Practical Christianity (XI): How Can I Control My Anger?
As we pointed out in the previous article, anger has many forms. Anger also expresses itself in ways not easily recognized. Boredom, for instance, is a form of internalized anger. Most believe boredom to be an innocent, passive thing. Actually, it is a resentment against a situation that the person feels incapable of changing. The opposite of boredom is diligence. Instead of being bored, the Christian is to change the uninteresting or slow situation into a productive or beneficial one. (To fight boredom on an assembly line in an auto factory as a younger man, I used to memorize scripture or discuss the Bible with those that worked beside me.) "The sluggard will not plow by reason of the cold. . .I went by the field of the slothful and by the vineyard of the man without understanding, and to it was all grown over with thorns, and nettles had covered the face thereof, and the stone wall thereof was broken down. . .(but) the slothful man saith, There is a lion without, I shall be slain in the streets. . .(so) the desire of the slothful killeth him; for his hands refuse to labor. He coveteth greedily all the day long" (Prov. 20:4a; 24:30; 22:13; 21:25,26).
Most bored people could be diligently engaged in some form of work, study, or hobby, but prefer to find excuses to avoid changing their behavior ("It is too cold," "There might be lions about. I could be attacked!"). Paul condemned the idleness and boredom of the Greeks, "All the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing" (Acts 17:21). Boredom leads to sinful pursuits: "We hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busy bodies" (2 Thess. 3:11). "They (young women) learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they should not" (1 Tim. 5:13). The Holy Spirit's cure for this is work (2 Thess. 3:8,9) "that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread" (vs. 12). It is God's will that young women "marry, bear children, guide the house, and give no occasion to the adversary for their railing" (1 Tim. 5:14).
Resentment is anger that is internalized. Grudge bearing is an attitude of "I will not forget this, and if opportunity provides a chance I will hurt in return for my hurt." Herodias resented John the Baptist and held a grudge against him (Matt. 6:19). Eventually her resentment broke forth when she engineered John's execution. There are modern Herodias' that through anger, resentment, and grudge bearing have "engineered" the heads of preachers, elders, and teachers upon a silver platter. Their "behind the scene" wielding of a razor-edged tongue has severed many a head from the shoulder of an unsuspecting adversary. Brethren "grudge" when they do good, but resent the imposition upon their time, person, or finances (cf. 1 Pet. 4:9; Jas. 5:9).
The first step in overcoming sinful anger is control. To many, this will seem simplistic: "Yeah! Control! If I knew how to control myself, I wouldn't get angry to start with. What kind of an answer is that?" People fool themselves into thinking that they have no control of their minds, or the words they speak. God says that we do. In fact, we demonstrate our remarkable ability to control ourselves often. Consider the following scene: Dad or Mom is yelling at the kids and at each other. The things the others do just make them angrier and angrier. "I am going to kill you, if you say another word! Don't talk back to me, I don't want to hear it! You do as I say this instant, DO YOU HEAR ME! !" Of course, everyone can hear. Then, a knock at the door. Parents look at one another, shoo the kids out of the room, and open the door to the preacher, a neighbor, or a friend come to visit. "Oh! Its so good to see you. Won't you come in." The normal voice range is back in play, and everyone sits down to talk in perfect control. We generally control ourselves about those we wish to impress. Often we treat our boss, our friends, even complete strangers with more decency and control than we do those in our own family. Brethren often treat unbelievers better than they do their own brethren. Many times a preacher thinks more of and treats people in the world better than he does his brethren in the church. This wrong must be righted, for the way we treat one another is the same way we treat the Lord (Matt. 25:40; Acts 9:4).
Parents often abuse children verbally. Discipline is more than a rod. Neither parents nor the church should let their own attitude on the subject of child discipline degenerate to the point that they are actually just unthinkingly -victimizing weaker ones. Many times parents get the horse behind the cart in discipline. "Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him" (Prov. 22:15). The pattern usually observed and easiest to follow is to slap, spank, and holler and then try to strain out our own muddled thinking just what the lesson is we wanted the child to learn. In God's dealing with his children he patiently explains and expects good. If His children are disobedient after instruction and rebuke, then he punishes them in His anger only as a last resort. We can be thankful that God has not vented His anger on us as we often vent our anger upon the young because they are weaker and often irritating. "Fathers, provoke not your children unto wrath."
We can control our anger, because God holds us responsible. The problem with wrath is that too many times we do not hold the object of our anger in high enough esteem to try and control our anger and direct it constructively.
In any relationship we can help one another direct anger correctly. "A soft answer turneth away wrath, but grievous words stir up strife" (Prov. 15:1). "A soft answer" is not sullen silence. Nothing is more provoking than that. But, a soft answer. An answer that is loving, conciliatory, and understanding blunts and deflects anger.
But when two "argue" like angry tennis players, each hitting the ball harder and harder, driving the other farther and farther away into the corner, then soon all ability to stop the exchange is gone. Prov. 17:14 says that the beginning of any fight is like a dike with a leak. If the leak is stopped and plugged right away, before it gets out of hand, it is easy to overcome the water. But, if the leak grows larger as sand and earth erode away, soon the water comes gushing over the dike sweeping it all away. Then it is too difficult to close up the dam. Therefore "leave off contention" before it gets too big. A soft answer is the plug in the dike. It stops the flood before it begins.
Retaliation, self-justification, and personal attack are just the thing to add fuel to the other's anger-to provoke another angry response, and the two feed off one another like a fire gone out of control. When one starts all discussion mad, then there is no more place to go. It is much like two nations that begin their negotiations on a mutual problem by declaring war. Where can you go? The gradual increase of "godly pressure" described in Matt. 18:15-18 leaves room continually for the one rebuked to repent and come back. Rebuke that backs one into a corner, or "up a tree" with no way of honorably repenting is not right.
Don't Let the Sun Set
The imperative nature of dealing with the cause of anger is very plainly stated in such passages as Matt. 5:23, 24 and Eph. 4:26. These passages demonstrate that matters must be straightened out, not ignored. The time element that God gives is immediately, before the day ends. Not all wrongs must be righted, for we would find it difficult to even live if every supposed hurt had to be confronted. "Love covers a multitude of sins." But, those sins not covered by love must be reconciled and put to rest. Some may say, "I overlooked that." when in reality they didn't. To say, "I forgive" means to forget as well. Often brethren say "I forgive" but have no intention of forgetting what was done. They continue to use the sin of others as a tool of hurt to produce guilt. This is not forgiveness. We must forgive as God has forgiven us, forgetting and blotting out what has been repented of.
Finally, we must put a proper form of behavior in the place of that wrath we have left behind. We must learn to give of ourselves as a demonstration of our love. Giving must be real "If your enemy thirst, give him to drink" (Rom. 12:20). Baking a pie and taking it to one we are angry with, buying a present, or saying something nice to someone is a real example of a willingness to change. Developing "good will towards man" is a learned behavior. We can love in the face of anger only if we take the example of Jesus seriously and put it into effect in our lives.
Truth Magazine XXI: 32, pp. 502-503