This summer we have been taking a look at what many would think is the fortune cookie of the Bible. The book that doles out nice tidbits of helpful advice on how to live.
But as we have looked at the book of Proverbs, I hope that most of us have seen that even though on the surface it appears that the statements help us know how to live, more importantly, they are concerned about who we are as a person and not just our behavior. It is not a “how to” book, but a “how to be” book.
We can do all the behavior modification in the world, but unless we get to the heart of the issue, unless we discover who we really are and what is driving us to be the way we are, we will find ourselves in a never-ending exercise of futility. We need to allow Jesus and his life-transforming message to work in our lives and begin to shape and mold us to look more like him.
Through this series, we’ve hit some topics that have made us a little uncomfortable at times, like when we talked about how our words are either tearing others down or building them up, and how we need to be people of honesty and integrity, not allowing our desires to make us greedy, and ultimately learning not just facts and figures, rules and regulations, but how to be wise.
Today we come to a topic that I am sure none of you struggle with. It is one that as I get older and I mellow out a tiny bit, it doesn’t affect me like it did when I was younger. However, it is still a part of me and raises its ugly head more than I would like to admit. I often kid and tell you that it is my one go-to emotion. Today we are going to talk about the emotion of anger.
Proverbs talks about our emotions as a whole. It addresses fear and boldness, happiness and cheerfulness, jealousy, and we find several verses throughout the book on anger.
Most of us know right away if this message is going to hit close to home. As soon as I even say the word, a memory comes flooding to your mind: the last time you exploded on your spouse or kids, the time you shot off the email in outrage only to wish you hadn’t done it as soon as you hit the send button, or the hand gesture to the person in the car next to you who just got in your way.
I think many of us can relate to these moments. And if you can, then you can also relate to the regret, the shame of having to apologize yet again or ask forgiveness one more time from someone because your anger got the best of you. No one wants to be on the receiving end of anger, but amazingly it can often rear its ugly little head in our lives. Let’s dive in to see what Proverbs has to say about anger.
Danger of Anger
Let’s start with a few of the verses.
A quick-tempered person does foolish things, and the one who devises evil schemes is hated. —Proverbs 14:17
An angry person stirs up conflict, and a hot-tempered person commits many sins. —Proverbs 29:22
Wrath is cruel, anger is overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy? —Proverbs 27:4
For as churning cream produces butter, and as twisting the nose produces blood, so stirring up anger produces strife. —Proverbs 30:33
Right away we see that anger is not talked about in a positive light. In fact, it highlights for us several dangers we need to be aware of. First is this: anger is destructive. And it is destructive in several ways…beginning with you and your body. Just do a google search of the effects of anger on the body and millions of websites will point out that uncontrolled anger will reek havoc on your body physically.
An Australian government website called Better Health Channel says, “The constant flood of stress chemicals and associated metabolic changes that go with recurrent unmanaged anger can eventually cause harm to many different systems of the body. Some of the short and long-term health problems that have been linked to unmanaged anger include: headache, digestion problems, such as abdominal pain, insomnia, increased anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, skin problems, such as eczema, heart attack, and stroke.”
And if that wasn’t bad enough, it doesn’t just destroy your body, it also destroys your mind, how you think. The Proverb said, “A quick-tempered person does foolish things.” Can I get an amen? As I said earlier, I think this is where as I have gotten older I have begun to see improvements in my life. If twenty-nine year old Brent got an email from someone that he didn’t like, he would immediate fire back a strongly worded, angry, and foolish retort.
Now if I get something that makes my blood boil, I usually write three or four emails, with no email address in the “to” line, and then delete them after about an hour. We lose our minds when we have uncontrolled anger. We become fools. We cannot make good choices or decisions when anger controls us.
Anger also destroys our relationships. It produces conflict, controversy, dissension, disunity. Everyone that is married or ever has been married can give a big amen on this one too. Who hasn’t felt the strain and the isolated feeling after a fight between you and someone you care about, where anger took over, things were said that you normally wouldn’t say and you probably didn’t even mean?
Proverbs even cautions us about having relationships with angry people. It says we shouldn’t make friends with a man who is easily angered and that it is better to be alone in the wilderness than with an angry woman. Anger will rip a family apart and leave bitterness and pain in its wake.
Anger is destructive. But anger also has some other hidden dangers, like anger reveals pride. We’ve already talked about pride in this series, so I won’t rehash the problems with pride, but think about why you get angry. Most often it is because of control. Things feel out of your control so you explode to show your dissatisfaction with it, and you explode to try to manipulate and get things done. Anger makes us think we are strong and in control. And at the root of these desires is pride.
And ultimately, anger shows a lack of trust in God and a lack of love for others. If we have to be in control, then we are taking the place of God in our lives. And anger never usually cares who it steps on. We must acknowledge that there is a real and present danger with our anger.
Roots of Anger
What we need to do is to try to understand why we respond with uncontrolled or explosive anger at times. What lives at the root of this dangerous emotion? I think there are several possibilities that we can identify as potential roots of our anger.
The first is fear. When we experience fear, we respond in anger. Fear of what though? There is the fear of things not going like you had planned or hoped. I can relate to this one, even in the simple things. We get in the car and Kerri is driving. If we are running late and she takes a turn that I wouldn’t have, I say “Where are you going?” Most likely not spoken in my most pleasant, loving, understanding voice.
There is the fear of messing up. You make a mistake and you lose it because you have to redo it or start over. Or even worse, someone else messes up and makes you look bad. We let them know just how displeased we are with their imperfection.
Beyond fear, we might also see anger when we have unmet expectation. You get home from work and you thought dinner would be ready but its not. Or you thought your kids would have their homework done or rooms cleaned. I realize by using these examples I am giving way more insight into me and the Clark house than I should! I am letting you peer behind the curtain, so to speak.
And finally we might see our anger in response to our own insecurity and pain. Someone hurt us, and we want to hurt them back. So we do. We feel inadequate, so we respond with anger to bring them down to where we feel.
Responding to Our Own Anger
It’s easy when looking at a topic like this to walk away and assume that the answer to our anger is to never be angry ever again. We make the leap that emotions are bad and therefore the ultimate objective in dealing with emotions is to not have any. The Stoics built an entire philosophy around this idea that emotions were a problem, believing that emotions led to poor judgment and the best life was achieved without them. Let’s not make that leap.
In the midst of the rage, we must be willing to hit the pause button and ask ourselves, “What is driving this right now? Why am I feeling this way?” And then we can begin to deconstruct the lie that is producing such a strong emotional response. “What am I afraid of?” “Why do I have to be in control?” “What am I insecure about? God’s love? His acceptance?”
We must learn that when we feel out of control and start to get upset, that it is okay, because God is in control. When we or others screw up, it is okay. Mistakes are going to happen. People are going to let you down at times. They may get snippy with you. The failures of others are not an excuse for your fury. And we must remember that we need to extend the same grace and mercy we hope is extended to us when we let them down.
And we need to move to the place where the Spirit of God is what controls us, not our emotions. Those who claim to follow Jesus, to be his disciples, are called to be filled with the Spirit, to walk by the Spirit. And when we do we look more and more like Christ every day.
In Paul’s letter to the Galatian church, he writes,
So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh…The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like…But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. —Galatians 5:16, 19-21, 22–23
We must get to the heart and allow the truth of God’s word, his love and grace, and the power of the Holy Spirit to begin the healing process, so that we see these moments of wrath become fewer and fewer.
This is responding to our own anger, but equally important is how we respond when others are angry toward us. Usually our initial reaction can be defined by either fight or flight. We dig our heals in and raise our voices, or we hate conflict and when anyone expresses anger toward us we leave, and remove ourselves from the situation. And most often we find no resolution in either of these responses.
Proverbs speaks to these very situations.
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. —Proverbs 15:1
Mockers stir up a city, but the wise turn away anger. —Proverbs 29:8
When confronted with hot situations, wisdom says, “keep your cool, respond with a soft answer” That is the best way to defuse the situation.
As I read that last verse I can’t help but think about the current political climate in our country and how much anger is playing a role this year. And before either side starts pointing fingers, don’t. This applies all around. Mockers are stirring up a country. Where are the wise ones that are turning away, not inciting the anger? Maybe that is what the church is supposed to be doing. Because diffusing anger, bringing peace to hostile situations isn’t a democrat thing or a republican thing It is a gospel thing.
We must remember that we are created in the image of God. God created us with emotions to be expressed: to love, to feel joy and excitement, and yes, even to experience anger. But like with most sin, when it is out of control, it becomes a problem.
Would it surprise you to know that the Bible says some positive things about anger? Yes, uncontrolled, explosive, hot-tempered anger is bad. But there is an anger that is good. In fact, anger is necessary. There should be times we are angry.
Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly. —Proverbs 14:29
Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city. —Proverbs 16:32
Slow to anger is wise. Slow to anger is how we should be. Why? Because if we never experience anger, it means we don’t care, that we are apathetic. The opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference. And when we love and care, and the things we love and care about are threatened, we get angry. Again, not the explosive uncontrolled type, but slow and responsive.
Third century theologian Lactantius, who was an advisor to Constantine, is quoted as saying, “He who does not get angry does not care.” (Snodgrass, NIVAC)
And we see this healthy anger shown in God himself. God is an emotional God. Jesus was an emotional Savior. He got angry. Jesus was angry at the Pharisees cheating people and their hard hearts. (Mark 3:5) God gets angry at the sin and injustice in the world.
This idea is not popular because many want to only say that God is love, that he would never get angry. But as one writer put it this week, “If you have a God who never gets angry, you can’t have a God of love. Because if you never, ever get angry about anything, you don’t love anything.” It is God’s wrath that shows that he cares.
And when we become more like Christ, the more righteously angry we will get toward real evil.
So, we need to transform our anger. From the explosive uncontrolled problem we feel guilt and shame for to the slow righteous anger of God that stands up against evil and speaks up for injustice.
What Proverbs shows us is that anger does not depend on the subject but on the person. Anger is an issue of the heart. An angry person will find a reason, even a bad one to blow up, and this emotion can show up in many different ways: in how we speak, in our actions, in hastily sent text messages or emails, or in passive-aggressive behavior.
But we are called not to engage like everyone else does in their rage. We are called to display the character of Christ. Do you see anger in your life? What is at the root? Will you allow God to redeem and restore that in you? Will you allow the Spirit of God to transform your unrighteous anger, to remove your fear or offense so that you are no longer a peace-taker but instead become a peacemaker?