What makes you angry?

Maybe you’re frustrated with the state of the world right now. Maybe someone you love has been ill-treated. Maybe politics makes you red in the face. Maybe your spouse ignores your feelings or your kids don’t listen or your neighbor keeps doing that thing you asked them a million times not to do.

My husband asked this question in church last weekend, and we got the expected answers. One fellow is angry at how the nursing home isn’t taking care of his wife the way he feels they should be. One lady is angry about some of the pandemic restrictions. Another is angry at the defacing of statues during the protests.

By the time we left church, I was a little angry at how one member went out spouting some really hateful stuff and everyone just laughed him off.

We get angry. This is normal and natural and even healthy. It’s an emotional, gut reaction. But do you all remember this verse?

“‘Be angry and do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil. ” ~ Ephesians 4:26-27

Have we really stopped to examine what that means, and the instruction it carries? Paul is saying here that we WILL get angry. That’s fine. But we CANNOT remain angry. That’s what “do not let the sun go down on your wrath” means. We can’t cling to it. Coddle it. Revel in it. We cannot hold it tight and wrap ourselves up in it. We cannot live in anger—but that’s exactly what I see many of us in the Church doing.

It’s dangerous, my friends. And Paul says why right there—it gives a foothold to Satan. It eats away at our souls.

Getting angry is normal, natural, and even healthy. But we cannot leave it at that. We cannot, should not, ought not accept—and even justify—our anger. But I hear that a lot too. Do you? Do you hear people—or even yourself—making excuses for why their anger is good and right and righteous?

It isn’t. I’m just going to say that outright. Even if the thing you’re angry about is a grievous, horrendously sinful thing, staying angry about it is not righteous. Because anger is our emotional reaction—not our SPIRITUAL reaction. It breeds hatred, prejudice, bias, bigotry, bitterness, pride, self-righteousness, unforgiveness…the list goes on. It’s an immediate gut reaction to a situation that we cannot help but feel, and sometime—SOMETIMES—it indicates something genuinely wrong and in need of addressing. But here’s my challenge to us all:

Whenever you feel that bite of anger, STOP. Stop and ask yourself why that makes you angry.

 Let’s take the defacing of statues as an example. Why does that upset us? The answer I hear most often, and which I myself have even said, is “because people want to forget our history.” Okay, so forgetting our history isn’t a good thing, lest we doom ourselves to repeating it. But…do I actually know the history of those statutes? Nope. I can be perfectly honest and say I don’t. I had no idea, for instance, that a huge percentage of the statues of slaveholders being taken down were raised in the 1960s as a direct protest against the Civil Rights movement.

That changes my feelings quite a bit. I don’t know about you.

But do you see my point here? I get angry and cite a reason that contradicts itself. I say I care about history, when I don’t even know the history I’m trying to defend. So how can that really be my reason? I need to dig a little deeper. What’s really making me angry? It’s not the history, clearly. It’s not that I have any attachment to these statues that I’ve never even seen in person. It’s because I feel threatened. I’m angry because people who are not like me are lashing out at people who are like me, and I don’t understand it. I fear it.

How often is our anger really fear? Probably way more often than we may think. But isn’t fear, at the root of it, a lack of trust? So does that mean that anger is also a lack of trust in God?

Are we angry because we don’t trust Him to redeem the situation? Are we angry because we want everything to be smooth and easy, despite the promise that it won’t be? Are we angry because He’s letting sin abound?

So many times, the psalmists cry out to God in anger—why are you letting the unjust prosper? Why are you not DOING something?

But here’s something we need to remember. God lets us do our thing, and that goes for all of us. He lets us choose sin or righteousness, God or Satan, anger or forgiveness. He lets us choose how we will react in each situation. He lets us choose…but He calls us, when we are filled with His Spirit, to #BeBetter. To let go of the human reaction and choose something greater, something nobler, something higher, something better.

He calls us to choose to let go of our anger. No, to not even grab hold of it to begin with. To feel it and then let that emotion move itself away. Because if we cling, that’s when sin enters in.

Ouch. Did you feel that sting? I sure did. That means that when I go on being angry and frustrated with someone or a group or a social movement—day after week after month after year—it is my sin, not theirs. When I grumble and seethe at a political party—that is my sin, not theirs. When I snub a family member or neighbor for the emotional wounds they’ve inflicted on me—that’s my sin, not theirs.

In the amazing book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie observes that if you enter an argument, you’ve already lost. We never, ever convince anyone of anything by arguing with them. Lashing out in anger NEVER solves a problem and does not build relationships or achieve any good thing. It only destroys. Arguing only erects walls between us. Anger is never the answer to a situation.

So what is? That’s the question we actually need to be asking ourselves. Instead of justifying why we’re right to be angry, we need to step back and actually examine the situations. Ask ourselves why it affects us so. Ask ourselves what the real root of the problem is. Ask ourselves what relationships we can build, what love we can demonstrate, what affirming and edifying action we can take to change the situation.

Maybe it’s as simple as looking at that person Not Like Me and saying, “Help me understand. You’re hurting, and I’ve never understood that. Forgive me, and help me to see how to come alongside you.” Maybe it’s as challenging as praying FOR that person who rubs you wrong, not ABOUT them—not that they’ll “see the light” and come around to your way of thinking, but that God will heal the wounds on their heart.

Or maybe it’s asking Him to heal our own wounds. Maybe it means giving up our pride and admitting we may not have the answers. Maybe it means opening our eyes to where we’ve let that sin fester and asking God to cleanse us of it, no matter how it might sting to let Him dig it out.

Maybe it means seeing that the people on the other side are people, just like you. Struggling, just like you. Beloved of God, just like you.

Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who persecute you. Love your enemies. Be angry, but do not sin.