What's with anger?

What is the deal with anger? It’s one of those questions ruminating in the back of my head that’s come to the front lately. So I’ll put some reflections here and see what responses come up.

Anger is a secondary emotion rather than a basic emotion in people. It is a natural and mostly automatic response to pain of one form or another. Personal attack, physical, emotional or spiritual, whether current or anticipated, actual or perceived, creates pain and the anger response. We get angry when we think we have been injured, or mistreated, when our expectations are not met, when we are opposed in our deep values, or when we are faced with obstacles that keep us from attaining personal goals.

This is also true in God. For example God is basically compassionate, gracious, loving, holy, and so on as we see in such passages as Exodus 34:6-7, the most quoted verse in the Bible by the Bible. According to that passage, He is “slow to anger.” Wrath is not a base characteristic of His, but a response of His justice and love to the pain of sin, as we see in Exodus 32 for example.

Thoughts that can trigger anger include personal assessments, assumptions, evaluations, or interpretations of situations that makes people think that someone else is attempting (consciously or not) to hurt them. In this sense, anger is a social emotion; You always have a target that your anger is directed against (even if that target is yourself). Feelings of pain, combined with anger-triggering thoughts motivate you to take action, face threats and defend yourself by striking out against the target you think is causing you pain.

Our perceptions may assess the situation more or less threatening than it really is. People miss the very real danger of enticements to indulge sin and don’t get angry at the threat to life and godliness. Other times fear or past experience lead to mis-interpretations of danger in situations. Anger can become a normal state as people are real or perceived pain.

There are many levels of anger: We can be raging, angry, upset, irritated, peeved, annoyed, bothered. I find that men in particular reject the assessment that they are angry. Wise wives don’t charge their husbands with being angry. That makes them bad and the assessment actually leads to anger! So softer words like “upset” work better.

One must be angry sometimes. I have often said that I can’t trust people who don’t get angry at sin and evil, since that make God angry. Anger is a signal that something is wrong. It captures your attention and motivates you to take action to correct that wrong thing.

Aristotle got it right: “Anyone can become angry. That is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose and in the right way – that is not easy.”

Let’s me put some thoughts into a parable (Jesus did it, so I’ll give it a try). There are three friends, Andy, Bill and Colin (I pick the names simply because of the ABC). Andy perceives that the friends are colluding against him. The pain of the collusion is exacerbated by Andy’s sense of betrayal. But Bill is Andy’s brother and it’s not safe to be angry at him. Andy can turn the anger back on himself, adopting the interpretation that it’s his garbage that’s the problem. That inward directed anger will lead to depression, sometimes severe. Unfortunately, the anger still leaks out on Bill, his children or his other friends. He may become an angry person under a veneer of nice, who can’t do intimacy with anyone. That’s really bad.

A better route is for his anger to by pass Bill and go toward Colin who is more removed. This gives it outlet which relieves Andy’s depression and chronic anger. If Bill and Colin stop being friends, the perceived collusion may diminish in Andy’s mind. The pain reduction can allow Andy’s anger to ease, especially if Bill is aware of what’s happening in Andy and works to build the relationship with Andy. If Colin also understands, he can express repentance, accept the anger, keep his distance, knowing the anger is partially deserved. Though he’s helpless to do anything to restore relationship with Andy or between Andy and Bill, he can pray and work on his own stuff. Hopefully as pain reduces, the three can come to a place where in a context of confession and repentance for sin forgiveness and restoration can happen. But it takes time and intentionality. In the meantime, the loss of friendship is extremely painful. The energy of the pain can energize all three to be more redemptive in their ministry. Prayer and underlying love of friendship can keep the admittedly faint hope of restoration alive.

The articles at mental help were quite helpful to me.

 Sherry and I are at Seaside where I’m speaking at the North American Baptist Convention and visiting with Nicole and Joy . . . yes, David, Sam and Cyndee too. Cyndee, David, and Joy will join Sherry and me in the Nov. 30 trip to Kansas City to see Michael/Elizabeth. Susan is doing will with her lately discovered pregnancy (see “huge surprise” below). Delivery will happen by November 3. I preach again at Grace next week on the Babylon and the first beast. Suggestions?

Wait on the LORD

Isaiah 40:31Isaiah 40:31 is one of everyone’s favorite verses:

“But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”

I’ve heard so many explanations and applications of it. Mostly they are along this line: if you serve the LORD well, then you’ll have unlimited spiritual energy. So pray hard, spend time in meditation on God’s Word, “abide,” or whatever and then the Spirit will make you victorious. You’ll not be weary in well doing, not fainting when the pressure is crushing, not depressed when relationships fail, not alone when friends break off their support.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. Part of this is my new favorite musician: Jeff Johnson an outstanding Celtic style song writer/performer. There’s a mix of sadness, and hopeful determination in his music that touches deeply in me. His “Wait on the LORD” on the album Vespers: light unto LIGHT is a hauntingly simple rendition of the song.

 As I reflect on the verse, I realize that the original context is the nation of Israel headed off into captivity because of their sin. The chapter begins with “comfort ye my people” promising the coming of Messiah as well as restoration. It ends with “wait on the LORD.” The point is that while you are in the place of hardness, like Bablylon, the thing to do is wait for the day of the LORD’s coming. Wait with feeling and proclamation of the greatness of the LORD. Wait hopefully, knowing that He is still LORD. Wait actively doing the worshipful activities in the congregation and in the world. Wait sadly, feeling the loss, often tearfully, with sadness bring life to a stop at times. Wait until He moves, for in that day renewal will happen. Wait trustingly but waitingly for all my activism, there is nothing I can do for renewing the lost. Wait, doing good where ever I can, mediating His grace in other seemingly hopeless situations. In fact I’ve seen three absolutely miraculous renewal of relations in the recent past. I know it can happen, so I wait. Persistenting in hope, prayer, faith an love.

Perhaps the most thrilling example of waiting is the news that Susan is pregnant (see previous post). We didn’t even know we were waiting. Sherry and I are still reeling with super happiness. Of course our plans have changed and we’ll head back for a quick visit to Kansas City on November 30, to hold a little tyke.

This past week, I preached “dragon wars” on Revelation 12 (today), turned in the final stuff on the second book, Death by Love,  found out I’m part of the presidential search team for Western, worked through many paper drafts for my students, and enjoyed being married a lot. Next week, it will be grading exams, and heading to Seaside to speak at the North American Baptist annual meetings. I’ll get to enjoy time with Dee Duke as the first speaker and get down to Cannon Beach to play with Nicole and Joy (I know that surprises everyone!)

Late addition:  Jeff will be at Village on December 9 for a Celtic Christmas Vespers concert. Mark your calendar!


Huge Surprise!

I spent the weekend in Kansas City, with Donn and Susan. The “reason” is the father-son football excursion. It’s become an annual event we both enjoy. Susan and I have a great time too. This time the event was colored a bit by the death of her great aunt and their trip to Iowa for her funeral. I took the time to visit my cousin, Steven, and his wife Betty and my uncle, Truman, and his wife Bernice. Steven and I were almost like brothers, growing up on adjoining farms in Missouri. Susan was having some physical difficulties, exhaustion, swelling, some pain and such. She was set for a series of medical exams on Monday and Tuesday.

So when I saw Donn’s name when my cell phone rang this afternoon, I interrupted my appointment to take the call. I heard him say, “We’re pregnant.”

 Since they’d been told pregnancy was virtually impossible, and they’d given up hope of children several years ago, this was amazing news. “Great,” I responded brilliantly as my mind tried to grasp this news.

Donn went on: “She’s 37 weeks pregnant. We need your prayers.”

My head refused to process the proposition. But it’s turned out to be so. She simply was unaware of her condition. I’ve heard of such things, but now it was my own daughter in law, whom I’d just seen. Thousands of questions gave way to shocked surprise gave way to happy astonishment.

Tonight we had family processing with Sherry, David and Cyndee and me. Susan is in the maternity ward. Donn went home, having seen the couch in the room. It’s possible we’ll have a new grandchild in the next couple of days or in the next couple of weeks.

Huge surprise doesn’t begin to express our emotions. God’s new gift to us has left us breathless.