Anger haunts the landscape around us.
And while you could argue that’s always been the case, that anger has filled the air since the first human breath, I sense it’s getting worse. Do you see it too?
That’s why these words by Presbyterian pastor Frederick Buechner sound with such force for me:
“Of the Seven Deadly Sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back—in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you.”
So if all of that is true, why on earth would the Bible ever tell you to be angry? (See Ephesians 4:26)
Because some things are so wrong that you should be angry about them.
No matter what you believe about our nation’s immigration policy, a child being separated from her family with no plan for reunification is not right, and it ought to make you angry.
You should be angry about racial injustices that are more real than some of us realize.
You should be angry when people use untrue words to divide us from one another.
And if you’re part of the Christian faith, you should get angry when your religion is hijacked by extremists who make a mockery of the way of Jesus.
In this broken and fearful world, there a plenty of things to be mad about. And that’s why the first half of that verse from Ephesians makes perfect sense in such a world: “Be angry!”
The only trouble is, the verse doesn’t stop there. “But do not sin.”
So how do keep your anger from being sin? From destroying you?
I’ve come up with an acrostic for ANGER that might help. It consists of five simple questions for you to consider when your anger rises.
Is it Aware? Since anger is most often a secondary emotion, you have to get to the root of your anger. Was it motivated by some fear that lurks within you? Was it born in a moment of rejection or hurt? Was it caused by something of value that you lost for whatever reason, and are you simply finding a scapegoat for your grief?
Is it Needed? Remember, there are some things that ought to make you angry. Saint Augustine even called “anger” one of the twin daughters of hope. For your hope to be realized, he argued, you have to get mad enough about the things that should not be to take steps to bring them to an end. So is your anger needed to force you to respond to whatever has made you mad?
Is it Going? This was the hardest letter to come up with. I thought about godly or graceful or generous, but I kept coming back to going. If you discover that you are angry about something years or decades old, it’s a pretty good indicator that you’re stuck in it, and that, if you don’t let it go, you’ll end up being the skeleton at the feast.
Is it Engaging? This presses you to consider where you’re venting your anger. If you’re angry at somebody but you only express that anger to those not involved, then all you’re doing is venting. And while venting feels good, it doesn’t move from the brokenness that anger makes visible toward the wholeness that God seeks.
Which leads to a final question about your anger.
Is it Redemptive? In other words, can God use your anger to end those things that ought not to be? Is there a way that God can help you take your anger about injustice or inequalities or disparities and turn it into something that redeems—that heals?
I guess I’m just worried about us these days. Everyone appears so angry. And it seems as if we want to stoke the anger of others, not to engage the world for its healing, but to watch it burn.
How do you think we can keep our anger from turning us all into the skeletons at the feast?