Physical symptoms of anger include a racing heartbeat, faster breathing, headaches, stomach aches, frowning, sweating and tensed muscles in fists or jaws. There may be other less obvious behavioural signals such as cold shouldering, withdrawn eye contact and other verbal or negative body language. It is a powerful and deep emotion that can seethe inwardly like a volcano waiting to erupt as pressure builds towards the surface where it issues forth. Once it breaks through, like sulphurous larvae, it is unpredictable and can destroy all in its path. You may not have seen a volcano erupt but the chances are that you have either witnessed anger, been a victim of it or perhaps it is something that you struggle to contain within yourself. How is it best to deal with anger that is directed against you or that you may feel internally? Suppressing it will simply mean it breaks out in another place at another time.
- ‘It's so important to realize that every time you get upset, it drains your emotional energy. Losing your cool makes you tired. Getting angry a lot messes with your health’ - Joyce Meyer
- ‘Every day we have plenty of opportunities to get angry, stressed or offended. But what you're doing when you indulge these negative emotions is giving something outside yourself power over your happiness. You can choose to not let little things upset you’ - Joel Osteen
- ‘Be not angry that you cannot make others as you wish them to be, since you cannot make yourself as you wish to be’ - Thomas a Kempis
- ‘Let us not listen to those who think we ought to be angry with our enemies, and who believe this to be great and manly. Nothing is so praiseworthy, nothing so clearly shows a great and noble soul, as clemency and readiness to forgive’- Marcus Tullius Cicero
We find it easier to observe anger in others than to acknowledge it honestly in ourselves. And yet, we can all feel it rise within us for all sorts of reasons - how well do you know what triggers it within you? Common causes are when there’s a blocked goal, an injustice or an affront that you experience or witness. These can happen anywhere people interact - the workplace, the street, in shops, in leisure time. You may be watching the TV News, driving a car, playing sport or making a meal. It can happen between partners, in marriages, in families, between Christians and someone may even feel it against God. It is unlikely that you can be objective about your own anger and you may need someone to help you understand if it is ‘good’ anger (godly) or ‘bad’ (ungodly) anger. Identifying the cause can help with the cure if needed, especially if there’s a destructive cycle to be broken. Both irrational and rational reactions are potentially harmful, even dangerous. How you manage your own anger or that from others reveals the ‘inner you’. God sees it all in this day of mercy but clearly warns us with divine counsel.
- ‘Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the heart of fools’ - Ecclesiastes 7:9
- ‘But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment’ - Matthew 5:22
- ‘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
- ‘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
There are many instances of anger in the Bible, the first being when Cain was very angry with God because his offering of vegetables was less acceptable than his brother Abel’s sacrifice of a lamb (Genesis 4). Ignoring the Lord’s warning to master the ‘sin crouching at the door’, Cain commits the first murder as he kills Abel in the field. If you do a Bible word search on ‘angry’, you will find 113 references. Some of these are examples of ‘godly’ anger but many show humans at their worst with outbreaks caused by jealousy, irritation, pride and wilfulness. You will find times when Almighty God is righteously angry with a disobedient and wayward person or nation separating themselves from him by sin. There is also the notable occasion where Jesus turned the money-changers’ tables in the temple - it was his Father’s house for prayer but they had made it a ‘den of robbers’ (Matthew 21).
We are ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ - part of this means that ‘good anger’ is God-given when it is against slavery, discrimination, injustice and even our own sin. When God showed mercy to Nineveh, Jonah described himself as being ‘angry enough to die’ (Jonah 4:9)! The Lord knows that we are ‘like grass’ but his faithfulness remains and we can be thankful that he ‘delights to show mercy’ (Micah 7:18).
- ‘An angry person stirs up conflict and a hot-tempered person commits many sins’ - Proverbs 29:22
- ‘A soft answer turns away wrath but a harsh word stirs up anger’ - Proverbs 15:1
In New Zealand, there are signs that warn of ‘Thin Ground’ which might be prone to some kind of eruption. Next time you feel a volcano arising, take care and move to the thicker solid ground of God’s love and mercy. You may need to walk away, give time for things to simmer down and hold off sending an email, but the wisest action is to ask God to give you self-control so that the larvae flow doesn’t issue out with haphazard destructive consequences.
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