I recently preached a sermon on anger from the Sermon on the mount (Matt 5:21-26) called “Why are Angry Birds so Angry?” Afterwards I experienced great encouragement from the seriousness at which folks began to take their anger. Obviously I hoped, and preached to this end: that they would be motivated by the supreme demonstration of Jesus’ love, his taking their place at the judgment seat, council, and cross.
Several folks asked me some great questions. Here are some of my brief-but now expanded-thoughts and responses, as well as questions I would have asked myself (I know that sounds a bit weird, but just go with me there if you would).
I didn’t realize how much of an angry person I was. Should I stop using the word “Idiot?’
I loved her honesty. Now I reminded her that the main problem is anger in the heart. Jesus is reminding us that words can be used as weapons to harm people just as harboring anger in the heart can be used to make others pay. Next, “idiot” is not used here, but the Aramaic “raca,” (which has since fallen out of popularity). So whether you call someone a fool, idiot, dumba#$, or whatever, the heart issue is the same. Finding a replacement word is not the issue, but recognizing the need for a heart transplant. Fortunately we have that promise in Jeremiah 31.
Anger also comes from self-righteousness
I posited as one of the main causes of anger is that something we need or something we feel we deserve has been taken away from us. Then I proposed 4 possibilities for exactly what those idols could be: convenience, power, respect, opportunity. Identifying these idols and beginning to more deeply believe the gospel has been very helpful for me. I’ve a long way to go and I’ll actually never arrive until I’m safely in Jesus’ arms. But there is hope, forgiveness and love from Him the whole up-and-down journey.
In the interest of time, attention, and retention, I focused on these idols. However I feel that after talking with a few folks, I could have also further developed the self-righteousness angle. If you check out some angry responses from bible, you will see that self-righteousness leads to anger. So if we are regularly angry, that is an issue we need to explore.
The Older of the Prodigal Sons, becomes very angry when the Father celebrates and gives a robe to the Younger son. Nothing has been taken from him, but something has definitely been withheld. He feels he is owed something whereas the younger “unrighteous” brother shouldn’t be given anything. Much the opposite. Why? Because he claims, “All these years, I have served you and I’ve never received anything like this!” Self-righteousness is the root of his anger.
We see something similar in Jonah. Clearly there are forgiveness issues (the Assyrians were really ruthless), but Jonah is hoping only for punishment because these people deserve punishment. God shows mercy instead of judgment and Jonah gets angry.
Several people expressed to me some of their issues and what seemed to make them angry.
One lad indicated that he felt perfectionism might be behind his anger. He seemed to become most angry when people didn’t live up to his perfectionistic expectations. Another gal seemed to be most angry when driving, but it had nothing to do with others inconveniencing her. It had nothing to do with others disrespecting her. In fact she was angry because of safety issues.
The first guy will have to continually remember that he is actually quite an imperfect mess. He will also have to realize that others may not live up to his expectations, but that he ultimately doesn’t need them to do so.
The 2nd gal will have to recognize that her driving may not be as good as she thinks. Perhaps remembering times where God has graciously spared her an accident could help deal with her self-righteous driving record? Perhaps considering other areas she is weak in can help to deal with an over-all sense of self-righteousness, particularly when she gets behind the wheel.
No quick fixes, just community-involved journeys of repentance and faith.
I’m thankful to have had such honest conversations. In the words of Paul Tripp’s Instruments in the Hands of the Redeemer, “a person in need of change helping people in need of change.” And vice versa of course.