Pastor’s Perspective – November 2018
“Be angry and do not sin;
do not let the sun go down on your anger.”
Ephesians 4: 26 ESV
This verse has always confused me. I was taught that to get angry was wrong. Scripture doesn’t assert that anger is, in and of itself, an evil. Anger is a gateway. It is a response; a reaction. In many ways it is an appropriate response to the conditions and circumstances of life. Anger can be both reasonable and ethical but left unchecked anger can lead us into sin.
The first time that the Bible addresses anger is in the story of Cain and Abel. When Cain’s sacrifice is not accepted by God (Genesis, chapter 4) he becomes angry. God warns him that his anger is placing him in jeopardy. The direct words are, “but if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” This seems to recognize that Cain has yet to separate himself from God in sin. His anger places him at a crossroads. God is giving Cain a very real and very serious choice. A choice that each of us must consider. Will Cain seek to please God or will he seek to carry out his vengeance against his brother Abel? Will he discover how to live his own life well, or will he find solace in ending the life of his imagined adversary?
Cain fails to heed the advice of God and embraces his anger. He gives into rage and it transforms him into a murderous beast. He attacks and murders his brother, thinking that eliminating his adversary will make his life better. Instead it makes life worse. It separates Cain from community, family, land, and God. It makes him an adversary to everything that he desires in life. When he recognizes the damage that he has done to himself; he is filled with the fear that what happened to Abel will one day happen to him. He doesn’t exactly repent, but he calls upon God for protection: a request that God grants. Cain becomes a protected exile, separated from civilization but protected from retribution.
Cain faced a choice. He could resolve his anger by approaching God and his brother in order to reconcile himself to both or he could give in to his anger and descend into a murderous rage with devastating consequences to his relationships with his family and his God. Cain dives into rage and becomes the father of all murders. Those who follow the path of Cain build their homes East of Eden in the land of Nod (or wandering). Those who embrace rage are taking their first steps into an exile from God and civilization.
But it need not be that way. Paul’s brief passage in Ephesians lets us know that anger may be a pain response for the soul, causing us to pull back from spiritual danger. Anger is not intended to destroy us, but to instruct us. Perhaps anger is a spiritual sign of impending danger; given to us in order to help us avoid sin. Paul tells us that there are times when we will be angry, but to not allow that anger to drag us into sinful wrath or rage. The second phrase in the sentence is instructive. Do not let the sun go down on your anger. Do not let your anger grow or take on a life of its own. Deal with it; personally, and quickly. When we feel the burn of anger, we must ask why we are feeling this way. What is it that God is trying to show us?
Most of the time, our anger rises when we lose control or authority. We get angry when we want to do something and are being stymied or delayed. We get angry when things don’t go our way or when things are not easily accomplished. We get angry when we try and fail or when someone else gets what we want. When the first rush of anger makes your face red, what do you do? Do you resolve to get that lousy jerk or do you seek to learn a lesson and grow from the experience? Is it your impulsive reaction to cultivate an animosity or to find a solution to your problem? Rage causes us to reject our own interest in order to feel the rush of retributive vengeance.
We will never stop getting angry. This is because anger is an autonomous response of the body. We get red in the face, not by choice, but as a psychological affect. Our anger impulse is a reaction, but what we do when we get angry is a choice. Therefore, when we deal with the negative results of anger, we speak of anger management. It is not the anger that we correct, but our response to that anger. We might all get angry when a motorist cuts us off on the highway, but only those who descend into rage will follow the person home in order to harass them for their offense.
The problem in our world today is not that people are unreasonably angry. There are plenty of reasons to be angry in the world today, but it must also be stated that our circumstances are not exponentially worse than they were yesterday. In other words, while there are certainly problems in our world today, these problems are no more dramatic and onerous than the problems dealt with by our grandparents seventy five years ago.
So how should the Church address the current levels of rage in our modern culture?
First and foremost, we should never make the mistake of excusing rage. While we might understand how someone can become angry or indignant, once we cross over into rage then we are lost to reason and separated from consequence. Rage is a demonic response that corrupts and destroys the host while it is used to maximize damage to the innocent. Acknowledging a wrong done should never turn into acceptance of a sinful or destructive response. We might understand it, but rational moral agents should never approve of violence and rage as a tactic or a suitable response to failure or sin.
We can never accept rage as an answer because rage is a multiplier of sin and damage. Rage can quickly turn an orphan into an orphanage full of victims. Fundamentally rage is a selfish response, an inappropriate escalation of anger into the realm of thoughtless and reckless behavior. Anger is a human response, but rage is an inhuman response. It turns us into beasts and murderers. It offers us a solution that only adds to our problems. Violent rage turns victims into villains. It binds us into slavery while convincing us that we are its master.
Sadly, rage is too often the response of the helpless and the hopeless. It is attractive because it offers power and control to those who feel powerless. It seductively offers vengeance against those who have what we desire, without ever giving us access to what we want. It tears down others, without ever offering us a way to success or victory. Rage only fuels everlasting grievance. By its nature rage cannot provide answers nor can it begin dialogue. We should be grieved when we see it, even as we should warn people of the tragic consequences of becoming lost to rage and violence.
The way out of rage is the path of gratitude and love, but we must remember that a person must receive love before they can give it. Most of those who are lost to rage have never experienced anything but vengeance. They are lost to a cycle of violence because no one has ever shown them another way. Love is a path that must be revealed by those who know it to those who need it. This is why we are called to love our enemies; for only then can we show them a better choice in life. This is why we must model love to our children and our neighbors; for only love can call us back from the exile of rage and madness and into the promised land of grace and community. Agape (or selfless / divine) love helps us to remember that we live for more than getting our way.
It is time for the Church to extinguish the rage around us and kindle the agape love that is within us. Show love. Share love. Live love. This is what it means when Jesus says that He is the Way; the Truth; and the Life.
Jesus. The way to love. The path to resurrection and renewal. The antidote for rage. The living water that can sate the thirst of a dying world. Jesus is God’s answer to hopelessness, sin, and rage.