“You make me so mad!”
Have you ever heard or maybe muttered that phrase? I don’t want to put too fine a point on it, but it may have been used incorrectly. I understand culturally we may use the two words mad and anger interchangeably, but the words have different definitions.
Mad is technically a mental disorder; I admit that anger unresolved might become a mental disorder, but anger has an established definition: “A strong feeling of displeasure and belligerence aroused by a wrong.” As an aside, it is important to remember that no one technically can control your emotions but you.
The point is that all of us have experienced the feeling of anger, but sometimes don’t know what to do with it. We know that carried to the extreme belligerence can have terrible consequences. Author and Pastor John Maxwell’s often quoted couplet “hurting people hurt people” certainly can be applied to anger. Anger is part of the human condition people sometimes feel guilty about and try to hide it or find a target to place blame. Neither are good solutions.
The psalmist modeled some helpful self talk when he asked himself this question: “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?”(Psalm 42:5 NIV). Asking the question of what is causing this emotion is a good place to start to deal with it. It’s healthy to find the root emotion. It could it be fear, sorrow, loss, rejection; fill in the blank. Defining the source may be helpful in finding focus and getting past it.
It is important to remember that anger is not a sin, but it can cause behavior that is not Christlike. Paul says it better than I can: “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 NIV). Paul says you are going to experience the emotion of anger; it is part of who we are, but when you do it needs a “sell by date.” And according to Paul it is a small window. If you wake up angry you have missed the target, but worse, you have given an opening to the enemy of your soul.
James in his general letter wrote “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 NIV). The half brother of Jesus gives us an excellent key to good relationships.
“Quick to listen slow to speak” is a subject unto itself that we don’t have time to consider here, but controlling our emotion is an important ingredient. We are reminded God never commands us to do anything that is outside our control; forgiveness, for example, is almost a companion emotion. But it is not optional. Jesus said “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14-15 NIV). How we handle and process anger like forgiveness is not a one-and-done proposition, it is not a religious exercise, it is part of an ongoing relationship with the One who gave His life that we may have eternal life.
Bill Upton is a retired chaplain of the Tooele City Police Department.