October 22, 2017

What’s Growing In The Shadow of Anger?

Sometimes someone else’s sins become the light of seeing our own.

Several years ago I was working with a particularly difficult young church staff member. His pattern was to do everything his way, and when negative consequences arrived, to be completely defensive. Insight into his own character wasn’t much of an interest. Finding others guilty was. His personal drama usually involved anger and outrage, always featuring his own innocence as the main character.

Keeping this young man placated became a full-time job. As his own ministry deteriorated, his skills at blaming others never lost steam. He was a master at claiming to be persecuted when, in fact, he simply was not doing his job.

On one occasion, one of his older family members (not from our church) passed away. During the visitation at the funeral home, this young man called me in his usual tone of practiced outrage, this time because only a few members of our church had come out to visit at the funeral home. He was right. Probably less than ten people had visited this relative, who wasn’t part of our church or community.

Why am I telling this story? Because of something I noticed in the middle of that young man’s outrage.

I had worked with him on staff for a couple of years, and I’d never seen him at the funeral or visitation of anyone. He was outraged about something he did all the time.

When I realized this, I thought about the hypocrisy of his outrage, but I soon found myself wondering about my own “outrages.” How many of them were conducted in the shadow of my own obvious sins?

James says that the anger of man does not create the righteousness God requires. (1:20) I think there’s another aspect to what the anger of man does (or doesn’t do): it masks and hides other obvious sins, and despite all the “insight” that we claim when we are angry, we’re often the blindest at that moment we’re most angry and most certain we’re not wrong.

Perhaps this is why the angry man is the fool in Proverbs and elsewhere. My young staff member was outraged and thought he saw an outrageous truth. What he didn’t see was the truth of his own life. He was the fool blinded to his own sin by his raging anger.

In playing the part of the “righteous” judge- which is required of the angry person- you must claim the mantle of correct insight. But a knowledge of sin comes in the quietness of humility; in those moments when God shows us what we usually do not see.

Is this why Ephesians 4:26 counsels us to not let the sun go down on our anger? Before the end of the day, we need to restore a truthful, humble view of ourselves and lose the self-righteous assumption that our anger guarantees that we are right.

When Jesus was angry at the moneychanger in the temple, he was insightful about the truth of the situation and the truth about himself. Put yourself in the same situation: would you have the combination of truthful humility and righteous anger that Jesus has at that moment?

What you are looking at in that answer is your own fallenness. It’s the difference between yourself and Jesus, and why you should be careful of thinking that your imitation of him insures that you are right.

What sins lie obvious to God and others, but invisible to me in the shadow of anger or other emotions?

In past months, I’ve learned that believing I am right has little do with the sins that may have taken root in the soil of my “rightness.” I’ve learned that I’m quite good at excusing sinful anger, cruel words, gossip and worse sins with my conviction that I am right about something that matters.

As I’ve seen this pattern in many, many others, I’ve learned to expect it in myself. Sometimes I feel that a creeping sense of conviction of my own rightness is a sure sign that I am sinking down into the deceptions of arrogance. I realize that all those times I, like so many preachers, have given an indulgence to my flock for their anger towards persens, groups and events, I have likely simply led them to sin with impunity.

These days, Christians are often a very angry group. (And so, btw, are their critics.) We’re certain we’re right on a whole catalog of issues, and I believe we usually are right on many of those issues. I’m also certain that in the shadows of our anger about cultural and political issues, there are many of our own sins, putting down roots and growing more powerful.

Jesus, I am not like you. It’s the enemy that leads me to believe my own “righteous anger” flies clear of petty sins and hypocrisies. Open my eyes to the duplicity and delusions attached to my sinful nature. Break those chains and give me true humility. Work in me so that conviction is not the enemy of humility. Show me the seductions of believing I am right and righteous in any way apart from you. Amen.

Comments

  1. Who was Jesus upset at when He cleansed the Temple? Those who were profiting off of people’s desire to worship.

    But remember that Jesus also mourned over Jerusalem because they did not accept Him. He said that He longed to gather the people of that city to Himself as a mother hen gathers her chicks under her wings.

    I don’t see anger in that response.

    Monk, I too must echo others on this forum who have shared that this article has convicted them. I too am convicted, and to be honest with you I never thought of this particular aspect of anger and the sin that comes with it.

    My Father has always said that a person who gets angry really easy, and “flies off the handle” struggles with a lack of self-discipline.

    Keep up the good work, Monk

  2. Theophilus,

    I’d say anger is the wrong emotional response to ALL of the things you’ve mentioned so far. You could be compassionate. You could be somewhat sad that they don’t share your particular theological passions (but among the saints, they’re in good company), but really, your frustration with “the world” is an idle and misplaced judgment and should be seen for what it is and retired.

    Theology doesn’t impress God. Tiresome critiques of “American culture” don’t impress anybody. Most people find both a boring distraction from lives which are better spent in pursuit of whatever it is that they want, just like you. An be honest: why should anybody waste their time pursuing your agonal double-standards about how to be introspective JUST the way you want them to, when you seem so tense in spite of all the God-talk? Let ’em live and get a life, dude. It’s God’s business.

  3. Christopher Lake says:

    I think that Theophilus has some valid points. I’m not sure that for least *some* of the things that he has mentioned, anger is not an appropriate emotion.

    However, *where* do we direct our anger? Is it primarily at other other people, or is it at Satan and at our *own* spiritual complacency, which exists in us, just as it does in others?

    I’m not saying that anger should ever be a primary, dominating emotion in the lives of Christians. I do think it can sometimes be appropriate. We have to willing to look at ourselves though and especially, willing to ask the Spirit to search our hearts *about* our anger and show us what is truly there.

  4. Christopher Lake says:

    at least some, I meant to write, in the second sentence

  5. “Do you not believe that too many Christians are simply being herded by culture and doing whatever seems right?”

    I guess its God’s job to sort it out. Worrying about what others do and how they live isnt productive.

    besides, we’d all like to think we are cleansed of ‘the system’, or above it, but even a cloistered monk is still part of a system and a culture; this planet is as closed a system as a hamster cage.

  6. “Shouldn’t your interpretation of Scripture first give you joy, on account of what’s in it, that overwhelms this anger? Do other Christians see you as a joyful and cheerful person? My interpretation of Scripture does not lead me to believe the early Christians were dominated by an angry temperament on account of all the hypocrites around them, but by the joy of having the Spirit of God in their heart. Christians get angry, but their not to be angry.”

    Excellent!!

  7. There’s a huge difference between being angry, and having passion.

    James 5:20 – “For the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”

    My anger leads me resentment and bitterness. In contrast, my passion leads me to joy and excitement in the Spirit, and gives me resolve to do the work of the Father.

    Anger is a secondary emotion that comes as a result of another emotion. Find the root, and deal with THAT.

    Joe

  8. Theophilus says:

    Dylan Thomas wrote a poem to his dying father in which he implored him to “rage, rage against the dying of the light.” Some Christians have begun a slow slide and I would rather them rage against what ails them rather than “go gently into the night.” I want to “rage” against living a life that is less than what I have been made to be. I hope others also “rage.”

    Imonk–thank you for your patience and responses. I have simply tried to present the other side of the anger coin. If we need to not be angry at our brothers and sisters or rail against life’s unfairness. However, if we are to truly represent God, then there are some things for which anger is a godly response.

    To everyone else who provided sincere advice, I thank you.

  9. Theophilus says:

    It should have read “We need to not be angry at our brothers and sisters or rail against life’s unfairness.”

  10. As I read that, my first (and major) thought was: how could you allow that man to remain on the staff of that church?

  11. Justin Fowler says:

    (skipping most of the comments)

    It’s funny, even Carl Jung in the early 20th century discovered that this truth in the Bible of hypocritically calling others out was absolutely true. For those that don’t know, he was a psychologist who propagated the idea of projection, among other things.

    That is, when somebody’s actions affect us so badly that we lose control of ourselves, it is evidence that what is really bothering us is something inside of us and not the other person. For, if the thing did not exist within us, would we not have self-control in that situation?

    Oswald Chambers reminded us of the danger of not believing the Bible on this point.

    We then get angry at hypocrites, saying that they are too hasty to judge others for the very same things that they do. But then we come back to this principle again (hopefully) and realize that, again, we are being the hypocrites hastily judging others for our own faults.

    This takes us back to the face of the Almighty God, our Loved One, who alone can remove our guilt and shame.

    And he doesn’t ask for us to make ourselves perfect. All that he requires is that we do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.

    I don’t think we realize that all our energy in trying to drive others to perfection is wasted energy that could be used upon our own walk.

    May we all be humble and lovingly understanding towards others.

    Amen, Lord. Amen.

  12. perfessir says:

    It’s probably too late to comment, and my comments are universally ignored anyway, but maybe I can add something of value. This is my experience.

    I too was an extremely angry young man and an angry middle aged man. Working as a “full time Christian ministry” person my entire “christian” career (36 years).

    Now I feel angry maybe once every 1-2 months. What happened?

    Lots of things; I’m not sure which did away with anger (and fear by the way — I don’t remember the last time I was afraid).

    Nearly complete rejection by a community of “good” Christians (ages 40-67, including my wife and 3 of my 5 children). Acceptance into several groups of younger people and non-christians.

    Being crucified with Christ(Gal. 2:20).

    Moving to Vietnam at age 67 with no “support group” to ease the cultural transition.

    10 years in AA.

    Not attending church for a long time. (Tried ’em all, including 20 years as a RC.)

    Studying the Tao te Ching until I got it.

    Or maybe something else.

    But this I know for certain: everything is exactly the way it is supposed to be, and I accept that. (Cf. the serenity prayer — I learned that in AA which was my “church” for 5 years.) I may not like it or agree with it. But that’s the way it is.

    The way that the world is is not my area of concern, but the way I am and my faithfulness to my Father is.

    I hope that this will help an angry person.