I almost killed my younger brother when I was 12. He was being mean to our sister, and when I stepped in, he said something—I don’t even remember what it was. But I lost it. I put my hands around his throat and squeezed as hard as I could. It was the screams of our sister that finally cleared the red haze clouding my brain. My brother’s face was blue. I pulled away, stunned that I could do such a thing. Even though I was young and I felt I had initially been right, I had no doubt that something dark had churned up to the surface. And It scared me, not to mention my siblings.
What is it?
Anger is an emotion that provides a surge of energy through the body and mind. In addition, It’s a protective armor that covers the vulnerable and weak places within where my insecurities dwell. It makes me feel bigger and more powerful than I actually am. It’s addictive and difficult to put away once it is found to be effective for injecting strength I can’t otherwise access. It makes me feel in control for a moment.
But it’s also destructive and twists my judgment. Yes, the Bible mentions righteous anger, the kind without sin (Ephesians 4:26). But the stuff we mostly deal with falls far from any rightness in its results: holes in walls; broken tennis rackets; refusal to speak to that person; impulsive texts that “speak our minds;” friends and family members who now avoid us; secret desires to get even and see people hurt, a younger brother with bruises around his neck. And it only gets worse.
For centuries, Jesus followers have classified anger as one of the Seven Deadly Sins.* These are the attitudes and behaviors that early Jesus followers recognized as seedbeds for all sorts of evil. Anger is a particularly toxic one since it is so easily justified and quickly spreads. While anger can take various forms and even smolder hidden within our hearts, a common way this particular sin manifests is as a drive for revenge, desiring and even meditating on others getting the pain they deserve.
Wishing on them what they deserve
The Bible declares that vengeance is territory that belongs to God alone (Romans 12:19). But the hunger for it can feel so strong. And the taste of it, so sweet (at least that’s what we imagine). We want justice—that is, personal satisfaction—when offended. Finding a way to take it into our own hands, right a wrong, humiliate a bully, hurt a hurter or humble someone acting a little too arrogant just feels right and even pleasurable. But God seems to be saying that we will rarely, if ever, get it right and the pleasure, if any, will be short-lived. We only mess things up more. We are urged to leave it to Him and then bless our enemies (Luke 6:28). Anger interferes with us dealing with “undeserving” people God’s way. And He has a way, if we’ll trust Him.
So, why is anger a deadly sin? Because so many other sins spring out of it. In its essence, it opens the door for us to dehumanize another person or group. Unrestrained anger then paves the way for prejudice, malicious talk, defaming another’s character, gossip, shunning, broken relationships, hatred, violence and homicide—justifying each sin the whole way. We don’t treat people as made in the image of God because in our anger we have judged they don’t deserve that sort of value. Basically, we can’t handle anger without inflicting some kind of damage on others—and ourselves. It will destroy us if not confronted. We must call it what it is and choose to turn away from it.
It’s not my friend
The first step for dealing with any sin is agreeing with God and changing the way we think about it. Do you rationalize your bad, grumbling attitude toward that jerk you have to work with? Do certain politicians consistently stir your ire which justifies your hating and belittling them? Recognize it as the seedbed that it is. Left unconfronted, these feelings put down deep roots and grow other things in your life, like bitterness and the inability to love when it counts. As people who are called to be marked by love in our dealings with ALL people, we must repent where anger drives our attitudes and shapes our perspective of others, no matter who they are.
Like all sin, we must choose to hate anger in our lives and not coddle it (read my post on sin). When we feel it being stirred, we must learn to lay it down as a right, choosing to bless rather than curse (it’s possible). We can ask Jesus to show us how He sees the object of our ire. We don’t have to like or tolerate the unjust actions of others, but we are called to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44), those who are against us and our values. Our human anger works against choosing love. The Bible says that the sin of anger even gives Satan a special foothold in our lives (Ephesians 4:26-27). I know I certainly don’t want to give him any extra help!
So, confess it as a sin. Identify what feeds your anger. Ask for help from those who can pray with you and walk you through the healing process where you’ve been hurt in the past and are vulnerable, which is often the root of much anger. Seek those who can hold you accountable in your thoughts, words and reactions. Don’t let anger make a home in your life.
God is offering to be your strength when you feel weak and your shield when you feel vulnerable. It’s not His will for you to let a cheap and toxic substitute like anger take His place.
*Also known as “cardinal sins” or “capital vices,” they include pride, greed, envy, anger, sloth, gluttony and lust. They are often thought to be abuses or excessive versions of one’s natural passions. For example, the sin of anger as a desire for justice (which is natural) gone bad, twisted or out of control.