Sinful Anger – The Havoc It Creates (Part 4)
Of the 6 subjects pertaining to sinful anger, so far, we have addressed the first two questions, “What is Anger?” and “What is the Source of Sinful Anger?” in the previous posts. In this post, we will be looking at the 3rd subject.
III. Who are the Objects of Sinful Anger?
Anger can be expressed against God, self, and others.
A. Against God.
We are angry with God because we feel God let us down in one of two ways. (1) God did not do what we wanted him to do [e.g. give us a happy marriage, a great career, heal us from a particular sickness, fulfill that long-desired dream, etc.]. Somehow we feel cheated and hence are angry with God. (2) God did something we did not expect him to do. For example, when God takes away a loved one or crushes our life-long dream, we feel he should not have done that to us. Somehow we feel God has been cruel to us and, as a result, feel anger toward God.
As a result of such anger toward God, we tend to stay away from Church, from reading the Bible, from spending time in prayer for a period of time until we “cool” off. In some cases, the heart becomes cold and indifferent toward God though we may still continue to come to Church, read the Bible and pray, etc. It is more of a cold and mechanical outward action rather than an internal heartfelt love for God and his desires. In some extreme cases, this anger even leads to a total abandonment of God himself.
Before we think, “It is okay to express my feelings honestly to God―after all, he is my Father,” we need to remember that God is not only our Father, he is also God―the Holy One―worthy of fear and respect. The words of Ecclesiastes 5:1-2 serve us with a solemn warning, “1 Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong. 2 Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.”
While the immediate context may not express angry emotions as the issue, the broader principle is that we better guard ourselves against doing anything [either through words or deeds] that is displeasing to God.
The main problem with why we get angry with God is that we often fail to remember that God did not promise a life of ease and comfort. The issue was and is never about getting what we want. On the contrary, we are called to deny ourselves, pick up our cross daily, and follow him [Lk 9:23]. If we understand this reality, we will know that plans not working according to our desires are to be expected, and thus we will not get angry with God. We will realize that he is sovereign over all the affairs of our life, and we are called to bow before him in total submission.
B. Against Self.
When addressing anger, we often do not talk about anger directed toward the self. Yet, this is true in many cases. How so? How often do we or others we know to say:
- I can’t believe I did this.
- It’s all my fault we are in this predicament.
- What was I thinking?
- I can’t even look at myself.
- I can’t believe I messed up that test, that musical concert, that important game, that key presentation, etc.
Remember, anger is an active response against what we perceive as morally wrong. So, when we failed to do or did that which we perceive as morally wrong, we can be extremely angry at ourselves―a sort of self-punishment. In other words, we punish ourselves for our failures.
While the conscience, a God-given device that does accuse us when we are wrong [Rom 14:22-23, 1 Cor 2:2-4, 1 John 3:19-21], we must be careful not to allow the conscience to control us whereby we actually sin by directing the anger inwardly.
One can list several causes for anger against self:
1. Failure to grasp God’s forgiveness. We use self-inflicted punishment as a form of restitution [sort of earthly purgatory]. We do not understand the depth of God’s grace―a grace that is greater than all our sins. We forget, where sin abounds, grace abounds even more [Rom 5:20-21].
2. Pride. I am embarrassed before the eyes of others because I messed up. What will people think of me now? It is a constant striving to look good before others, wanting their judgment of us to always be favorable. And when we fail to look good before them, we keep punishing ourselves by directing the anger inward.
3. Failure to understand human depravity. The focus is usually, “How could I―such a good and moral person do this?” Not understanding that not only can I do this, but in reality, I am actually capable of doing much worse!
4. Disappointment in not achieving a certain cherished desire. I wanted something so bad, and now I did not get it because “I blew it.” So, I’m angry at myself. We could be so obsessed with getting something and the pleasures that come with it [e.g., a particular job in a company, getting that position in the company, making the team, etc.] and when we feel we have blown it, rather than accepting the fact that the overwhelming desire of whatever we craved was wrong, we use anger as a way to deal with this failure.
5. Trying to live up to one’s own standard of righteousness. I have not lived up to a certain set of self-imposed rules. My house is not as clean as I desire it to be; my work is not done as I expect it to be, etc. Usually, we call such people “perfectionists.” They bring a lot of pain upon themselves as well as give it to others. In cases where they have failed, they direct that anger inward. It’s a case of having unrealistic expectations.
6. Failure in acquiring God’s best for me. God had Plan A for me, which would have meant the best for me. However, because of my failure, I am left with Plan B―the second best. Now, let me say this carefully. While we are responsible for making godly choices, to conclude that somehow by our actions, we are left with Plan B, are we not suggesting that we have somehow thwarted God’s plans and purposes for our lives?
By such thinking, are we not saying that we are sovereign over the affairs of our life? Is it not wrong to think that mere human beings can disrupt a sovereign God’s ways? Was not our failure known beforehand to God?
God always accomplishes his purposes, even when it involves human failures. While Joseph’s brothers were still accountable for their actions in selling him, they did not thwart God’s plans. In fact, God used their evil to accomplish his plans. “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” [Gen 50:20].
While there is no excuse for reckless behavior, the type of thinking that has a faulty view of God’s sovereignty over all affairs (including our failures) results in an unhealthy anger that is directed inward. People who fall victim to such thinking constantly keep pondering, “If only I had done this or not done that,” and live defeated lives.
The response to this self-directed anger cannot be found in “Forgiving ourselves” because we are worth so much that Jesus died for us. The real issue is to acknowledge that even though we have sinful tendencies, our God is gracious and that we need to embrace the forgiveness offered through Christ and thus release ourselves from this inward anger problem.
C. Against Others.
Majority of our anger centers in this area. We are angry at others because they have done something against us or because they have failed to do something for us. In some cases, we even use our anger as a tool against others. Here are some ways:
1. To control others. We know we can use our anger to get what we want and thus use it as a tool to manipulate others. We basically force people into submission because they will fear our anger. The classic demonstration of this principle is in many homes. The wife is afraid of the husband’s temper, the husband is afraid of the wife’s temper, children are afraid of a parent’s temper, parents are afraid of children’s temper, and thus the one who is always angry gets their way. A sort of bullying others to get what we want.
2. To hide other deeper hurts. Perhaps we feel shame over our own acts or feel disappointment over past events in our lives. Yet, unable to express these to others, we cover it up under an angry attitude that is unleashed against others.
3. To make us feel better. We feed a kind of “I am morally superior to you” attitude. So, anger against others is used to boost our own self-righteousness.
4. To release stress. I feel good now that I have released all my feelings―kind of letting all the steam out. The issue is one of self-centeredness, not caring how our anger hurt others in this process of letting out our frustrations. For example, let’s say we are angry with our father, mother, sibling, or even with a spouse who has treated us badly. Worldly counselors would tell us to take a pillow and imagine that being the person who hurt us and keeps hitting it till we feel “relieved” because our bottled-up emotions have now been released, and we feel much “better.”
5. To express revenge. We feel letting go implies letting the other person off the hook. We want to make sure the other person gets “what they deserve”―like Simeon and Levi, like Jonah! [see Post 3 of this series]. Though we ourselves plead with God to forget our sins and not punish us, yet, we are upset with God if he, without punishing, forgives and forgets the sins of others―in particular those who have hurt us!
So, we resort to “God may forgive you. But you will not get off that easy with me―I will make you pay” type of attitude.
So, we see how sinful anger can be expressed to God, self, and others. And this anger is expressed in different ways, as we will find out by asking and answering in the next post, the 4th subject, “What are the common expressions through which sinful anger is expressed?”