Sharing solutions, finding fixes and telling tales.
Wednesday, 8 January 2014
Anger is one of the leading causes of family breakdown, and always has been. The sociologists and anthropologists use terms such as “lack of communication” and “incompatibilty” but what it boils down to is the feelings of displeasure, annoyance and antagonism as a result of a perceived wrong. One person thinks the other has “done them wrong” and resents it, holding it against them, and then does them wrong in return, and the cycle continues.
So what is anger? Anger, in and of itself, is not sinful. It is part of our God-designed emotional makeup, just as love, sorrow and joy are. It is, essentially, the instant displeasure at perceived evil. Unfortunately for humanity, sin has corrupted our anger, just as it has corrupted everything else. We still feel that instant displeasure, but our viewpoint of “evil” is more often selfishly motivated than the godly anger we are called to have, at sin and sinners. It is more often “He took my toy” than “He stole their innocence”. The petty annoyances and selfish trivialities we concentrate on cloud our sight to the true injustices of sin.
Anger only becomes sinful when it is without reason, excessive, or goes on longer than is reasonable. When we are angry over minor grievances, we sin. When we are furious at the slightest perceived wrong, we sin. When we hold a grudge, we sin. In Matthew 5:21-22, Jesus compared our anger to murder, and warned that the punishments would be the same.
Anger is most devestating in the family. Isn’t it always true that we hurt most the ones we love best? When 50% of marriages end in divorce, because one or both partners are angry, we know there’s a problem. But anger is the secondary emotion, the one that drives action. Resentment, unforgiveness, bitterness – they are all result in anger.
It goes back to the first family, in Genesis. We see the first children, Cain and Abel, making offerings to the Lord. Abel understood the principle of blood washing sin, and offered the appropriate sacrifice, while Cain, offering his best, did not understand. Yet instead of letting his jealousy motivate him to do better next time, he let his anger simmer. In his anger, causeless, beyond reasonable, and held on to long after the felt offense, he attacked his brother, and killed him. His punishment? Banishment from God’s presence and his family. Already, the first family, and the first family breakdown.
We see family breakdown again in the story of Abraham. That patriarch of our faith was a father in a dysfunctional family. He had an affair and the affair resulted in a child. When his mistress lorded it over his wife, in his anger, he banished his mistress and his son. His anger, his wife’s anger, and his mistress’s anger all caused this dysfunctional family. The result? One angry young man, whose legacy to his descendants is anger, war, “everyone’s hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.” (Genesis 16:12)
The solution, however, is simple. God’s Word tells us exactly how to handle anger appropriately. First, when anger is being held against us, we are to be calm, gentle, and praying for that person. Second, repentence and forgiveness will erase anger. And third, we are not to be angry in the first place, except for what angers God.
First, how to handle someone else’s anger: Proverbs 15:1 provides the key. “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Or try Proverbs 21:14, “A gift given in secret soothes anger, and a bribe concealed in the cloak pacifies great wrath.” Jesus told us to “love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you,” (Matthew 5:44). He also said that when someone is legitimately angry with us, we are to immediately go to them and ask forgiveness: “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24) As Christians, we are called to live in peace with everyone, as far as it is up to us to do so. (Romans 12:18)
Second, when we perceive a wrong done against us, and we are angry, God gives us instructions. They are very simple. One word, really: Forgive. Do I need to repeat that? Forgive. Jesus gives us a reason in Matthew 6:14-15 “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” He offered the story of the unforgiving debtor to illustrate this principle. (Matthew 18:23-35) The man who owed the king much was forgiven, but he turned around and did not forgive someone else who owed him a little. Interestingly enough, this story was given just before Jesus described marriage as being God-intended for life, without cause for divorce (except unfaithfulness). Forgiveness is simply giving up your right to hold the other person to account, your right to “prosecute”. When we give up our right to say “You owe me,” give that right to God, (who promised His own retribution in Romans 12:19), we are forgiving the other, and saying to them, in effect, “you are free to go.” (By the way, forgiveness and trust are two different things. Forgiveness is NOT saying what they did is ok, just that you’re leaving it up to God to collect what they owe you, and letting them go.) God is much better at holding others to account for their sin than we ever will be, and unforgiveness simply hurts us. Being angry here is self-destructive, and giving the one who hurt us way more power than they deserve. Give it to God, and let Him take care of it, and you will be and feel much better.
Finally, the best way to deal with anger, is to simply not get angry at anything other than what God Himself is angry at: sin. In Proverbs, we are to stay away from those who get angry easily (Proverbs 22:24). In Ephesians, and Colossions, anger is listed as part of those character traits we are to get rid of (Ephesians 4:31, Colossians 3:8). Paul cautions us that in our anger we do not sin (Ephesians 4:26) by holding on too long. James tells us to “be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,” (James 1:19) and that “human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (James 1:20). Instead, we are told to “bear with each another, and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:13) and to “be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:2)
Anger, petty human anger, has no place in any relationship, much less the family. Our anger destroys, but thank God, His love rebuilds, renews and restores. Follow His commands, and you’ll see it for yourself.