Much of my life has been marked by outbursts of anger. Something would happen, my words would get out of control, I’d explode, and relationships would end. In fact, to this day I’m still trying to reconcile with some of my former friends.
My anger problem began to change when I started following Christ. Jesus has some pretty strong opinions on the subject of anger. In the Sermon on the Mount, He said:
You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.
– Matthew 5:21-22
That’s pretty extreme. Jesus equates anger with murder. Murder, both then and now, is punishable by death. Jesus is saying that my outbursts of anger are punishable by death. Of course, Jesus also took on that punishment for us, but that doesn’t mean we should take the sin of anger lightly.
Responding to Anger
Anger is an emotion, and it can be difficult to control what you feel. But you can control what you do in response to that feeling.
Think of anger as a warning light, like the “check engine light” in your car. When it comes on, you have three options:
You can ignore it. But, that means you’re ignoring a problem. That problem can only get worse, and eventually you’ll be stranded on the edge of the road.
You can overreact to it. The check engine light is on? Well, better stop the car, push it in the ditch, and walk home. It’s done for.
You can find out what the problem is and get it fixed.
Clearly the third option is the best one, makes the most sense, and will have the best outcome. But it’s also the most work. It will take time, and it will cost you.
The same is true when you feel angry: the best option is to deal with it and work through the root problem. Don’t ignore it for years and let it fester, and don’t overreact and explode. Put in the work to resolve the issue.
How do you resolve it? The Bible spells it out. Check out this post to see the biblical model for resolving conflict.
Some things to keep in mind when you’re dealing with anger:
Own your part. If you are a part of the conflict, you have a part in the conflict. Anger often makes us blind to our part, whether big or small. It may be a case where 99% of the conflict is NOT your fault. That does happen. But own your part in the 1%. Own 100% of that 1%.
Overlook what you can. Proverbs 19:11 says that “it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.” If the offense is small, forget about it. “But, JP, how do I know if it is small enough to overlook?” Basically: if you can overlook it. If you can’t forget about it, if you’re driving down the road and having angry conversations with the other person in your head, then you haven’t been able to overlook it. And if you can’t overlook it, you need to resolve it.
The person who seeks to win in conflict always loses. It’s not about winning; it’s about resolving. “Winning” might make you feel good for a few seconds, but then you realize that you’ve lost a friend, or that you’ve hurt your ability to witness to them. You didn’t respond according to the Spirit that you say you have. Resolving conflict is about forgiveness and peace, not proving that you’re right or that you’re better than the other person.
Resolving conflict is costly. Not resolving it is more costly. Hard conversations are not fun, but they’re also not optional. The other person might not respond well; there’s a chance you might get burned. But if you don’t try to resolve the conflict, you always get burned.
Do not judge obedience by the outcome. Judge obedience by obedience. Sometimes you do the right thing and it turns out badly, and it will only make sense in heaven. But if you’ve been obedient, you’ve done your part. The outcome is not your responsibility.
Healthy relationships are marked by conflict. How can you have a relationship and not have conflict with someone? Do you even talk to each other? Nobody’s perfect, and everyone is different, so some conflict is going to occur. If it doesn’t, it probably means you are ignoring the problems. On the flip side, I’m definitely not saying you should stay in a relationship where you fight all the time; both extremes show that you aren’t resolving conflict effectively.
Only talk to people who are part of the problem or the solution. Preferably, both at the same time. In other words, don’t gossip or complain about what someone’s done when you haven’t even given them the chance to make it right.
Men: any boy can turn his anger to throwing fists. I have a 2-year-old, and when he gets upset he starts pushing people. But it takes a real man to bring his childish emotions under the control of the Spirit of God and respond in peace. (Single women, avoid childish “boys.”)
Women: you grow up in a culture where it’s cool to be “sassy,” “feisty,” or have “attitude.” But it’s not cool in God’s kingdom. That doesn’t show that you’re a child of God. (Single men, avoid women who are entertained by conflict.)
Conflict is an opportunity to show Who you belong to. Conflict, and how you respond to it, is one of the greatest opportunities you have to display your faith. The way you handle anger shouldn’t look like the way the world handles it. And when the world sees someone acting differently, it wants to know why.
Matthew 5:19 says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” When you’re a child of someone, you display their characteristics. I’m 6’7”, so my 2-year-old is already crazy tall for his age. It’s part of his DNA. Peacemakers are called children of God because they display one of God’s characteristics. God pursued reconciliation and peace with us when He had a right to be angry because of our sin. That reconciliation was very costly; it cost the life of His Son. But it was worth it.
Who are you angry at, and need to reconcile with?
(With help from Kevin McConaghy)