Disordered Anger Comes from Disordered Loves
We have an angry society, don’t we? If you doubt it, just turn on the talk shows at night—any of them. Folks on MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News are equally indignant and losing their minds over, well, <insert topic here>. The issues change by the day, but the anger doesn’t. People seem queued up and ready to be angry—in the classroom, at work, on Twitter, and (as always) on the freeway. Paul’s words in Ephesians seem timelier than ever:
Be angry and do not sin. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger, and don’t give the devil an opportunity. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear …. Let all bitterness, anger and wrath, shouting and slander be removed from you, along with all malice. And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ.
That passage starts with a confusing command: “Be angry.” Some of us were raised to think that any feelings of anger are wrong, but that’s not a Christian idea. Buddhists, for instance, teach the annihilation of desire as a virtue, but the Bible teaches anger as a necessary part of love. Why? Because anger is a destructive energy released in defense of something you love.
Now, that may sound bad, but think about it: When you love the person dying of cancer, you are angry at the cancer that is destroying them. If I love my kids, I am angry at the moral cancer—like dishonesty or rebellion—that I see destroying their souls. If I love the glory of God, I am angry at whatever diminishes that or attacks it.
Even Jesus got angry, and he didn’t hide it. In Mark 3, after he heals the man with the shriveled hand, he discerns that the Pharisees are only interested in catching him breaking the Sabbath. Jesus is filled with anger, Mark says, that they would promote religious custom over their love of a fellow human being. His anger toward the Pharisees grew out of his love for the man.
Christian counselor David Powlison says, “The very fact that [God gets angry] tells us that anger can be utterly right, good, appropriate, beautiful, the only fair response to something evil, and the loving response on behalf of evil’s victims.”
So, “Be angry,” Paul says, “but do not sin.”
The difference in loving anger and sinful anger is that sinful anger comes from loving the wrong things—or loving the right things out of proportion.
Sinful anger comes from loving the wrong things—or loving the right things out of proportion.
St. Augustine noted that the root of our sinfulness is disordered loves. If what we love is out of proportion or skewed, then our anger is going to be messed up, too.
It is not wrong, for example, to value your reputation. But if you love your reputation too much, you will get inordinately angry whenever your ego is insulted (or you think it is). If you love control, then when circumstances change your plans, you become get angry. If you love comfort and convenience, then when the church asks you to get more involved, you resent the request.
Whenever something makes you mad, you should always ask yourself what your anger is defending.
When your teenager comes home late, what drives your anger? The fact that they caused you to worry and lose sleep shouldn’t be the biggest issue. Emotionally, you may want to make it the biggest issue, because that’s how the episode affected you. But the biggest issue is their disregard for rules. Are you angry because of the inconvenience or the threat to their soul? Be honest.
If I get mad at my wife because she is texting when I am trying to talk with her, is my anger lovingly motivated because I am concerned with the harm her self-absorption causes to her and those around her? Or am I responding in anger because I feel hurt that she is not paying attention to me?
Anybody else get mad when traffic is slammed and those cars shoot up the highway ramp to try and get as far as they can before forcing their way in? If you’re like me, you may get righteously indignant and hang two inches off the bumper in front of you so they can’t merge. But can we be candid for a moment? That kind of action doesn’t seem to anger you or me when we’re doing it, does it?
When you get mad at work because your contributions weren’t recognized, is your anger fueled by a love of your own praise? Don’t let yourself off the hook by assuming you just want everyone to be given the credit they deserve—unless, of course, you get just as upset when your co-worker isn’t praised as she should be.
Anger, by itself, isn’t problematic. But it becomes problematic when our loves are out of order. The only way to deal with disordered anger is by addressing the disordered loves that fuel it.