Editor’s note: “Matters of faith” is a column that provides local religious leaders a place to write about how their respective faiths provide hope, courage and strength in these modern times.
I’m not sure if it’s still in print, but a number of years ago, Dr. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, wrote a book titled, “Emotions: Can you trust them?”
Unfortunately I could not find my copy to give a more detailed response, but the short answer is “no.” Emotions are by some definition those feelings that may be perceived without logical process. They also do not require a factual foundation and are sometimes, OK often, a substitute for thought.
That lack of thinking is perhaps at the center of the difficulty surrounding emotions. Often, when the question is, “what were they thinking?” the obvious answer is, “They were not.” An example of this is the confusing emotion of love, which some romantic observers claim is blind. Having spent several years involved with pre- and post-marital counseling, I could add it can also be at times deaf and dumb.
But since Valentine’s Day is over, and it is beyond the scope of what I wanted to consider today, I will move on. The emotion I want to consider is anger, which is so fixed in our understanding it makes sense to assign the emotion to the physical realm, like an angry sky or an angry wound. It is one of the few emotions even our judicial system has become involved in: No one I know has been required to attend envy management classes.
I have described anger as the easy emotion, in part, because it is sometimes possible to shift the responsibility for it to someone else. For example, “You make me mad” is the classic pass the buck excuse for bad behavior. My bad choices are justified because someone other than me has the ability, against my will, to magically turn on the switch to my inner beast.
The sad reality is, anger can be and often is hurtful and destructive. It may become malignant, touching many others as well. As a result, it is a concern felt acutely by those who consider themselves people of faith. If I am to be a “good person,” whatever that means, than anger is an emotion that can have no place in my life. I have to deny it and hide it.
That conclusion is not only unhealthy, it misses what the Bible has to say about our anger and its place in our life. James, the brother of Jesus, wrote in his small general letter, this template for a relational model.
“My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” —James 1:19-20
I know it is desirable to stake out the high ground of righteous indignation, but James reminds us of the limitations of our anger in producing, “the righteous life that God desires.” Paul, who helped formulate the doctrine of grace for us, gives us another helpful insight into the subject of anger, when he wrote to the churches at Ephesus.
“In your anger do not sin:” Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” —Eph 4:26
It appears Paul is suggesting that even though the emotion is something all of us will experience, we still have control of the actions we take as a result of that anger, and we can and should put a time limit on it.
Upton is pastor of Tooele’s First Assembly of God Church.