At times it seems as if everyone is angry. Perhaps you feel as if you’re always angry. Whether the anger is directed at some societal problem, or a political result, or a personal relationship, there seems to be so much to be angry about. Most of us see anger as something to avoid and as something destructive. Christians are taught that anger is one of the seven deadly sins – but is it always a sin? Or, can it be an important tool to remediate injustices, both on a large societal scale and on a personal level?
A Powerful Force…for Good or for Evil
If used as intended by God, anger can be a powerful force for good.
As much as anger can be used in sinful ways – and holding onto anger can prove deadly – the emotion of anger is actually a gift that God gave us. Even Jesus became angry at the unjust dealings of the money changers in the temple or at the hypocrisy of the Pharisees who set up obstacles for the ordinary person to reach God.
If used as intended by God, anger can be a powerful force for good. Anger is a tool – an energy – that if used properly, eradicates injustice and lifts people up with dignity. Anger is integral for social advancements: the fights against slavery, segregation, abortion, drunk driving, political corruption are examples of movements often fueled by righteous anger. If righteous people didn’t get fed up, evil would overtake us. Imagine a world without anger.
That doesn’t mean getting angry for a good cause always leads to good results. Today we see groups railing against perceived injustice but inciting division and hatred. This has only created more bitter tensions and has led to increased violence. Instead of eradicating injustice, they’re creating more.
Anger Begins at Home
We need to look at how we handle anger in our own lives, and then work to use anger constructively.
Although it’s easy to observe anger on a societal level, it always begins on an individual level. We need to look at how we handle anger in our own lives, and then work to use anger constructively. If you are angry – at something or at someone, you should ask the following questions to make sure that you control and properly direct your anger instead of letting it control and direct you.
What is bothering me?
This seems obvious but you’d be surprised how few people give this enough thought. What are the circumstances and what are you feeling? Hurt? Frustrated? Humiliated? Anger arises in response to other emotions. Define these.
What do I want?
Let the anger subside, then figure out exactly what you want. Acknowledgement? An apology? Understanding? Respect? Restitution? Anger signals something is wrong. If you don’t figure out what you want, you’re wasting useful energy. Anger is a force meant to get you moving in a positive direction.
How have I tried to deal with the situation?
Have you discussed your feelings with the offending party or have you just dropped hints? Have you made accusations or threats, yelled or screamed? These methods are rarely effective. Praying for wisdom, seeking counsel and talking it out with an objective third party will likely lead to more constructive remedies.
Has what I’ve tried led to deeper understanding or fueled more tension?
Be honest here and focus on results. If what you’ve been doing has led to a worsening of the situation, stop and try something else. Look for practical solutions that benefit all parties whenever possible. Understanding your opponent’s side and being open to compromise can lead to peace and lasting resolution.
What is my role in the problem?
Perhaps you fired the first shot or responded unkindly to an offense. Be really honest with yourself. It doesn’t mean your anger is illegitimate if you did play a role in the problem. It simply means you need to take your own actions into account if you’re going to come up with a good solution. Some common mistakes people make include not setting or enforcing proper boundaries; not speaking up when the problem occurs and letting it fester; not communicating your expectations and expecting others to read your mind.
What is my proper role here?
There are common roles we all play such as husband, wife, mother, father, child, employee, supervisor, student, therapist, lawyer, etc. Most of us have several roles that may overlap at times. Each role has expectations associated with it. Acting outside of those roles can lead to trouble. For instance, a wife acting like her husband’s mother or a husband acting like a lawyer and cross-examining his wife are sure to rise tensions rather than ease them. If a friend is leaning on you for advice, perhaps you’re frustrated to be in a therapist role and that friend should be seeking an actual counselor. Defining your proper role in a given situation and behaving in a way consistent with that role can help bring clarity and minimize frustration and resentment.
What do I have control over in this situation?
Your anger can make you feel completely out of control, but rarely is anyone truly out of control of their situation. You can’t control how someone else thinks, feels, or responds, but you do have control over how you respond. Assess any leverage you may have. For instance, you may be upset with your kids being on their phones too much and ignoring family. If you pay the bill you do have some control, if you’re willing to exercise it. Never make idle threats on which you cannot follow through. This will only increase frustration. Remember, you’ll waste precious energy trying to control another person’s feelings or actions, so focus your efforts and energy on the things you do have control over. Surrender the rest.
Channeling Anger for Good
Understand [anger’s] purpose and you can learn to use your anger productively instead of destructively.
Anger doesn’t feel good to experience, but it does serve a purpose. Understand that purpose and you can learn to use your anger productively instead of destructively.
When wrestling with anger, take a spiritual perspective on it. Injustices will happen. God often allows them for our greater good. The crucifixion of Christ was both the greatest injustice and the means of our redemption. Every wrong is not worth fighting. Praying for the grace to forgive your enemies must be a central strategy employed when battling the pains, heartaches, and inequities of life.
Ultimately, anger is a tool like a knife. And like a knife, it can be used to harm others (and ourselves), or it can be used to help ourselves and those in need. We just have to decide how we’ll use it.