“We’re living in a time of great fury. The strain is spilling over into our personal lives, fomenting hostility with friends, family and even strangers,” writes Elizabeth Bernstein. Daily headlines speak of furious mobs looting, burning and destroying. The poison of rage is felt close to home in strained relationships. I saw a post in a community Facebook group: “Hi, I just stopped by to see what’s offending people today.”
“Most of us are more comfortable being angry than anxious. And so we attempt to alleviate our anxiety over life’s uncertainties and our lack of control by getting angry,” says Maurice Schweitzer, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania. The anxiety of 3 months cooped up listening to statistics on sickness, death and unemployment has burst out in the form of anger. There are plenty of convenient targets for this anger—masks, politicians, police officers, confederate statues, members of the other political party— yet it all comes from the same source: hearts full of anxiety and uncertainty.
Anger can be a useful motivator to engage us in important work of reform but most often it becomes destructive to relationships and toxic to the soul. Anger closes us off from listening to other points of view. Anger causes us to judge others much more harshly than we judge ourselves. We fall into the moral hypocrisy Jesus described in speaking of the man with a log in his eye seeking to remove the speck from his brother’s eye (Matthew 7:5) Anger destroys our ability to think broadly and it hardens our hearts toward our neighbors.
The Bible rightly warns about the dangerous power of anger. Paul states, “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit…now the works of the flesh are evident…enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions…” Galatians 5:17, 19).
How can you keep anger from consuming you? A key verse is Galatians 5:16, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” The fleshly nature wants to revel in fury, venting it repeatedly and destructively. The fleshly nature cherishes an attitude of judgmental moral superiority. Fleshly anger is implacable. It’s never satisfied even when its targets are destroyed.
On the other hand the Holy Spirit asks us questions about our anger. What are its sources? How can it be used in positive ways to repair relationships and communities? How can my anger serve and glorify Christ? The Spirit may lead us to empathy for the other person instead of anger. Consider why they behave as they do? Are they hurting or fearful or stressed?
If anger comes out of fear, then replace fear with faith. This was Jesus’ counsel, “Do not be anxious…But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:31, 33) Faith is the only antidote to fear. Anger won’t help your fear but faith will.
If anger comes out of uncertainty, then replace it with conviction. “God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19) Anger doesn’t give us much control over life—in fact it lessens it! Conviction about God is the firm foundation to build life.
If anger comes out of panic, then replace it with prayer. “In everything by prayer and supplication…let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7) Anger can often be the sign that we have forgotten how to pray.