Unresolved Anger

A friend wrote about a Christian brother who had an emotional and spiritual meltdown: “It all comes down to unresolved anger … (and a) family weakness towards mishandling anger … that worked ill over time.” The key terms here are “unresolved” and “over time.” Anger is truly a poisonous attitude that will negatively impact us in many ways and destroy harmony in our relationships. If harbored, high-intensity situations will bring anger to life corrupting our words and actions with explosive outbursts. Truly, “the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (Jas 1:20).

So what is anger? The answer may seem obvious, but anger is more complicated than we think. We all know anger to some degree by experience. Something is said or done that harms, shames or opposes us creating intense feelings of ill-will or even a desire to injure the offender. But anger can also arise when an incident taps into previous negative experiences or a pervasive sense of inadequacy, inferiority or defensiveness. In other words, an angry reaction can be out of proportion to the trigger event because it activates preexisting feelings.

Anger can also be generated by fear. When something arises that threatens our job, health, beliefs or someone we love, we may react in anger instead of simple fright.

Because anger can be aroused by a variety of mental states, this may leave us confused as to why we or others reacted angrily in a given situation. We may not be connecting the anger of the moment with the true underlying issues.

Why is anger so powerful? Again, a variety of reasons are in play.

Pride. We feel we deserve better treatment than what was shown to us. When Naaman was informed by Elisha’s messenger how to be cleansed from his leprosy, “Naaman became furious … and said, ‘Indeed, I said to myself, “He will surely come out to me, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place, and heal the leprosy”’ … So he turned and went away in a rage” (2 Kgs 5:11-12). Naaman, the commander of the Syrian army, was used to deference and honor. His foolish anger almost cost him the healing that Elisha was freely offering.

Justification. When David’s men were insulted and rebuffed by Nabal, David was out for blood (1 Sam 25:13, 17). Abigail’s good sense prevailed, and David said, “Blessed is your advice … because you have kept me this day from coming to bloodshed and from avenging myself with my own hand” (25:33). Anger is particularly alluring when we are defending ourselves or others against injustice. (Righteous indignation is indeed appropriate, but it can easily be exaggerated into something evil.)

Victimhood. This is a real problem in our society. The “victim mentality” gets its energy from brooding anger. Certain individuals or segments of society are conditioned by political motivations to see themselves as victims, and they imagine that every negative thing that befalls them is an attack, insult or act of discrimination.

The bottom line: If not properly managed, anger will flourish and become ruinous. It destroys families, congregations and nations if left unchecked. Thus Scripture has much to say on resolving anger. From Proverbs:

15:1 – “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

15:18 – “A wrathful man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger allays contention.”

19:11 – “The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, and his glory is to overlook a transgression.”

Jesus places a premium upon repairing troubled relationships, even to the point of delaying worship: “Leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Mt 5:24). He further counsels settling matters “quickly … lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison” (5:25). Blinded by wrath, the angry man may not see that he is in the wrong and headed for his comeuppance.

Paul advises: “‘Be angry, and do not sin’: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil” (Eph 4:26-27). We are amply warned about the destructive effects of anger, and we would do well to heed Scripture and free ourselves from an angry, unsettled frame of mind that constantly seeks to retaliate and punish others. Such a person will forever be at odds with himself, his associates and, most importantly, God.