“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” James 1:19-20
Anger isn’t a sin.
In Christianity we’re called to “righteous anger” for crimes of injustice, cruelty or deceit.
Believe it or not, this is entirely biblical — scripture tells us that it’s fully acceptable to “Be angry…’ as stated in Paul’s letter to the Christians at Ephesus, with one caveat: “… only do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.” (Eph 4:26-27)
But how — and why — ought we to restrain our reaction to anger?
America is teetering on the edge of a social freefall over its inability to reconcile long-standing internal conflict with peaceful discourse. On either bank of the widening cavern of ideologies, each is convinced that theirs is the side of the angels. We’re pushed further away from a desire to reason with one another.
It’s impossible for this disunity to be fully reconciled, because the waterless clouds of social evolution hovering over the drought of the collective human soul promises a rain it cannot deliver.
Unfortunately, sin can take over, even in today’s allegedly civilized man (see: racism, human trafficking). We’re forced to face this unnerving reality; if the world is to be made whole once more, it will certainly not be an inside job. At least, not the way we think.
People are pragmatists from birth. Take a child to the grocery store candy aisle, and you’ll see what I mean. I don’t have to teach my toddler to fall on the floor in a wild rage when he wants a sucker — that was inborn. I have to train him out of that habit; I have to teach him by withholding reward, not to behave this way, and as a parent I often repeat phrases like, “Use your words,” or, “You won’t get anything by acting like that.”
A child, who hasn’t been trained to respect his neighbors by his behavior, or to harness his anger with the reins of self-control, will continue to behave this way until and unless consequences become too uncomfortable to live with. Without consequences, there is little motivation for change; and without mutual respect, there is virtually no possibility for real progress.
A child who is rewarded for behaving badly, consequently, has learned a life lesson. The louder you scream, the more you get.
While individually, the ends may justify the means in that you’ll likely get what you’re after, there’s always a hidden cost. In this case, the cost is peace, mutual affection, and the possibility of relational growth.
So, why ought we to restrain our anger against our inborn desire (that is, our fallen sin nature) to lash out? Ultimately, there is far greater reward for an individual both spiritually and practically by laying down our claim to vengeance.
The short-term rush of impulse gratification can yield devastating long-term results. Desire rarely takes consequence into account, which is why so many people who have an affair wish they could take it back once the reality of its wholesale destruction has set in. How many people in prison for murder live out their days in perpetual regret? Even if you’re never caught, your conscience is either seared or haunted by this looming internal sense of justice that is waiting for you either in this life, or the next.
But there are far sweeter rewards on the high road of self-restraint. With every insult that you do not answer in kind, you develop a reputation as someone worthy of admiration and respect. Then, you start to see people differently; not as enemies to conquer, but brothers to work with or captives to set free. You learn that true freedom isn’t the elimination of physical barriers; it’s the ability to live without fear and bitterness.
How can we live in that kind of freedom?
Jesus taught from the book of Isaiah at the onset of his ministry, “For I have come to preach the good news to the poor … to set the captives free.” Contrary to modern pictures of the revolutionary Jesus, He didn’t physically march on an oppressive Roman government to free His people.
Jesus never promoted vengeance; in fact, the axiom ‘when your enemy hits you, turn the other cheek to him as well,’ is the summation of Jesus’ teaching on how to handle oppression. His interest was primarily in freeing us not from human institutions- if it were, He’d have easily led an enormous, highly motivated crowd into a long-awaited revolution.
Instead, Jesus came to free us from the power of sin, the fear of death, and the shackles of worldly pursuit. He calls us to forsake our citizenship of earthly kingdoms, and become citizens of the Kingdom of God.
Living for the age to come, in service to the King of Kings enables us to live with such abounding peace in the midst of any circumstance that our desire for vengeance is completely overcome with a peace that surpasses understanding.
“Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face. And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.”
Brooke Demott is a freelance writer from the town of Oswego who regularly contributes to The Palladium-Times. She can be reached at email@example.com.