“In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. ~Ephesians 4:26-27
A lot of people have used part of this verse as marital advice and rightly so. Couples that make a point of resolving their arguments avoid building up resentment and building up walls between each other.
But this verse is important to so many more people for so many more reasons.
Anger is Normal
Anger is not necessarily a bad thing, unless we get carried away with it or try to quench it in unhealthy ways. Jesus got angry with the money changers who had changed His Father's house into a den of robbers.
God the Father was angry throughout much of the Old Testament. Some people mistakenly think this is a bad thing or that He's somehow a different god than the New Testament God until you look closely and see what He got angry about; injustice, idolatry, cruelty, self-indulgent hedonism with wanton disregard for other human beings, rape, human sacrifice to false deities, etc. etc.
"But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger." ~Romans 2:7-9Anger is just a feeling. God has emotions just like we do.
God is jealous and wants us not only to love Him, but to love others as ourselves. He created us for relationships and community, interdependence. He has every right to be angry or indignant when we deny, defile, and disparage Him, His creation, and those He created in His own image (everyone).
Psalm 103 promises that "He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his angerforever;" and that " The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love."
People often site the Apostle Peter as an example of a Christian who struggled with anger issues. This should not be used as an excuse to let ourselves get carried away with anger. I'm sure Peter would tell us he wished he didn't get so angry so quickly so often. Call it impulsiveness, zeal, passion, or over-enthusiasm, he could be like a charging bull until Jesus rebuked him.
Peter's not the only example of Biblical figures with anger issues. Moses struck the rock in anger and frustration without giving God credit for His miraculous provision of water in the desert for the Israelites.
Paul's thorn in the flesh may well have been guilt over how as Saul (before his conversion), he so zealously pursued not just persecution of the early church, but virtual genocide. One might call what motivated him indignation, "defending" his Jewish/Pharisee faith from the infidels, or you could call it anger & hatred, religious bigotry.
Anger is often a reaction to hurt or fear
Think of an animal backed into a corner. Ever seen a cat or an opossum hiss? Generally it's because they feel threatened. Bears, honey badgers, rattle snakes? Same thing.
I contend that most people who claim to be Atheists aren't. If someone genuinely doesn't believe in God, then they may be incredulous of believers, but mostly they're indifferent about religion.
Most people I've know who claim to be atheists are seething with anger. Sometimes they have a right to be angry with human institutions like churches or religious or political movements, or perhaps with their parents or some pastor or other religious figure who were hypocrites.
But sometimes I think that they're wounded or disappointed and blame God for not doing things differently.
Be Proactive, not Reactionary
Legendary UCLA Basketball coach John Wooden told his players that emotions could be their enemy during a game. He wanted them to be prepared for anything, to be so well practiced, that their reactions would be automatic. Getting too caught up in emotional responses to situations could impair their judgement.
When we allow our anger to determine our behaviors rather than Godly principles like love, grace, forgiveness, mercy, etc. we are prone to get ourselves into trouble- not to mention do a lot of damage.
Think about when you most often succumb to temptation- or for that matter, go looking for it. Often it is when you're angry.
When do people resort to violence? Use profanity? Make over-generalizations? Use racial slurs? Indulge in pornography? Over eat? Abuse drugs or alcohol? Impulse buy?Take advantage of other people? Become most highly competitive? Commit adultery? Cheat? Vandalize? Steal? Slander people? Start rumors? Conspire against someone? Over react? Demand our own way?
Yep. When we're angry. At least I know that's when I'm most likely to sin or make bad choices. I bet if you think about it, this may be true for you as well.
We use anger to justify putting our own interests ahead of other people's rights, needs, and desires.
Oh, you might say that people do those things when they're sad or lonely or hurting or depressed or feeling sorry for themselves and you might be right, but what is depression? Isn't it self-hatred? Someone once called it anger-turned-inward.
When you get down to it, anger is often about feeling resentful that you aren't getting your way. Bottom line, it's often triggered by selfishness. Wanting control. Lucifer wanted that. Adam & Eve wanted that. Cain wanted that. Anger and pride go hand in hand. Anger can lead to idolatry.
Ironically, Coach Wooden would tell you, giving in to anger takes away the very control that it seeks. Anger can make you reckless.
You can't dig your way out of a hole
As soon as you try to feed your anger with sin instead of seeking God's help, you are "giving the devil a foothold." Often we give our spiritual enemies leverage to use against us by giving in to our anger and pursuing it rather than surrendering it or finding ways to dilute or dissipate it.
If some one budges in front of me in line, will shoving them back make things better or just escalate the problem? Two wrongs don't make a right, right. If one partner is unfaithful, does it really solve anything for the other partner to "get even" by cheating too?
"Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate:only love can do that." ~Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Strategy for Chilling-Out
Anger management is not just a new Charlie Sheen sitcom. It is slowing down and thinking things through. One trick is to count down from one hundred backwards, another is rhythmic breathing, and a great one is just taking a deep yoga cleansing breath.
There's an old trick that recovering addicts have found that sometimes helps them. When they most have an urge to give in to their old addiction- they tell themselves to HALT.
They ask themselves, what could be causing these feelings? Is it hunger? Low blood-sugar makes people cranky, even irrational. Just like anger. Grab a snack to help you feel better. Just like those Snickers commercials.
Are you genuinely angry? Is there a good reason for you to be so angry? Are you justified in your anger? If so, wouldn't it be better to be rational, deliberate, and strategic about how you deal with the issue? Think it through, talk to wise people you trust for advice, and especially pray about it.
Lonely? Seek fellowship with those who will bring you back to joy rather than anger, with those who will encourage you and build you up- not contribute to the negativity or indulge your self-pity. If nothing else just get out and be with people rather than sitting and stewing. So what if they're shallow acquaintances rather than anyone you have some deep intimacy with. Social interaction is vital. So what if they're platonic friends and not some romantic ideal? The key is being with people. And remember that you're never truly along because God is always available. Always, always pray- no matter how angry you think you are. God has a way of calming you down.
Tired? Yeah, guess what, just like hunger, fatigue and sleep-deprivation also make us really irritable. Crankiness looks a lot like anger. Get some rest. As a matter of fact, while it may not be good to "let the sun go down on your anger," it may be better to let the dust settle and sleep on it for a while and look at things from a fresh perspective in the morning.
The best thing about the HALT trick is that it reminds you to be responsible for your behavior- rather than letting it be controlled by your feelings or your physiology.
'Let go and let God'
Why is it so important not to let yourself get carried away with anger? Not only does He tell us not to take revenge (Romans 12:19), but "human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires." ~James 1:19-21
Too often many Christians allow themselves to be motivated by fear and anger. We thinks somehow that we have to "defend the faith." I for one would much rather have God defending me. God doesn't need you to fight His battles for Him, but we would do well to let Him fight our battles for us.
Shape my being into earnest kindness,
A reflection of Your perfection.
Grant me the grace of self-control,
That I may not display any anger.
Should I have such an outburst,
Instantly remind me to seek redress,
For such is offensive to You.
In Jesus' name,
Prayer from http://www.catholic.org/prayers