,covert and disguised.Not at all like God’s open clear honest anger which let’s us know exactly where we stand and what we need to do. .It just creates discomfort and uneasiness ,offering no solution.For children,it’s terrible,because children especially need the security of guidance and clear boundaries. Sullen anger only breeds insecurity.

    ‘NICE GUY ‘ANGER is another dishonest anger.It’s a kind of con trick.But everyone can clearly see through it and knows the ‘nice guy’ is angry,so we still feel uncomfortable and guilty. It’s a form of lying.The ‘nice guy’ wants you to feel bad yet pretends they don’t want you to feel bad. That they are saintly while you are covered in guilt.It’s all pretence.

    TRANSFERRED ANGER is like a contagious disease which spreads from one person to another,often hierarchically down the line from most senior to most junior. It’s unfair and again dishonest,since the anger is directed inappropriately.

    ABUSIVE ANGER ,either physically red hot violent rage or cold,seething emotional and psychological cruelty ,is destructive ,harmful and frightening. It can get so beyond control as to cause lasting tragedy.

    UNRECOGNIZED ANGER must be very corrosive ,simply because it goes unrecognized,so goes unchecked and festers.

    I think Alcoholics Anonymous and the 12 step programme try to help and include dependants and families of alcohlics.They have a support programme for them, Al-Anon . Don’t talk / Don’t trust / Don’t feel – clearly descibes the internal workings of a dependant of an alcoholic.

    I once read a famous book by a well known Canadian psychiatrist ,Dr Eric Berne, called ‘Games People Play’.It focussed on analyzing patients dysfunctional social interactions.It uncovered covert games people play to get therir way, and hidden internal coping mechanisms with which people restrict themselves in order to cope with oppressive relationships.

    Anger can mar ourselves and others ,sometimes in such secret,hidden ways,we don’t even realize it’s happening.

    How provident that belt buckle that saved the boy Ben Carson lashed out at. It also saved Ben Carson from the consequences of a sudden burst of uncontrolled anger.

    Scripture guides us to manage anger well and to use it positively,and prayer is always helpful because God has promised to answer our prayers.

    I look forward to the next blog and learning techniques for directing our anger for Jesus’ sake.

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