Summary: Danger in itself is not wrong. But there are temnptations we face to deal with our anger unhelpfully.
I want to talk today about the danger of anger; or more accurately about the temptation to let our anger consume us. Now let’s face it, every one of us will experience anger from time to time, some more than others. Some of us are probably more prone to anger due to our emotional makeup, but all of us experience it as a normal part of life. So the question is what are we going to make of it? How are we going to deal with it.
I wonder what your family was like when it came to dealing with anger. I know in my family, my parents rarely if ever openly expressed their anger. My father was fairly easy going in a Victorian sort of way. My mother was, like many of her generation, a peacemaker who’d avoid conflict if at all possible, and who’d prefer to forgive rather than confront. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t get angry. They just showed it in more subtle ways. By a cutting remark. By a short reply. By a quiet expression of indignation perhaps. It may be too, that they expressed anger at each other in private when we weren’t around to hear them. Well, what that’s meant for me is that I tend to be similar, to be slow to lose my temper. But sometimes it means I repress my anger until it gets to the point where I explode. Or else I take it out on people in more subtle though no less harmful ways.
But you may be different. You may have come from a family where anger was expressed loudly. Where wrongs were protested against vehemently. And that may have affected how you in turn express your anger, just as it has with me. You may be the type who explodes if someone wrongs you, or if you see some injustice being carried out. You might even have developed the habit of expressing your anger in a way that’s not helpful outside the family context. On the other hand you may have learnt to express your anger in a way that’s actually healthy; that helps you get it out of your system before it does any harm.
Today we’re going to think about what we do with anger. How we deal with anger in a way that’s positive and that perhaps overcomes the shortcomings of the habits we learnt as children.
The first thing we need to do though, is to understand the types of anger we might experience. You see anger isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In the first reading today we read, "Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger" (Eph 4:26 NRSV) It’s quite clear from that, that anger itself isn’t sin. We’ll see in a moment what might make it sin, but of itself it isn’t necessarily wrong. So what types of anger do we experience. Well, it seems to me there are 2 basic types of anger: Righteous indignation and not-so-righteous indignation.
So what are some examples of righteous indignation? When you get angry because you see someone being bullied; if someone promises to do something for you and they don’t do it; if someone steals your car or breaks into your home; if people are left to starve in third world countries because western countries want to preserve their quality of life or multinational companies want to preserve their profit margins. These are all examples where anger is right an proper. There’s no doubt that when Jesus threw the money changers out of the temple he was angry. In explaining what Jesus has done, John quotes Ps 69:9 "Zeal for your house will consume me." He was angry because the money changers and animal merchants were stopping the Gentiles from worshipping God in freedom.
But there’s another type of anger, of indignation, that isn’t quite so righteous. This probably takes 2 forms. The first is where we get angry because of circumstances that are out of our control. We look at others, perhaps and think that they’re better off than we are and we feel angry about it. Something bad happens to us or to someone we love and we get angry - probably at God. I knew a woman once who had suffered a great loss some forty or so years before, and she was still angry about it. Now if you asked her who she was angry at I doubt she would have been able to tell you. But I think she was angry at God. Because he’d done it to her.
Or perhaps your comfort is disturbed. Like the other night when someone rang me up just after I’d turned the light out and was getting ready to go to sleep.