Have you ever tried to manage a toddler when they didn’t get what they wanted? I’d rather deal with a menopausal warthog….at least you can put a warthog in a cage. A tantrum is what it is. A full-blown expression of how they feel. We, as adults, have tantrums, too, but ours are usually more sophisticated in appearance. Let’s take a look…
The official definition of anger is, “Hostile feelings because of opposition.” If that’s the case, then feelings of frustration (“I’ve tried and you won’t change”), irritation (“go away, you’re getting on my nerves”), and resentment (“not fair, you got what I wanted”), also fit the definition of anger. Understandably, when we feel those things, it’s because someone is acting in opposition to our agenda. We don’t care for it, and very likely will offend others when we come up against their resistance. Is their resistence right? Maybe not. But, it does make us wrong when we react sinfully.
I cannot tell you how many hundreds of times I have heard a counseling client say, “I’m not angry, I’m just frustrated.” Then, I would proceed to ask them to describe their frustration. “Well”, they would say, “I’ve tried for years to get so-and-so to see how wrong they are, and they just won’t listen or change!” I would then say something like, “To me, it sounds as though you’re definitely getting resistance. You had an agenda of some kind (whether right or wrong) for this other person, and they’re opposed to your idea. Did you know that your stated frustration is a mask for anger?” Then, I would proceed to explain the definition of it to them.
Now, of course, this begs the question, “Is the feeling of anger, or frustration, or any of the other common emotions wrong?” The answer is no. God gave us the capacity to have angry feelings, and he gave us the capability to have that emotion for righteous purposes, not for selfish ones. He also knew there would be times of understandable frustration because we wouldn’t be able to control others’ responses to our efforts. Sounds like a free pass to seeth for awhile because God understands your plight, right? Not so fast, my friend…. seething doesn’t sound very righteous, does it? Listen to what Paul says, in Ephesians 4:26, “In your anger do not sin.” We’re taught in this passage that the response to the feeling of our anger is what we’re to manage rightly, because humanly speaking, we will get angry.
Now, you can always tell when someone is agressively angry because when they yell, stomp around, throw things, slam doors, and scream, it’s obvious. But are you aware of what passive anger looks like? You know….when we fight with someone and it doesn’t look like it? (This the tactic I most often use when I’m angry because I care too much about what others think of me.) Passive anger displays itself in ways like the silent treatment, grudge-holding, procrastinating, conveniently forgetting, withholding, selectively hearing, sarcasm, and other non-direct punches. Both types of anger are equally sinful, although one looks more acceptable than the other, and both tactics are for selfish purposes….we aren’t advocating righteousness; we’re advocating ‘rightness’ in ourselves. (In cases where there has been a violation of what is moral, legal, or ethical, we rightly should feel anger, but the response should still be a non- sinful one.)
So, what does a non- sinful response look like to the anger you feel? There are multiple verses in the Scriptures where the writers exclaim that the Lord is “slow to anger, and abounding in love.” If our God, who has every reason to pour out His anger against us for our rebellion, can respond to us with grace and mercy, who are we to withhold love from those who choose to think, look or act differently than we think they should? So, a non-sinful response to anger can be appropriated only after we have developed extreme gratitude for God’s forgiveness of our opposition to Him. (As a result of heart-felt, genuine gratitude, you will gradually grow in compassion, humility, and patience in your responses. Therefore, if you don’t find yourself growing in those areas, check your ‘thankfulness meter’; it may need recalibrating….mine needs monitoring and adjusting every day.)
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was teaching about biblical discipleship. He made a point, in Matthew 5:21-22, to communicate to His listeners that pride was their driving force in keeping the letter (externals) of the law, through their boasting that they hadn’t murdered anyone in order to prove themselves as righteous. Then, building on that, He went on to instruct them that they were to examine themselves for the internal expression of anger where the spirit of the law is broken constantly. (His point was that we can’t keep the law. Only He could fulfill it, and we need Him as our only justification.)
Then, Jesus says something we often miss in this passage. In verses 23-24, He said, “Therefore, if you’re offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift. ” (The italics are mine.) Please don’t miss the importance of this… God considered reconciliation to be of such utmost importance, that He insisted on His people leaving their offering of worship in order to first, go and make peace. So, for us, in principle, this ‘making peace’ would include the anger where we’ve clearly demonstrated a sinful response. But also, where the other person has perhaps felt offended by something we’ve said, something we’ve done, an attitude we’ve communicated, etc., because in the end, God isn’t going to ask us, “How many times were you right?” He will ask us, “How did you love me by making an effort to love others?”
This doesn’t mean that you go and ask forgiveness of someone just because you don’t care for them or they annoy you. You can settle that up with God privately, and ask for a change of heart. It does mean, however, that if you’ve been guilty of the types of anger where the other person has felt the brunt of your anger through aggressive verbal exchange, or passive avoidance, or anything in between, then go make peace. “How”, you say, “I can’t make them reconcile with me? They may tell me to go take a hike, to put it nicely. ” Yep, that may happen….
Therefore, this is the time when we have to be reminded who we’re doing it for… ultimately for the reputation of God, in Christ. So, if you attempt to make peace, and the relationship changes for the good… Jesus is honored. If you attempt to make peace, and nothing changes, you’ve done your part, and Jesus is still honored. Either way, Jesus is honored, and you’ve demonstrated who He is to others.
Don’t be a sophisticated toddler. Strive, by God’s grace, to be an adult who will Turn Around in your angry responses because God has reconciled you to Himself in Christ. And remember…. you never know, but you may be the only Bible people ever read. Let them see the embrace of Jesus on every page.