Questions: What about anger?

During the summer we have been doing something that’s a little different:  we have been giving you the chance to choose the theme for the sermons. People have been sending in their questions and then we pick one of those questions as our sermon theme.  We may not get to all the questions but we will try to get to as many as we can.

And the question that we are looking at this week is this:   “I’d like to understand anger… basically I think it sucks… so many jump to it so quickly… why do we even have to have it!  It’s just so dumb!  Really doesn’t do much good, usually more damage to a situation…”  That email reflects some of the negative experience that many of us have had as a result of someone else’s anger.  So what about anger?

Dr. Cal Lightman (Tim Roth), the world's leading deception expert portrays "anger," one of the seven universal micro-expressions in "Lie to Me." (photo ©2008 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Frank Ockenfels/Fox)
Dr. Cal Lightman (Tim Roth), the world's leading deception expert portrays "anger," one of the seven universal micro-expressions in "Lie to Me." (photo ©2008 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Frank Ockenfels/Fox)

Let’s begin by looking at our Gospel lesson for today.  In it we have two sets of people, both angry, but for different reasons, and they do different things with their anger.  If you recall, Jesus is in the synagogue, and it is Saturday, a day of worship.  He sees a man who has a deformed hand and then he turns to the Pharisees who were present and Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent. (Mark 3:4) And Jesus became angry at the Pharisees.  Why?  Because of their hardheartedness.  But what he do with his anger.  He heals the man with the withered hand.

The Pharisees were also angry, but for a different reason. The Pharisees had taken the whole salvation story of the Old Testament, this wonderful narrative of God giving a promise to the very first man and woman that he would give the world a Saviour, and then keeping that promise safe down through the centuries, wrapping around a certain group of people that he chose, and then protected, bringing them out of slavery, watching over them through the desert, bringing them into a land that what not theirs, letting them go into exile when they gave them over to idolatry like their neighbours, but preserving them in that exile and then bringing them back once again to their own land.  The Pharisees took this whole entire story of God acting and giving and protecting and preserving and turned it all upside down and made it a story of “If we do A, B & C then God will do D, E & F” instead of the story that it was of “God doing A, B & C and us doing D, E & F” in response.  And when you do that, and it is so easy to do in any religious or faith system, when you make God actions dependent on ours, then you squeeze all of the compassion out of that system.  And Jesus came along, and the Pharisees were angry with him, because, if he was allowed to continue, he was going to wreck their system.  They did not see him as the fulfillment of God’s gracious promise given so long ago.  And what do the Pharisees do with their anger?  They are trying to find a way to destroy Jesus.

The Canadian Oxford Dictionary defines anger as “extreme or passionate displeasure.”  A friend gave me another definition:  anger is an indicator that things are not going the way that you think they should.  Contrary to what is commonly thought in Christian circles, anger is not a sin.  Ephesians 4:26-27 tell us, “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. Anger is neutral.  It is how we deal with our anger that makes all the difference.

The sin arises when we don’t deal with our anger properly and then we abuse others emotionally or physically to make things go the way that we think they should.  Or we don’t deal with our anger properly and we allow our anger to fester unresolved and then our lives are ruled by a spirit of bitterness and unforgiveness instead of being ruled by the Holy Spirit.  Or we don’t deal with our anger properly and we become passive-aggressive:  we put on a happy face and passively agree to go along with the crowd, but when it comes time to get things done, we undermine the group’s efforts by withholding our own energy and resources.  We are living a lie.

At times, it can also be a sin to not get angry when the situation calls for it.  I would like to share with you an excerpt from Touchstone magazine:

In the sexual abuse cases in the Catholic Church, those who dealt with the bishops have consistently remarked that the bishops never expressed outrage or righteous anger, even at the most horrendous cases of abuse and sacrilege.  Bishops seem to think that anger at sin is un-Christian.  Gilbert Kilman, a child psychiatrist, commented, “What amazes me is the lack of outrage the church feels when its good work is being harmed.  So, if there is anything the church needs to know, it needs to know how to be outraged.”

Mark Serrano confronted Bishop Frank Rodimer, asking why had had let his priest-friend Peter Osinski sleep with boys at Rodimer’s beach house while Rodimer was in the next bedroom: “Where is your moral indignation?”

Rodimer’s answer was, “Then I don’t get it.  What do you want?”  What Serrano wanted Rodimer to do was to behave like a man with a heart, a heart that is outraged by evil. But Rodimer couldn’t; his inability to feel outrage was a quality that had helped make him a bishop.  He would never get into fights, never rock the boat, never “divide” but only “unify.”  Rodimer could not understand why he should feel deep anger at evil, at the violation of the innocent, at the oppression of the weak.”[1]

When it comes to anger, we often fail to get it right.  And for the sin that we commit in our anger, or our failure to get angry, we deserve God’s anger. Ephesians 2:3 tells us, NIV Ephesians 2: 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. God hates sin.  And his anger against the bad things that we say, think and do is a righteous anger.  When the term “righteous anger” is used in the Bible, it is only used to describe God’s anger, never human anger.  Only God’s anger is all right all the time.

But here is how God handled his anger.  In mercy and love, God the Son came into this world, wrapped himself in human flesh and became one of us.  This God-human, this person named Jesus, became the object of other people’s anger just like we do, but he didn’t retaliate.  He didn’t use other people’s sin as an excuse for him to do the same.  Instead, he healed people, he taught them how to live in the new life that he gives to everyone who follows him, and he lived a perfect human life for us.

The rage of the Pharisees and others increased, and at one level, they succeeded in getting things to go their way.  They had Jesus arrested and they called for his crucifixion until Pontius Pilate caved in and sentenced him to die.  Jesus was beaten and whipped and nailed to a cross to suffer and die.  As he hung their people, in their anger, mocked him and spit on him and hurled all kinds of insults at him.  And Jesus endured their anger.

But it was not only the anger of the Pharisees and others that Jesus was enduring.  He was also suffering the anger of God.  God’s anger over all of our sin, including all of the times when allow our anger to become abuse, bitterness or a life of falseness, was directed at Jesus instead of us.  In effect, God dealt with his anger by becoming the object of his own anger.  And when the divine wrath over all the sins of the whole world was fully spent, then Jesus gave up his life and died.

But anger and death do not have the last word, for three days after he died, Jesus rose from the dead.  He is alive and he is with all the time.  Even in our moments of anger, Jesus is there ready to help us deal with our anger in a new and healthier way.

Henry Cloud has written a book titled Changes that Heal that can be helpful in dealing with anger.  He suggests that we not suppress our anger for that can lead to bitterness and unforgiveness.  Instead, we should take responsibility for our own anger and find its source.  We read in Psalm 4:4 In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent. That first phrase we’ve heard before, and the last part of this verse encourages us to reflect on our anger.  And in those times of anger we can ask ourselves, ‘Who or what are we trying to protect?’ because often we are angry because we are trying to protect something or someone.  We can ask ourselves ‘Is what we are trying to protect good or it is something bad that we need to change?[2]

When I was young I was abused by someone outside of my immediate family.   And what often happens with people who are abused is that, when they are older, they try to control their environment because subconsciously they are thinking ‘If I can control everything and everyone around me then I can prevent the abuse from happening again’ because they don’t ever want to experience such a thing again.  And I was following that pattern, and I still have tendencies in that direction today.  But what I realized, with the help of others, is that as I was trying to control everyone and everything around me and I would get angry when they didn’t do what I thought they should do, I was actually abusing those closest to me, the ones I love and the ones who love me.  And as painful as that realization was, I had to hold it before me to motivate me to find a healthier way of being and relating.  I had to trust in Jesus to keep me safe in the future and I realized that Jesus was always keeping me safe in the past, in the time when I was abused, Jesus was protecting me and keeping from me what could have been.

And so now I still get angry, but I deal with it in a different way.  What I often do is say to my wife `we need to talk`and then we go to our bedroom and we talk it out.  And it is a much healthier way for me to deal with my anger.

And today on the altar we have the Body and Blood of Jesus which is God`s assurance to us that God`s anger has all been dissipated.  In this special meal, Jesus gives us himself, and with him comes healing for all of our wounds, and life and hope and peace and forgiveness.

So be angry.  But handle it in the right way.  Amen.

(Words like these were shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church, Langely BC on 16 August 2009.)

[1] Leon J.Podles, “Unhappy Fault,” Touchstone (Internet; downloaded from:; 16 August 2009)

[2] Henry Cloud, Changes that Heal, (Harper Paperbacks, New York, NY. 1990, 1992, 1995.)

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