The Passions: Anger

Ephesians 4:25-27
So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil.

Proverbs 22:24-25
Make no friends with those given to anger, and do not associate with hotheads, or you may learn their ways and entangle yourself in a snare.

“Don’t make me angry.  You won’t like me when I’m angry.”  That’s not only true for Dr. Bruce Banner and the Incredible Hulk.  It is actually true for me as well.  And for some of you I imagine.

I have been angry.  I have been uncontrollably angry.  Some of you who have been around me in critical/stressful situations or have played golf with me may be surprised.  I’ve had quite a few people say to me, “You don’t ever get angry.”  Actually I do, but I have had to learn, like many others before me, that anger unleashed and acted upon can have destructive consequences.  I would love to be the heroic figure of my own sermon and tell how wonderfully I overcame anger on a mountaintop experience, but the truth is the way I have had to learn to control my anger is the hard way – unfortunately a few damaged relationships in my past and my contributions to their failings is what led me to really strive to get a handle on anger.  I’m not there yet, like you, I am a work in progress.

There have been many instances where my anger and lack of rational control led to a family actually leaving a church I used to serve.  Like anyone else I tried to justify my anger, “I was in the right, and if you were in my shoes you would understand” but in the end all those are just excuses on my own lack of self control and my own limitation of love.

My anger toward my father for over 15 years led to a broken and fractured relationship that was never restored.  I can justify my anger ever day of my life, but I can’t get those years back.  They are gone.

I have failed miserably in the area of anger and only because of that, have I had to learn a deeper level of self-control with the passion of anger.

I have no doubt that many of you have been in similar positions.  Whether a family member, friend, co-worker or boss, you’ve been angry and probably acted on that anger saying and doing things that damaged your relationships with these people.  I do realize that some of us battle anger more than others do.  I know other people who get violently angry about not making the green light at the intersection.  When the ancient monk Evagrius wrote to the desert fathers and mothers, one of his lessons was about a monk who would get so angry because when he was driving cattle they wouldn’t walk in a straight line.  Anger is nothing new.

Evagrius of Pontus in the 4th century called anger “the fiercest passion,” and there is probably more in the monastic literature about the destructive nature of anger than all the rest of the passions put together.  Why?  Because, in the opinion of the early church fathers, anger is more potentially destructive of love than any other passion. We have seen that in our own lives.  None of the other eight passions can destroy relationships as quickly as unbridled anger.

There is also more danger of self-deception in anger, Evagrius said, as we tell ourselves that our anger is justified because we are correcting others for their own good. But as Abba Poemen, another desert father once said, “Instructing one’s neighbor is for the [person] who is whole and without passions; for what is the use of building the house of another, while destroying one’s own?”

In our modern culture, we are given to support the concept or belief that anger is somehow good for us and the expression of anger is actually healthy for us.  But many studies indicate that expressing anger does not make it go away.  According to Dr. Robert Allan, a noted clinical psychologist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, for most people and in most circumstances, directly expressed anger will only make a bad situation worse.  He argues that much of the popular psychology of expressing anger and letting it out does more harm than good because it alienates loved ones.   He writes, “Often anger runs in families, passed down from father to son, and mother to daughter. There are several proven strategies and tools that help people break this destructive cycle and get control of their anger.”  Dr. Allan, has studied anger for nearly three decades, and helps anger-prone people to discover the reasons for their anger. Reasons for anger are often tied to fundamental needs, some of which we are only dimly aware, such as respect and territory. By dealing with these needs directly, one will be better able to manage anger.

Interesting how Dr. Allan’s take is more about the cultivation of relationships and how that leads to health.  Evagrius also said in the 4th century that “even if expressing anger did remove it, if the relationship with the object of our anger has been broken or damaged by our expression, we have defeated our Christian goal of love.”

Scripture backs up this position of not allowing anger to be expressed in a few significant passages.  James 1:19-20 “Let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.”  And in Proverbs 12:16, “Fools show their anger at once, but the prudent ignore an insult.”

The goal of the Christian life is to love God, others, and ourselves.  How is anger blinding you to that love and how is it destroying love?

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