Monday, October 30, 2006
"In your anger do not sin" Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry...
Our sister, Dawna’s, honesty and vulnerability during this hurtful time in her life has made me reflect back on my own marital problems and times since then when I’ve been hurt and angry. So angry.
Christians often instinctively try to squelch anger. We think if we are holy or spiritual enough we aren’t allowed to experience anger. But anger is an emotion. Emotions aren’t sin, they are just... emotions. I think if we would learn to understand the feelings and to take them to God; we might avoid the sinful actions that grow out of unattended hurts and resentments. Acting on our emotions is where the measure of our holiness lies.
I’ve learned that my emotions are God’s way of calling my attention to myself and my experiences. Overwhelming love bubbles up in my heart toward my friends and I’m reminded of how blessed I am, and how loved I am. Grief washes over me and I’m called to tend to my losses and to go to my Comforter. Guilt drives me to repentance. Joy inspires gratitude. Sadness cultivates reflection.
So what is the function of anger? God was angry at Israel. Christ was angry at the money-changers in the temple. The founding fathers of our faith expressed anger both appropriately and inappropriately throughout the Bible. When then, are we to do with our anger?
More specifically, what does God want this divinely created emotion do drive us to do?
You see, when I get angry I have a predictable list of natural responses. I get lippy. I get loud. I cry. I withdraw. I clench my jaw and tighten my muscles and move into the classic fight or flight response. I generally choose to fight.
All of this is driven by the carnal person that still resides in this redeemed life. This is why I need to step back into being aware of the emotion so I can then decide; what am I to do?
It’s not easy to be angry and not to sin. Sometimes it means I feel I’ve been left a victim, walked on and disrespected. Sometimes God’s expectation of me means I don’t get to speak my part or defend myself. It always means I have to stop and talk to him before the emotion and action become one.
That’s the function of anger, and all of our emotions. It’s the call of the Holy Spirit to our spirits; the “you’ve got mail”, the nudge to slow down and make a decision.
While we live redeemed lives in unredeemed bodies; we will continue to wrestle with flesh against spirit. Our instincts will war against the grace we have gained. The wise Christian will put a pause between the emotion and the action and into that pause will insert a submitted heart.
We should be careful not to deny anger, because it will burrow itself into hidden places in our hearts. And in the denying we’ll also lose the holy pause for instruction. We will find ourselves acting on that carnal instinct to an anger we denied with passive aggression. Or we’ll respond with bitter words and cold responses when we deal with the person who offended us. We’ll stuff the anger away and then hear our own voices verbally beating the object of our denied fury.
And so we are sinning, and not angry.
We could also discuss for hours the one who not only acknowledges the anger; but revels in it. Embraces it and feeds it like a rabid dog invited to shred its prey. Someone harms us and we take advantage of an opportunity to launch the attack and wave the banner of the victim at the same time.
Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry. I’m not good at this part. I can carry my anger for days. I can stop talking and never miss the conversations lost. The sun can go down, come back up and go down several more times while my anger becomes my entire focus. This is sin.
God, knowing our weakness and vulnerabilities; gives us this emotion to warn us of the impending attack. The attack that comes not from some person who has wronged us, but from the enemy of our lives who wants to use the unkindness or unwiseness of that person to propel us away from Christ and put our own hurts at the center of our focus. So we wrestle against one another and feed the fuels of hell. But God, in his great mercy for us gives us the way out from this snare. When you are angry; you are warned by your divine hard-wiring that the enemy has launched an attempt on your peace. Take then this warning to seek the Father’s instruction. Don’t wait, do not hesitate and don’t try to handle it alone. Don’t pretend nothing is happening. Do this before you go to sleep tonight.
Would you ignore a tornado warning? A fire alarm? An elevated terrorism alert?
Let us then, find in our anger; the divine warning of attack so that we can seek shelter in our Defender. Now, before we are damaged any further.
Let’s be angry.