Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s video.
It is a very uncomfortable experience to be a recipient of the anger of others. It’s inevitable it will happen at some point or other, from road rage in response to our driving incompetence, or fury at a decision that has had to be made over which you may have little control but which has difficult personal consequences. We find it very difficult to handle, both when meted out against us, and when we feel it ourselves. Direct confrontation and defensiveness tends to make things worse. Embarrassment at our own strong feelings, followed by bottling them up, can lead to lingering resentment and even depression. There is a caricature of Christian faith as a nice religion. We therefore do all we can to brush such strong feelings under the carpet, in order to maintain a superficial harmony. The problem with brushing things under the carpet, is that they eventually form lumps over which you trip. We often sit uneasily with the expression of strong feelings both positive and negative.
Fortunately, the Bible is realistic about the existence of such feelings, and gives some help in handling them, especially anger. This is helpful as there is a lot of anger in the post COVID landscape. The delayed trauma and fear it produced sometimes expresses itself in unbidden extremes of emotion, disproportionate to the slight or pain that triggered it. Our own growth in maturity in this area requires emotional intelligence. Distinguishing between petulant rage when we don’t get our own way and stirred passion against injustice is vital. It is genuinely difficult sometimes to tell the difference.
The letter to James clearly identifies the former and its effects. “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight.” Bear in mind this was written to the church, a church that had a long way to go in this area! They certainly weren’t playing nice. This is the sort of anger Paul was keen we get rid of. “In your anger (which he recognised as a natural human response) do not sin, and deal with it before the sun goes down so it doesn’t simmer. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Neither James nor Paul viewed a tendency to lose our temper as a quirky personality trait, but as sinful and therefore needful of repentance, forgiveness and redemption.
But Jesus got angry. It was never petulant, and certainly never a response to a questioning of his competence, or the thwarting of his desires as it so often is with us. He got angry at money changers who prevented people praying for financial gain. He was angry and upset at death when it took away his friend Lazarus, despite it leading to a later resuscitation. He was furious with religious leaders who added ridiculous extra demands to the basic Old Testament duty of care, which was the basis of the law code. He was exasperated by wealthy people using their wealth to show off in the temple whilst a poor widow was intimidated into giving all she had to live on. However, when he was nailed to a cross he said, “father forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”
His was a passion stirred we call righteous indignation. It was stirred by genuine injustice and human folly. It was appropriate, proportionate and led to action. So, we might ask the question why we are not so stirred by the injustice and evil we see around us? It would be tragic if the brutality and wickedness of the war in Ukraine was so dulled by familiarity that we no longer responded compassionately to the needs of refugees. I ask myself why am I more irritated by the protesters blocking traffic, making my journey inconvenient than by the environmental destruction caused by climate change, to which my lifestyle is party. They have been rightly stirred by the climate change emergency to try to do something in the face of apathy and passivity. Unless more of us are stirred emotionally by its intrinsic injustice the world will combust.
The key difference between anger that destroys and passion which motivates is where its directed. Vengeful feelings to being slighted are sinful. They can only be dealt with by acknowledging that to God and seeking Christ’s forgiveness. Hearts stirred to action by the pain and injustice felt by others are profoundly Christian. Such feelings, rightly channelled can be a force for good and change.
Lord help us to distinguish the two in our own lives, and live in Christ’s light and by his example.