“The manifestations of the emotion of anger are so numerous that Dr. W.B. Cannon of Harvard required an entire printed page to merely list them,” wrote Dr. John Schindler in How to Live 365 Days a Year.
“The chief external manifestations are: a reddening of the skin, bloodshot whites of the eyes, etc. But the internal manifestations are much more profound. Your blood immediately clots a whole lot quicker, the muscles at the outlet of the stomach squeeze down so tightly that nothing leaves (one reason some doctors label 99 and 44/100 percent of ‘gas’ attacks as emotional reactions).
“The entire digestive tract becomes spastic, triggering severe abdominal pains. The heart rate goes up markedly the coronary arteries squeeze down hard enough to produce angina or even a fatal coronary” (pp. 25-26).
Note this excellent prescription, almost 3,000 years old, from the world’s best-seller: “Cease from anger, and forsake wrath; do not fret it only causes harm” (Ps. 37:8). Modern research helps us understand Solomon’s shrewd counsel: “He who is slow to wrath has great understanding” (Prov. 14:29).
Few want to suffer the penalties of rampant, misdirected anger, but, alas, millions of us get entangled with it every day. Even today’s slang is emotionally charged, threatening, and dangerous: “He makes me sick!” “He burns me up (gastric pain?)!” “I really blew my stack (maybe some blood vessels as well)!” “I could kill him!” Sound familiar?
Our own bodies are the big losers in uncontrolled anger, but sometimes innocent bystanders get hit with the emotional spillover as well. The Bible even cautions us about the hate-filled words that reduce our inhibitions to performing some tragic acts (Prov. 16:27).
Of course, one of today’s most common erroneous assumptions is that all anger is wrong. It’s not. Just as there are beneficial kinds of fear (Prov. 1:7), so there are positive uses of anger.
God gets angry, often (Ps. 7:11)! But God’s anger is constructive, solution-oriented, under the control of His overriding intelligence and perspective.
Paul confirmed it: “Be angry, and do not sin,” he taught in Ephesians 4:26.Christ blazed at the slander, the bitterness, the spite and jealousy of the Pharisees, especially when it hurt others (Mark 3:5). He was angry when He cleared the money changers from the Temple (John 2:13-17). This is controlled anger. God encourages us to grown in this (Ezk. 21:14-17, Jer. 20:9).
But most anger in the world today is not beneficial. It is the uncontrolled explosion from the steady barrage of negative or threatening life experiences: teachers finally “blowing up” at pupils, parents exasperated with children, husbands upset with wives and vice versa.
We need to clearheadedly pinpoint the causes of friction and apply sound remedies. But the wrong type of anger blocks sound thinking. It is the easy way out, the cheap, characterless way, the way that intimidates and bullies but doesn’t courageously and intelligently tackle the real problems. Overt, explosive anger only tenses the atmosphere, polarizes the parties involved, and stifles meaningful feedback and leaves wounds that sometimes last a lifetime. It is the enemy of sound thinking (Eccl. 9:17). And it doesn’t make you feel better. Why? Because the overstimulation of the bloodstream produces toxins that course through the body, leaving the whole organism enervated and agitated. Worse, the problem still remains.
How wise the Scriptures are: “The merciful man does good for his own soul (Hebrew nephesh – total being), but he who is cruel troubles his own flesh” (Prov. 11:17).
Millions of people suffer from depression in our society, unaware that depression, like anger, develops its own dynamic. This is because depression is often anger turned inward: “We’d like to vent our frustrations on someone, but often we don’t’ dare. We seethe inwardly instead, harboring the hostile, aggressive feelings deep down inside our human spirit.
Results? The resentments and envying that we don’t want to admit we have, the hostility we don’t want to let slip out (especially against authority figures who can retaliate), these negative, fetid emotions eat away at us inside. In time they can distort our whole spirit. Emotional spite, unrepented of, eats away at us deep inside (Matt. 15:19, James 4:1).
Sound farfetched? Neurologist Mortimer Ostow, in his study The Psychology of Melancholy, reported, “Depression at every phase of its development includes a component of anger, whether visible or invisible, whether conscious or unconscious.”
The latent anger and resentment often rise to our consciousness as baffling waves of negativism, depression becomes such a virulent force that it is diagnosed as the cause of the problem when, quite often, it is the effect. And this is not the happy way to live. The depressive isn’t usually aware of what is happening. Jeremiah put it eloquently: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it” (Jer. 17:9)? And, “O Lord, I know the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps” (Jer. 10:23).
Even the closest friends of the one suffering from latent anger usually can’t spot it. Judas Iscariot, seething with bitterness at Christ’s style of ministry, was not suspected by the other disciples (John 13:26-29). Understand now why, in our day, a man who murdered four victims was a model citizen until he was bypassed for promotion at work. Eighteen months later he finally exploded.
Latent anger is scary. Try to spot it, admit it, face up to it and, with God’s help, wrench yourself from it (Rom. 7:23-24).
The way to overcome anger is to train ourselves, with God’s help, to see the benefits in quickly forgiving offenses. We don’t need to play amateur psychologist or engage in tedious confrontations that solve nothing. Instead, be more willing to forgive offenses than the other party. Try to soften the rhetoric and keep it unemotional. Try to have Jesus’ attitude of agreeing with the adversary quickly (Matt. 5:25). This goes a long way in reducing conflict, that spirit of murder that seethes and festers inside. So many of our conflicts are unintentional or accidental. And if we believe that people are lying awake at night trying to make our life difficult, then we do have problems!
In most cases it just isn’t so, life is usually much less complicated than that. Unfortunately, a deceptive teaching today encourages people to ventilate their anger. “Don’t hold it in, it’ll harm you, let it out!” says this popular school of thought. “Don’t suppress it, or you’ll explode later on.”
But why wait for tensions to get to this point? Learn to enjoy therapeutic talks with a close friend from time to time. Here, irritations or frustrations can be talked out in a nonthreatening environment. The Bible upholds this kind of friendship (Prov. 17:17). What is a friend? “Someone who knows all about you but likes you anyway,” a wise man answered.
One spin-off of a happy marriage is the emotional release from unburdening oneself of frustrations, a beautiful blessing in a good marriage, where each mate can act as trusted confidant, consoler and stabilizer.
Don’t be deceived, rampant anger is a destructive force in its own right, regardless of the trigger. It can lead to tragedy. The Bible is very clear on that: Cain lost control and in berserk, jealous rage at his brother became the first murderer (Gen. 4:1-8).
David, a man after God’s heart, got carried away in unbridled anger at times (II Sam. 8:1-2). It cost him the blessing of building the Temple (I Chron. 22:8).
James and John were rebuked by Christ for a vindictive, hard-hearted attitude toward a despised group of people (Luke 9:51-56). They changed greatly later on (I John 4:20). So can we.
Let’s study two case histories illustrating the kinds of anger we have been discussing. Let’s learn to spot the enemy inside us.
Explosive anger is usually short-term, extremely passionate and often deadly in its effects. People who indulge it pay a price (Prov. 5:22). King Nebuchadnezzar of ancient Babylon was a classic exploder, steamroller and Sherman tank rolled into one. Notice Daniel 3:
“Then Nebuchadnezzar was full of fury, and the expression on his face changed. Therefore he spoke and commanded that they heat the furnace seven times more than it was usually heated. And he commanded certain mighty men of valor to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and cast them into the burning fiery furnace. Therefore, because the king’s command was urgent, and the furnace exceedingly hot, the flame of the fire killed those men who took up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego” (verses 19-20). What a temper tantrum!
Destructive, uncontrolled, unbridled anger is not indulged without a price. They mighty men were part of Nebuchadnezzar’s general staff, soldiers of proven worth and loyalty to the king. But who is safe before rampant rage?
Not even the ones you love. Are some of our fights and frictions exacerbated by “harsh words” that “stir up anger” (Prov. 15:1)? Everyone gets upset and nothing is solved. Is this happening in your home, business, school or team? God promises, “A soft answer turns away wrath” (Prov. 15:1).
King Ahab of ancient Israel never did grow up emotionally. Look at his reaction when his neighbor wouldn’t accept Ahab’s real-estate offer: “So Ahab went into his house sullen and displeased. And he lay down on his bed, and turned away his face, and would eat no food. But Jezebel his wife came to him, and said to him, ‘Why is your spirit so sullen that you eat no food” (I Kings 21:4-5)?
This is classic disappointment, dejection and depression stemming from frustration. But frustration is often thwarted self-will. Ahab couldn’t even eat. We’ve all known people like that. They turn their anger inward; misery and paralysis result. The more Ahab wallowed in self-pity, the more deeply embedded the anger and resentment became. It distorted his reasoning process till he was putty in wily Jezebel’s hands (vs. 7:14).
See how anger and depression are linked? They are virulent raging forces in their own right. God pleads with us: “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city” (Prov. 16:32).
Ahab, sniveling assassin that he was, cold-bloodedly murdered his neighbor. God was so angry He pronounced a curse on the dynasty (I Kings 21:20-24).
Rather than destructively lashing out, it would be far better for us all to learn the biblical prescriptions for handling anger.
First, if possible, drop to your knees the moment you see resentment, bitterness and anger welling up. Ask God to rebuke your wrong thoughts (II Cor. 10:5). Remember: Most anger is sin (James 1:20). Second, keep the big picture of human existence in mind. Ask yourself: will this really matter 1,000 years from now? Suppose your adversary died, and you still had a grudge on your conscience. How would you feel then?
Second, try sincerely to see the other person’s point of view. Where is he coming from? Remember the Indian motto: “Help me not to speak evil of my brother till I have walked a day in his moccasins.”
Third, now peace (James 3:18).Do you have an antagonist at odds with you? At the very least, if you are a true peacemaker (Matt. 5:9), you can be sorry that you and your adversary are having a problem. That attitude all by itself softens tensions. Why not send a gift, a card or some other small token of goodwill? Solomon said much about the wise use of gifts (Prov. 17:8, 18:16).
Fourth, when in conflict review the points covered in this article. See it as a sheer waste of time. Tell yourself you need all the clearheaded thinking you can muster. Why waste time going on the warpath?
Fifth, consider this: Does God need us to police His universe? Do we really believe that people who offend us can violate God’s laws with impunity? Read Psalm 73 and stay calm.
Sixth, pray for your adversary. At least then the problem will come up for review before the great God, and this will help far more than you think. You will be investing spiritual energies than can revitalize the relationship. This will soften our approach (Matt. 5:43-44). Since God loves both of you, His Holy Spirit will give you more objectivity toward your persecutor. God will enter the relationship if you ask Him (James 4:1-2).
With God’s help we can master anger. And what a blessing if we do. Life is so short, and anger disrupts, dislocates and distracts us from the abundant life God wants us to have!