- You’d Be Mad Too
- Ephesians 4:26-27
- Lyndol Loyd March 24, 2019
Sin is the sort of word that we usually like to reserve for the misdeeds of others, rather than reflect upon what it means for us personally. Sin becomes what others do – murderers, thieves and the like – the really bad people.
It is easier if we can think of ourselves as being “slightly flawed.” We have a way of justifying ourselves with good intentions and thoughts of not being as bad as others happen to be.
It is my conviction that sin is such a big matter that without the help of God we aren’t able to deal with it. We make it into a game. We try to make it either something we can deny or master – one or the other.
What we fail to realize is that sin is chronic. Sin influences much of what we refer to as the human condition. If it is part of the human condition, then sin is part of my condition. It means that such ugliness and evil resides in me as well. I can’t exempt myself.
When it comes to our inability to acknowledge our own condition it has been suggested that one of the reasons we have such difficulty is because the sins we commit are the sins we love.
We love these sins because even though they are finally self-destructive, they provide some immediate emotional or physical payoff that we find irresistible. While sins like this ought to be an affront to everything we stand for, they offer us ill-gotten, short-lived benefits that make them sins we love.
In the sixth century a bishop of the church, Gregory the Great, created a list of sins common to humanity that became known as “The Seven Deadly Sins.” Gregory’s list included the sins of Pride, Envy, Anger, Sloth, Greed, Gluttony, and Lust.
Here at LakeRidge, we are in the process of examining together these sins that we love and more importantly the virtues and fruits of the Spirit which can replace them in our lives taking us from our brokenness and giving to us the hope of wholeness. Today we tackle Anger.
When our oldest daughter Abigail was in Kindergarten, it was the practice of the elementary school counselor to meet with the Kindergarten classrooms to offer what was called “Guidance” on a semi-regular basis. They talked about matters like how to treat one another, citizenship, and bullying.
One day just after Abigail’s class had been to one of her guidance sessions, Joni and I got into a bit of an argument at home. I don’t even remember what all of the fuss was about, but I am certain that our voices had been raised with one another beyond what our normal tone would have been. A few moments into our “discussion” as I’ll call it, Abigail rounds the entryway into the kitchen looking at the floor singing, “What’s the problem? Do you know? Do you know? What’s the problem? Do you know? Do you know?”
Being the kind, gentle person that I am I responded with, “Not now. Go play in your room.” Later on, I felt horribly guilty. I was being too loud with my wife, and now I had barked at my five year old as well.
Anger is a deadly sin. It is also known as rage or wrath. We might add to that the word frustration because frustration is a form of anger to which we have given dignity and appropriateness as a sort of pre-anger.
There are different levels of anger, but let’s not fall victim to the temptation to grade anger by suggesting that our frustrations are not as bad as two motorists screaming at each other and making obscene hand gestures on the highway.
I hate to tell you, but that isn’t how the sin of anger works. You and I can’t just sin a little bit with anger and call it okay. We can’t draw an imaginary line in the sand to indicate where and when anger really is a problem.
The fact is that our anger, whether we call it frustration, being miffed, hurt, enraged or full of wrath, has devastating consequences upon you, me, and our world.
One of the backsides of anger that is so damaging is that once we have dumped our anger on someone, it usually comes back after us. It has a boomerang effect. I begin to feel guilty and ashamed when I have blown up. I hate who I am when I express anger inappropriately. I can’t even conceive of how to discuss it with those I’ve hurt.
Runaway anger is a public event. There is no way to truly hide it. Sometimes people attempt to seethe quietly. They kid themselves into believing that no one can tell they are angry.
Or they express anger as concerns and intellectualize it in an attempt to give anger a justifiable, sweet smell, but the anger is never completely hidden, only masked.
Frankly, our attempts to hide anger don’t work well at all. It’s always there, just below the surface. In fact, some of us are experts at turning our anger inward. Psychologists say that much of depression is anger turned inward. Such inward anger has a way of polluting our souls and later finds its way into our social networks.
If we are going to bring the perfect love of God to the angry places in our lives, we need to know what we are angry about. We also need to understand the triggers which initiate anger in us.
Anger occurs when a human being perceives a threat. The threat can be real or perceived. It emanates from the brain stem and is very much a primal emotion. It is connected to the human body’s fight or flight instincts.
When a person perceives a threat, adrenaline starts pumping, hormones surge, blood pressure increases, blood flow changes, and the body prepares for the effort of a lifetime.
No matter if it is a coworker who says something disrespectful to us or a sales clerk becomes belligerent with us, we feel threatened. We feel that our space or our rights have been violated when we get cut off in traffic or someone cuts in front of us and we respond with fight or flight.
A fundamental question for all of us is – How many things are there that threaten us, and what are they? I can be threatened by change, rejection, abandonment, exclusion, and alienation. How about you? What are the things that press your threat buttons?
I’m not trying to suggest to you that all anger is a problem. When anger clarifies an issue of importance to us and moves us to reconciliation with the source of our anger, it is positive.
When anger becomes all-consuming, it is called rage. Rage doesn’t seek to reconcile, rather it seeks to destroy the person or object causing the anger. Often times it ends up destroying us. We practice this type of rage all too often in our culture.
On the issue of reconciling anger, Paul speaks God’s words in Ephesians 4:26-27, “26 And don’t sin by letting anger control you. Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 for anger gives a foothold to the devil.”
What Paul is telling us is:
- We have to recognize anger when we are experiencing it.
- We are to process our anger at an inner level and with others involved.
- We are to process anger by the event and by the day, not allowing large reservoirs of anger to build within us.
This is how reconciling anger works. It actually puts us in touch with problems we face internally and problems that manifest themselves in our relationships with others.
By committing to work on the problems, we actually create the opportunity for a deeper understanding of self and more intimacy with others. In this way, anger can be reconciling.
Paul gives us a clear model in Ephesians of what a workable way or process of reconciling anger looks like. But sometimes it can be just as helpful to look at issues like this from the backside as well. If this is a good way to deal with anger, there are other bad ways for us to process our anger.
One of the ways many people use their anger negatively is to cut people off. We use anger to get revenge. We use anger to justify our claim as victims. We use anger in nonproductive ways and we rationalize anger.
Have you ever heard someone say, “You’d be mad too, wouldn’t you?” How are you supposed to answer that question, because the issue isn’t so much being mad as it is how we handle the anger?
My Dad is an auctioneer and quite often he does estate sales for families after the patriarch or matriarch of the family has passed away. More often than my Dad cares to, he has to deal with feuding siblings who cannot agree on how to divide the estate. Many times it is the case that family members have been harboring hurt feelings and anger for years, even decades. Just think of the cumulative effect of all that anger and stress. Think about the erosion of energy and resources that have been used up over time.
Anger, like pride and envy which we have discussed before, has a corresponding virtue we can develop to keep our anger in check. It is called gentleness.
Interestingly, gentleness has to do with putting ourselves in the other person’s shoes and treating that person no more forcefully than absolutely necessary. Gentleness is not overly assertive, but instead appropriately assertive. Gentleness focuses our efforts to deal with angry feelings by helping us seek reconciliation rather than revenge.
Scripture tells us that “perfect love casts out all fear.” No greater truth can be expressed when it comes to dealing with anger. God’s perfect love helps us tame our fears and deal with anger because much anger is the result of fear.
Here’s my diagnosis of our condition: -Fear arouses our fight or flight instincts. It screams, “Threat! Threat! Threat!” like a warning siren going off in our heads.
-When we respond to the alarm that our fear rings in us, we may retreat, but are more likely to respond in an overly assertive, take-charge manner that embodies anger.
Remember, perfect love casts out all fear. Again, we see that love is the antidote for all sin. Love manifested as gentleness is the preferred fruit of the Spirit Paul would suggest for dealing with our anger.
When we believe that God is for us and therefore no one can truly be against us, we lighten up. When we study sin, as we are in this series of messages, our belief system changes.
Suddenly I see my flaws much more clearly and am willing to accept the mistakes and flaws of others. I begin to believe that others have a right to navigate their way through this world without my permission and certainly without my condescension.
We also began to feel for others. This isn’t condescending. It is empathetic. Empathy is identifying with the plight of another person.
Many years ago, a senior executive of the then Standard Oil Company made a wrong decision that cost the company more than $2 million. John D. Rockefeller was then running the firm. On the day the news leaked out most of the executives of the company were finding various ingenious ways of avoiding Mr. Rockefeller, lest his wrath descend on their heads.
There was one exception, however; Edward T. Bedford, a partner in the company. Bedford was scheduled to see Rockefeller that day and he kept the appointment, even though he was prepared to listen to a long diatribe against the man who made the error in judgment.
When he entered the office the powerful head of the gigantic Standard Oil empire was bent over his desk busily writing with a pencil on a pad of paper. Bedford stood silently, not wishing to interrupt. After a few minutes, Rockefeller looked up, “Oh, it’s you, Bedford,” he said calmly. “I suppose you’ve heard about our loss?” Bedford said that he had. “I’ve been thinking it over,” Rockefeller said, “and before I ask the man in to discuss the matter, I’ve been making some notes.”
Bedford later told the story this way: “Across the top of the page was written, ‘Points in favor of Mr. _______.’ There followed a long list of the man’s virtues, including a brief description of how he had helped the company make the right decision on three separate occasions that had earned many times the cost of his recent error.
“I never forgot that lesson. In later years, whenever I was tempted to rip into anyone, I forced myself first to sit down and thoughtfully compile as long a list of good points as I possibly could. Invariably, by the time I finished my inventory, I would see the matter in its true perspective and keep my temper under control. There is no telling how many times this habit has prevented me from committing one of the costliest mistakes any executive can make — losing his temper. I commend it to anyone who must deal with people.”
When you and I experience anger, we can try to access gentleness by asking, “What do I believe or expect is causing me to become angry?”
If it’s a legitimate reason, get mad. Gently express your anger to the offending party and ask for a different behavior. But we must act on our anger with gentleness.
God has been gentle and gracious with us in the midst of our sinfulness. Having received such grace how can we then offer anything less to the people around us, especially at such crucial and difficult times as when we are angry.
Gentleness is a choice. It is an act of faith that we can make relationships work and an act of faith that acknowledges the presence of God in the world. Gentleness says, I am going to try to do things God’s way. I will choose to behave toward others the way God behaves toward me.
Gentleness is also intentional. Gentleness values relationships and the feeling of wholeness way too much to give in to anger and let it get the best of us.
Anger has its place and its reasons. But gentleness is a higher power that takes us where anger never can.