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 wereÂ quite helpful to me.
Â 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?