Slower to anger

Anatomy of anger graphic found via GoogleAnger is a complex emotion. Things would be easy if we could just say that being angry is always sinful. But that cannot be as the Bible records instances of God becoming angry (such as when the Israelites rebelled and made a golden calf). And when Paul urges us not to sin when we’re angry, the assumption is that it’s possible to indeed be angry without sinning.

I learned a lot about anger while reading Glittering Vices by Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung. She points out how anger is actually connected to love as it can reveal what I really care about. Glittering Vices by Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoungAnger can also provide the motivation I need to make right something that is wrong. As Prof. DeYoung writes:

Anger, when it is a holy emotion, has justice as its object and love as its root. Both love and justice are focused on the good of others… Motivated by good anger, we hunger and thirst for righteousness, an appetite that depends on justice for its object, but on love for its right expression. Anger in these cases adds energy and passion to the execution of justice. The love that underlies it, however, keeps it in check, for love does not seek to destroy the other, but to set things right. (p. 130)

Vicious, sinful anger, on the other hand, Prof. DeYoung continues, is rooted in selfishness and harms others. Here’s my favorite line in her description of when this emotion gets misdirected:

Unhinged from justice, bad anger aims at another’s injury,
rather than another’s good.
(p. 130)

Put less poetically, sinful anger causes more harm than good. How I need discernment to know when my anger is righteous and when it is making a hurt-filled situation worse!

Thinking about anger reminds me of this part of Psalm 103:

The LORD is merciful and gracious,
– – slow to anger and abounding in love.

God’s anger is perfect, yet He is slow to get angry. My anger is imperfect. I suspect it would most often be best if I were even slower to get angry than God!

(I’ve blogged about anger before.
It includes a classic Goofy cartoon!)

Dealing with anger

During the occasional temper tantrum in our home (you’ll have to Calvin's temperfigure out whether I’m talking about our kids or their parents), someone often casts blame on another family member for their outburst: “But he/she/you made me angry!” At the Art of Marriage retreat that Trinity CRC hosted last month at Inspiration Hills, this quote jumped out at me:

The source of our anger is within each of us.
No one else can “make us angry.”

We can have everything taken away from us except for one thing – how we’ll react to any given situation. Whether we become angry is a decision we make. It may seem to be impossible to respond any other way, but it only seems that way: By God’s grace and with prayer and practice, we can change the way we respond to situations that would otherwise provoke anger.

The Art of Marriage material provided a helpful checklist of what to focus on and what to avoid when a conversation gets heated and anger begins to build:

Focus on… Rather than…
one issue many issues
the problem the person
behavior character
specifics generalizations
facts judgment of motives
“I” statements “you” statements
understanding who’s winning or losing

Apparently a lot of our anger stems from unfulfilled desires: We’re expecting one thing but end up with something else or perhaps nothing at all. It’s easy to become angry when our hopes remain unfulfilled or are shattered, whether it’s because chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream is unavailable at the store today or because of a painful injustice that occurred years ago.

The Art of Marriage workbook encouraged Monica and I to “ask God and our spouse for wisdom regarding our desires,” that our desires would not be misplaced or unrealistic. “We need to bring our desires before God, genuinely seeking His direction, and ‘He will give you the desires of your heart’ (Ps 37:4b).”

I suspect that as I “take delight in the Lord” (Ps 37:4a), His desires will more and more become the very things I desire. And if I’m aligning my life, actions, and words to His desires, I suspect I’ll have fewer things to be angry about with myself, my wife and family, and the other people in my life.

I also blogged about the Art of Marriage here.
Calvin & Hobbes graphic found via Google. Anyone know
from which particular strip this originates? I’m guessing Calvin
is complaining about school or having to do homework…

Good and angry

I remember watching this cartoon Sunday evenings on Walt Disney.  It was originally made in 1950, long before the term “road rage” became part of the vernacular.

The message it taught me was that being angry is bad.  Raised in a Christian home, I equated “bad” with “sinful.”  Therefore, being angry was not compatible with Christ-like living.

Gary Chapman corrects this error in his book Anger: Handling a Powerful Emotion Anger: Handling a Powerful Emotion in a Healthy Wayin a Healthy Way, arguing how being angry can actually reveal our Godliness.  He writes:

…The human capacity for anger is rooted in the nature of God.  …When God sees evil, He experiences anger.  Anger is His logical response to injustice or unrighteousness…

Anger is not evil; anger is not sinful; anger is not a part of our fallen nature; anger is not Satan at work in our lives.  Quite the contrary.  Anger is evidence that we are made in God’s image; it demonstrates that we still have some concern for justice and righteousness in spite of our fallen estate.  The capacity for anger is strong evidence that we are more than mere animals.  It reveals our concern for rightness, justice, and fairness.  The experience of anger is evidence of our nobility, not our depravity. (pp. 18-21)

The book goes on to explain how we are prone to getting angry about the wrong things and to expressing our anger in destructive (read: sinful) ways.  However, Chapman’s underlying thesis connecting anger with God’s nature is a helpful corrective to some of things we may have incorrectly assumed about this emotion.