Different struggles have different characteristic traits. Anger comes with a sense of urgency. When anger goes bad, it is usually trying to correct too much too quickly. In the process, this pace and intensity of the change does as much or more damage than the wrong which triggered the anger. Think of a few classic examples.
A teenager back talks his/her parent. The parent is incensed with the disrespect and wants to put an end to it immediately. The result is smacking the teenager across the face.
A husband and wife are in an argument. One person is unable to follow what the other person says. The response to having to repeat what was already said is a derogatory slam for being “too stupid to follow a conversation…no wonder we can’t get along when this is who I have to talk to.”
A boss is feeling pressure at work, because last quarter’s numbers were low. Everyone knows it’s the economy, but no one knows how long it could take for that to turn around. So, instead, a tone of criticism and sarcasm fills the work environment in the name of “motivation.”
These brief snippets may share many things in common, but the point being illustrated is that they reveal the “rushed” nature of anger and that sinful anger does more damage than what triggers it. We think we are agents of peace and righteousness, but we are spreading dissension and dishonor.
Three Examples Revisited
A parent should correct disrespect, but “putting a child in their place” with random, sniper-esque violence does nothing to teach respect. The teenager grows to covet the power to treat people how you like and blame them if they don’t like your lack of self-control. Come to think of it, that is probably what started the argument in the first place.
It is reasonable for a spouse to expect to be understood. But when the ability to follow a conversation becomes the measure of whether you deserve the basics of mutual honor, then the foundations of trust and security have been eroded. Now fear and resentment will impede the ability to listen in future conversations and anger will escalate because, “You ‘never’ understand what I say.”
A boss does provide income for his/her employees by motivating them to perform at a level which consistently earns a profit for the company. But the residual impact of a negative environment and unrealistic expectations makes the term “success” a cruel fairy tale.
So what’s the point? Consider this one take away (but feel free to brainstorm others). Godly anger recognizes the pace at which change can take place. Out of grace-filled, realistic love for the person, godly anger looks to influence change in a way that does not destroy or demean the person experiencing the change. Godly anger always wants redemption more than destruction.
The cliché application of this point is to “count to 10.” But if you don’t know why you’re counting to ten, then your tongue will just be 10 times sharper when you finally do speak. We pause because we want to accurately represent our God. We recognize the greatest offense is not the wrong we are responding to, but a willful misrepresentation of God in the name of righteousness.
Consider this picture of God’s response to injustice.
Exodus 34:6-7, “The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation (emphasis added).”
It might be better to memorize this passage and repeat it to yourself instead of counting. As you repeat it to yourself, add the following brief prayer, “Lord, I am tempted to be rushed to anger. Help me represent you in both mercy and justice, in what I say and what I don’t say. If I must choose between sin and silence give me the grace to choose silence until I can honor You.”
Three Examples Revised
Now the parent realizes fire should not be fought with fire. Dominance does not defeat disrespect; it makes dominance more attractive and increases the desire to attain it. The parent realizes the short cut of aggression is a lie like the short cuts offered to Jesus (Matt. 4:1-11). The parent would need to respond with strength marked by “power and love and self-control (2 Tim. 1:7).” But until such words and actions are found, representing God must be valued more than guarding personal respect.
With this in mind, the spouse realizes the pride and self-centeredness of his/her desire for efficiency and condemning words. Creating an environment where it is safe to misunderstand is essential to being consistently understood. But until the pace of his/her expectations slow down, this will seem like a foolish contradiction (1 Cor. 1:20-25).
Our boss can now realize that prolonged motivation by fear inevitably degenerates into despair. Fear is an effective motivator, but not one that our souls were made to perpetually endure. Like duct tape, fear fixes things, but only for a short time. Truth spoken in love (“Without increased production not all of us will keep our jobs”) can then be allowed to sustain what negativity always drove in the ground.
Join the Conversation
What other applications would you draw to help counter the rushed nature of anger?
As you consider your applications, reflect both on the situational (“in the moment”) and lifestyle changes that are necessary to combat this dynamic of sinful anger.
How do we protect and foster the good qualities associated with anger’s strong call to action?