Things changed this week and I will preach on anger for two services. We have a graduate recognition service during the 9:30 worship service at Easter by the Lake. Our youth director will preach at that one and will speak directly to the grads. We didn’t really want to bring anger into that service, so he’s off the hook. I will preach on anger at our Saturday Night 5:00 service and 11:00am Sunday.
So, I dug a little deeper into the topic and came up with this mind map.
We need to ask three questions:
- What is Anger?
- What does the Bible say about Anger?
- What can we do about Anger?
What is Anger?
I found two really helpful websites that talk about anger and anger management.
- 10 Tips to tame your temper from the Mayo Clinic
- Controlling Anger before it controls you from the American Psychological Association
First of all, anger is a God-given, natural response to a threat or a violation of boundaries. I like to think of it as an internal alarm system that alerts you to the presence of danger.
This is similar to how we talked about anxiety last week. Our bodies are designed to react with a physical desire to fight when something precious to us is threatened. This can save lives.
The Greek word for anger is orgizmo. It describes an inner boiling that needs to explode out.
People express anger differently.
Some people are exploders. The anger boils and the rage comes out immediately in shouting, bold gestures, and even violence. Exploders are entertaining to watch in traffic jams when you can’t hear the sound but only watch the silent arms flailing and mouth moving in not-repeatable strings of words.
Some people are imploders. The anger boils, but it boils inwardly while the exterior stays calm, even cold. Imploders are silent but often deadly. You might not know they are angry, but they may be inwardly plotting revenge. Beware.
Both of these expressions of anger are natural. They are also equally dangerous if left unchecked. Exploders and Imploders are capable of delivering great physical and emotional damage to themselves and others.
What does the Bible say about Anger?
First, Jesus got angry. All four Gospels record the story where Jesus enters the Temple in Jerusalem, sees the money-changers extorting the poor, and drives them out with a whip and overturned tables (John 2:13-25).
Here’s the logic: If Jesus got angry, and Jesus was without sin, then anger is not sin.
Second, the Apostle Paul encourages the churches around Ephesus to “be angry, but do not sin (Ephesians 5:26).” Here, again, we see a separation between anger and sin.
It is OK to be angry. God got angry all the time as God watched the people of Israel repeatedly make poor life choices that brought harm to themselves and to the weak, the poor, and foreigner among them. Every good parent gets angry when children disobey and make harmful life choices.
The problem is not anger. The problem is what we do with anger. Paul goes on to say, “don’t let the sun go down on your anger.” The Greek word here is not the same as the first part of the verse. It is better translated as wrath.
The longer we stay angry, the more intense the anger becomes. If we don’t deal with the anger in a healthy and constructive manner right away—before the sun goes down—then it will fester into bitterness and lead toward dark and destructive forces of vengeance.
Third, Paul warns the church in Rome to “never avenge.” He reminds them that “‘vengeance is mine,’ says the Lord (Romans 12:19).” In other words, give your anger over to God. When you repay evil with evil, you simply become the evil you seek to destroy. God is the only one with a perspective big enough to know how to bring justice to the earth.
What can we do about it?
The websites I referenced earlier are full of excellent practices to help process anger in a healthy manner. Here are my suggestions based on those lists, my theological perspective, and my experience as a parent and pastor:
- Breathe. This was the first step for anxiety as well. Breathing is essential to life. This is why I think the Holy Spirit is portrayed as breath in the Bible. When we breathe deeply it calms us down. It just does. Part of breathing, in regards to anger, is the process of counting to ten. Don’t react irrationally and do something you will regret later.
- Walk away. There are many things in life that aggravate us by simply existing…like your child’s perpetually messy room. The frustration builds up and turns into anger. Just walk away, and breathe. Create physical spaces that are calming to you and go there as often as necessary.
- Examine your boundaries. Anger is an alarm system that ndicates a breach in the perimeter we have established around the things we hold precious. What if those things we hold precious are our position, power, status, money, self-importance, etc.? We will become angry if someone makes us look stupid or tries to speak truth into our selfishness. Should that make us angry? Are the boundaries that we have set circling around the same things that God considers precious and worth protecting? This type of self-reflection is painful, but might go a long way in defusing unnecessary anger issues.
- Communicate clearly and constructively. Anger sparked by important things is good anger that should lead to justice and the betterment of society. That rarely happens through argument or violence. Anger should lead to clear communication that is assertive, respectful, and constructive for the whole community. One of the greatest tools for any relationship is to learn how to fight well. (See this post)
- Seek counseling. Some people are more genetically prone to have low boiling points and wrestle with complex issues that make anger a chronic issue. This is similar to the way discussed anxiety last week. There is no shame in seeking professional counseling to learn skills to manage anger and focus it into constructive behaviors.
Remember, be angry, but do not sin.