A little more on anger…

yesterday,  my friend lisa,  wrote me a response.   i deeply appreciate the challenge to my thinking and her willingness to take exception to what i said about anger being a choice.   trust me,  she has the credibility to present an opposing view.   it took courage to write what she did.   it was good and represented the “other side” to my take.

i didn’t ask her permission to re-post what she wrote,  but i trust she’ll be ok with this:

Sorry Mike. I disagree completely. Anger is an emotion that, like the weather, just is. Jesus got angry as did David.

It’s true, we are not to let the sun go down on our anger. Not hide our anger inside and suppress it, instead speak the truth to one another in love. I have seen too many clients who are beaten, raped, cheated on to dare tell them anger is a sin or a choice. Peace and forgiveness can be a process. Anger is an emotion. I don’t judge emotions. We do have choices about how we handle them- yelling or working through, acting out or peace, suppression or honesty. We are responsible for how we handle all if our emotions and what we do and say. I also think we do ourselves and Christianity a disservice when we judge emotions and tell our fellow travelers that all emotions are not acceptable. Anger is often a really good signal where powerful work can be done. With much respect, Lisa

lisa, i definitely get where you’re coming from.  i was certainly the “odd man out” in my clinical counseling grad school!  the clinician side of me can see the reality you face everyday.  i see those same realities (people) everyday in my world as a pastoral counselor.

here’s my opinion, for what it’s worth:  jesus did appear to get angry, but he was a holy, righteous god and we should never compare “our” anger to his.  vengeance belongs to god alone (romans 12:19-21)  no human should ever justify their anger by equating it with god’s.

david is a much better place to find comparison.  psalm 109 is a prayer of unequaled anger.  i have never had a conversation with a person who had the rage of david.  near the end of his prayer, david recognizes the toll that his anger had taken on him and he begs  god to save him.  i understand this to mean that he sees his anger for what it is: the very thing that separates him from god.

i love how the psalm/prayer ends…with a softening of his heart.   confession has a way of doing that.    paul says not to let the sun go down on our anger,  because that is where the devil gains a foothold on our heart.   after all these years,  i’m not sure of everything that means,  but it’s clear that holding on to anger for more than a day is a bad thing.   and he gives no qualifiers.   he simply finishes this teaching by commanding the ephesians to get rid of all bitterness,  rage and anger.

the fact that we are commanded to get rid of our anger,  places it in the “choice” category for me.   it’s something that i can gain control over.   to me,  anger is volitional.   with that said,  i also recognize that in extreme cases of victimization and unspeakable relationship devastation,  dealing with anger and rage can be an almost impossible emotional situation.   it requires compassionate counsel and godly wisdom to even begin the healing process…let alone reach an end to the journey.

but i can never let the reality of human pain…no matter how corrupt,  violent,  unjust,  brutal  or atrocious it is… redefine the reality of god’s truth.   to call anger sin is not a calloused judgment.   i realize the word  (sin)  is tremendously weighted in the world we live in.   it’s ugly.   and it’s ugliness has been blown up by inconsiderate,  smug,  self-righteous  people who love to point their hypocritical fingers.   i get it.

but it cannot change what god’s word says.   anger misses the mark.   anger separates us from god and others.   anger is a prison that robs us of joy and saps our energy.   anger tears apart from the inside.   to acknowledge  this as sin does not diminish us.   it empowers us.   and places us in the best possible position to experience grace.   and then begin to give it away.

i’m with lisa 100% when she says that people don’t need our judgment.   people need us to stand by them and with them in their pain.   we need to defend the weak and rescue the oppressed.   god has made it clear that his people are to be salt and light in a decayed world.   people don’t need judgment.

but they still need truth.   sometimes softly and gently…and slowly…over time.  mixed with compassion and understanding.   people filled with anger are usually filled with other things:  pain…confusion… abandonment…failures… rejection…you name it.   but they still need truth.

thanks for the challenge,  lisa.   i felt respected.   but i always did from you.   i hope you do from me.


One thought on “A little more on anger…

  1. Hi Mike. I think we agree more than disagree on this after all. I guess I always read that passage “in your anger do not sin, do not let the sun go down go down while you are still angry” not as a directive to not get angry but as instruction on not staying angry and also metaphorically not hiding or denying anger. Not to sin when we have angry feelings. I agree completely that confession (as modeled by David in the Psalms- dare we call that journaling?), seeking wise counsel, speaking truth, acts of service, forgiveness, prayer, and even a good workout can be responsible ways to handle anger. I would much rather see kids grow up in a house where anger was handled appropriately than where it was explosive or never expressed/suppressed.

    I absolutely agree that being and living in a state of a anger misses the mark, separates us from participating fully in a loving relationship with God and as such is sin. Anger is not an end game goal, it is a signal something is amiss. Anger-in shrink-speak -is often a secondary emotion and a mask for hurt, pain, shame etc. Examining our anger and trying to get at the underlying emotion, often can bring us closer to God. Happily, we have grace and forgiveness through Jesus.

    I think of you often, and credit you and the experience you created in our youth group as keeping me on the right path, understanding what it means to be a Christian. 🙂

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