Anger: How Well Do We Manage It? Part Two

The_Phillip_Medhurst_Picture_Torah_408._Moses_striking_the_rock._Exodus_cap_17_v_6._PozziI wrote about anger last week because this strong and sometimes unpredictable emotion perplexes us, particularly as its expression relates to Christian character and witness.

Among Christians, what we may least understand is that not all anger is the same. There is good anger and bad anger. The anger that moves a man to intervene when he sees a disabled boy being bullied in public is good anger. Road rage is bad anger.

As Moses was descending from Mount Sinai carrying the two tablets freshly inscribed with the Ten Commandments, he saw that the people had returned to pagan practices of worship and celebration. This made the Lord angry, and Moses, too, as God’s representative. As Moses neared the camp, he dashed the tablets to the ground, smashing them as an object lesson to the people.

In that account God’s anger is mentioned three times, and Moses’ anger is appropriate. The Lord does not rebuke him (Exodus 32:7-20). We can call this good anger.

But later, when the Israelites are without water in their wilderness journey, the Lord instructs Moses to take his staff and “speak to that rock” while the people watch. Instead, he addressed the people as rebels, speaks so as to take God’s glory to himself, and strikes the rock angrily twice (Numbers 20:2-11).

We call Moses’ anger that time bad anger — self-seeking, self-serving and disrespectful of the people he was called by God to serve. He paid dearly for his angry outburst.

Today, we are living in angry times, and too much of the anger we experience or witness is bad anger. Such anger is not just fueling terror and destruction in other parts of the world; it gets into important relationships and strikes often close to home, in family, or church.

We must not forget we are capable of anger because we are made in the image of God. Without this capability we would be less than human. Yet we need to understand that anger is like fire: under control, fire can keep a whole household comfortable on a cold wintry day; undisciplined it can burn down the house and the neighborhood too.

All this is why the Apostle Paul warns against the danger anger poses. Borrowing from Psalm 4:4 he writes, “In your anger do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26).

If destructive anger is damaging our witness for Christ, God’s mighty Spirit who dwells in believers enables a better way. Here are three suggested steps we can take to cooperate with the Spirit.

First, we tell ourselves the truth. A woman in a Christian organization became angry with her boss and would not speak to him. One day he asked her: “Are you angry with me? She replied, “No, I’m just perturbed.”

Perturbed is a good word but not rigorous and pointed enough to summons conscience with a call for change. Attaching the right word to any condition we want to deal with is the first step toward appropriating grace to bring about the change needed. There is a saying, “To know oneself diseased is half the cure”.

Second, we tell God the truth. He of course already knows, but confession opens the way for God to work in us when we speak of our sins to Him. The psalmist prayed, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me” (Psalm 51:3).

Third, tell someone else the truth. Sometimes we need the support and coaching of another human being, like a pastor or counselor, to face up to sinful anger. That person can be a conduit of the Lord’s grace, helping us to recognize our anger and to learn new ways of dealing with this emotion.

It is not God’s will that we become incapable of anger. Even Jesus was appropriately angry with hard-hearted Pharisees who had no compassion for a man with a withered hand who needed healing (Mark 3:5).

But in our fallenness this emotion too is tainted by sin and needs redemption. So, while we rejoice in the grace God has already given us, if our anger is corroding our spirits or proving hurtful to others we implore for added grace to make us whole, remembering the promise given the Apostle Paul: “my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9a)

 

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Image info.: “Moses Striking the Rock.” A print from the Phillip Medhurst Collection of Bible illustrations.

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2 thoughts on “Anger: How Well Do We Manage It? Part Two

  1. Good posts about anger. Let me suggest a different approach. We need to be angry, perhaps in moderate amounts as needed, when the evangelical church ceases to preach being “born again” and being a new creature in Christ. So often the approach now would fit in with the liberal tendencies of the traditional churches and varias sects who stress the need to just be nice people. Luther and Wesley were upset enough about the church of their days to do something about it. And us? Blessings, RCK

  2. From last week’s blog I learned that anger is an emotion humans have because we are made in God’s image.God can be angry,but God’s anger is perfect and positive,clear and honest.

    Human anger can be tainted and negative, disguised, covert and dishonest.

    Unlike God’s positive good anger,human anger can be negative and unpredictable .We can lose control of ourselves to it. Anger can be a real problem when it gets the better of us.

    Positive anger,right anger, good anger , sometimes called righteous anger, is one thing.It can have a positive effect on the world around us ,moving us to do justly,defend the weak and intervene positively in an ugly situation.

    Negative anger is different .It can be destructive ,not constructive, make things worse not better.

    Moses was understandably angry ,when he descended the mountain with God’s law tablets.For he found the Israelites ,under direction of his own brother Aaron, had just made an idol cast of a calf, from their melted down goldware. This idol was made as a false god to go before them.

    How shocking a betrayal of the one true loving God who had led them out of captivity in Egypt.And led by Moses very own bother too ! I expect Moses could hardly believe his eyes when confronted by his brother’s treachery.

    Many painters have depicted the scene which met Moses’ eyes.

    No wonder Moses dashed the tablets.His righteous anger reflected God’s good anger.His anger was quite right on that occasion.

    I do notice we are living in angry times.I don’t remember as angry a US election as the current one.Similarly, our recent UK referendum on whether to leave the EU,was filled with anger and personal vitriol.In other countries things seem even angrier at elections ,to the point of outbreaks of mass violence.

    Meanwhile, domestic and conjugal anger increases to the point of violence ,according to police reports.

    The fire analogy is good.Like fire,anger can spread and escalate.Like fire,anger needs to be confined and controlled.As Paul warns,quoting Psalms 4:4

    ” Be ye angry, and sin not” Ephesians 4:26

    Anger is not itself a sin . We know that ,because the Lord felt it.When Jesus healed on the Sabbath ,in the synagogue,He was accused by His oppurtunistic enemies.Jesus healed a man’s shrivelled hand so they leapt at this excuse to accuse Him.

    ‘He looked around at them in anger and ,deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts ,said to the man .”Stretch out your hand ”.He stretched it out ,and it was completely restored’ Mark 3 :5 NIV

    The Lord Himself felt anger . Since Jesus was perfect,without sin ,anger is not of itself a sin.But anger is a dangerous emotion for ordinary humans . We need to be watchful and careful with it.It must not be prolonged,brooded over,nursed or kept warm.It must be let go of, once it’s purpose is served.That purpose is to strive against evil.

    Anger is like hate,also mentioned, often, in the Psalms,where we are exhortded to hate evil.For instance in Psalm 97 –

    ”Ye that love the LORD ,hate evil” Psalm 97:10 KJV

    The only thing we must hate is evil.The only legitimate target for anger is ,likewise ,evil.We must be careful never to use anger for ought else and be careful to let it go when it has served it’s purpose.We must manage and control this dangerous tool, anger,as carefully as we manage and control a sharpened chisel.

    How? This Just Call Me Pastor blog on anger ,part 2, lists 3 valuable techniques.

    HONESTY – be honest and truthful in our anger.Be open and clear in our anger,not covert or secretive or vague.Leave no doubt. Don’t misdirect our anger or displace it inappropriately. Clearly direct our anger where it belongs..Be precise.’Call a spade a spade’ as the common expression advises.

    OPENNESS TO GOD – Never ever lie to God,the Holy Spirit ,who indwells us and knows each of us by name and intimately ,unto the number of hairs on our head.That is deadly. Triune God knows us better than we know ourselves,every word we utter,thought we think,feeling we feel.There is no fooling God so be truthful,open and honest to Him.

    SHARE THE TRUTH WITH A FELLOW CHRISTIAN – confess to,share with ,seek counsel from and seek support of a fellow Christian in our church or Christian community.It’s what Christian fellowship is.It’s part of what pastors train for.Cathedrals have pastoral canons for that precise reason .It’s what curates were invented for ,to cure the souls in the parish.

    Our confidant could be an experienced church elder or a fellow congregant , with whom we regularly worship with and share sign of the Lord’s Peace with ,then Lord’s Supper. Someone who knows us well.

    A recent Church of England parish survey here, found where inner city church congregations most fell short was in not talking together enough about living as a Christian and sharing problems faced walking as Christians.

    We normally talk about the church heating being insufficient or the weather or our gardening or our holidays, not enough our Christian path and how we are walking it.

    A few Sundays ago we were counselled to spend at least 5 minutes,after the Lord’s Supper service finished, talking with another congregant in this way.I think ,unused to this , many of us started a little awkwardly.

    Anger management problems are just the sort of topic for mutual help and support.

    I think God is very actively present whenever Christians come together in His name,not only for worship,but also to share ways of living better as Christians.The verse in Matthew 18 applies just as much to this as to common prayer and worship.

    ‘For where two or three gather in my name ,there am I with them’ Matt 18:20 NIV

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