This is the first post of several that I will write about anger, as I promised at the end of post #9 (Be Angry … Yet Do Not Sin).
What is Anger?
We know what anger is by experience. The dictionary says it is a strong feeling of displeasure. Most would categorize anger as a bad thing; but God doesn’t do this. Rather He says, “Be angry and yet do not sin.” In other words, it’s okay to feel anger; just don’t sin as a result. So, the obvious question is:
Just how do we do this? What do we do with anger once we have it. How do we avoid sinning as a result of being angry? How do we get rid of anger? The Bible says we shouldn’t let the sun go down on our anger or give place to the devil.
In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. (Eph. 4:26-27, NIV)
The way that we handle our anger has tremendous impact not only on each of us as individuals, but also on our marriages, our children, and our society.
Having learned (the hard way) that the first place I should turn for answers to my questions is to God and my Bible, that is what I did. I asked Him and I started reading in His Word. “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path (Psalm 119:105).”
Wrong Ways To Deal With Anger
The first thing I discovered was how not to handle anger. If not handled properly, anger can turn into wrath (heated up anger), and if wrath is released on another (verbal and/or physical violence), it hurts them, psychologically and/or physically. While thinking about anger, I adopted the term “Railer” for one who handles anger by verbally raging or assaulting another. I adopted the term “Striker” for one who attacks another physically. A Railer or a Striker feels some relief from their anger after they wrongly transfer it to someone else. Railing or striking are obviously sinful and wrong ways to get rid of anger. The Bible says that man’s wrath doesn’t work the righteousness of God (James 1:20).
I also discovered there was another wrong way to deal with anger, and that was to hold on to it—to go to sleep at night with it (to let the sun go down on it). The next morning, it is still there. Over time (more sunsets and sunrises) the initial heated feeling may diminish and seem to go away, but it’s still there in dormancy. It has been stored or kept. I chose the term “Stuffer” for this kind of person. Stuffed anger ultimately hurts the person who stuffs it. It can make them mentally and/or physically sick. The Stuffer will also hurt others by passing on their suppressed anger in unexpected, passive ways, such as withholding what is rightfully due to another or doing seemingly nice or good things that actually hurt someone—things that would appear innocent to a bystander. The Bible says not to hold or keep anger, not even overnight, so doing so is sinful.
Psychology books have been written about Railers, Strikers, and Stuffers (though using different terms), so I won’t go further except to say that these are people who become angry and disobey God’s word about not sinning. They sin.
So back to the question, how can we be angry and not sin?
I found a clue in the Sermon on the Mount, or maybe I should say I seemed to stumble upon it. It occurred to me while reading chapter 18 of Matthew that anger appears in relationships. Others are involved. I’m not just walking along peacefully minding my own business when all of a sudden anger pops up out of nowhere. I don’t suddenly have a strong hot sense of displeasure overtake me—well, with the exception of being a woman who has hot flashes—no, anger is connected to my experience with other people. Anger comes in response to the actions (or inactions) of other people. (To keep my explanation more simple, I will just refer to a single person being the trigger.) So anger is a somewhat automatic feeling in response to a perceived wrong committed by someone else. We feel anger when feel we have been wronged or, maybe, when we observe someone else being wronged.
It was this part of Matthew 18: “If your brother offends/sins/sins against you (depending on your Bible translation), go to him…” that caused me to start thinking in this vein. I spent some time on the words “offends/sins /sins against” which occurred in various Bible versions, but this didn’t provide me with the clarity I was seeking. It just gave me a general guideline: if someone hurts me, makes me angry, hurts someone else, or does something that is just plain wrong … I am supposed to do something about it. I am not supposed to blow-up at them, nor am I supposed to try and suppress my feeling of anger and just try to forget about it.
In Matthew 18:15, Jesus says (actually commands) that the first thing I am supposed to do is to go talk to them alone. I don’t like to do that and most Christians that I know don’t like to do that, either … and, typically, they don’t. I soon realized that the Lord wasn’t going to let me zoom past these verses.
Lord, do I really have to go to someone every single time I feel hurt or think they have sinned? I would have little time left to do anything else!
I found some help with this particular question by reading about the first time anger is mentioned in the Bible: God asked Cain why he was angry. So, okay, maybe the first step should be to determine why I am angry. Is the reason for my anger valid in God’s eyes? God’s words to Cain showed me that it is possible that my anger can be unjustified. Cain’s reason for anger wasn’t a valid one. He was angry because his pride was hurt when God rejected his offering. God wanted to have a two-way conversation with Cain about his anger, but Cain didn’t respond to God’s overture. God was the only one that talked. I have more to say about Cain (and about other things I learned in my quest to understand anger using the Bible), but I’m out of time right now, so to be continued …