Webster’s Dictionary defines anger as:
a strong feeling of displeasure and belligerence aroused by a wrong; wrath; ire.
Synonyms listed are:
resentment, exasperation, fury, indignation, rage, injustice, wrong.
Anger is the general term for a sudden violent displeasure: a burst of anger. Indignation implies a deep justified anger: indignation at cruelty. Rage is vehement anger: rage at being frustrated. Fury is so great it resembles insanity: the fury of an outraged lover.
We’ve all been angry. We’ve all been frustrated. Most of us, at some point in our lives, have been depressed. Frustration and sometimes depression are underlying feelings of anger.
Anger is also an emotional response to being unjustly humiliated. The angry person feels outraged at what has been done to them and many times seeks to punish the perpetrator. The angry person may be carried away by their emotion and behave in a way that can only be considered excessive. The media keeps us posted on all manners of angry people carried away by their emotions: road rage, retaliation motivated by gang involvement, the oppressive political leader who fires on protestors. The list goes on and on.
There are the little day-to-day nigglies that just push our buttons and, before we know it, we’re angry. Then there are the real injustices of society: landlords who charge exorbitant resent for dwellings not fit for human habitation; a criminal justice system that can’t reach well-insulated corporate executives but come down oppressively on a poor youth who steals clothing from a store.
Anger is the blind boomerang. Anger blinds us to others and ourselves. Anger always boomerangs. We may display or displace our anger on someone else, but the effects of that anger always come back to ourselves.
There are many poignant accounts I could share to illustrate the blinding effects of anger, but I thought a little history of the humble beginnings of Christianity might be enlightening. We’ll call it abbreviated church history 101.
The early Christian community had a rough beginning. The religious leaders were threatened by and angry at Jesus and his message so they sought to have him executed. The political leaders were threatened by the angry religious leaders so they authorized Jesus’ execution. What the religious and political leaders had not counted on was what would happen to the followers after Jesus’ death.
They organized into a community that broke down ethnic, cultural, gender, and economic barriers. They shared Jesus’ message of loving God and others, inviting people to join their community.
The religious and political leaders were blind to the people they sought to lead and control. They were so angry at the people they were trying to control, they thought they would just eliminate the main guy and their problems would go away. Wrong!
Now they were angry at and threatened by this newly formed community and were now faced with how they were going to deal with it. Well, they began to target the community leaders by intimidating them, putting them in jail, bringing them up against false charges.
They tried everything. Stephen was a newly elected leader and the angry religious leaders decided to go after him. They stirred up the people and produced false witnesses at a made-up trial, much like they did with Jesus.
Stephen gave an articulate overview of God’s relationship with God’s people and ended with this:
‘You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are for ever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers. You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it.’ (Acts 7:51-8:3).
The anger against these followers of Jesus now had a life of its own and Saul lead the persecution.
Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. (Acts 9:1-2).
Damascus represented much more to Saul than another stop on his campaign of repression. It was the hub of a vast commercial network with far-flung lines of caravan trade reaching beyond the vast boundaries of the empire. If the new “Way” of Christianity flourished in Damascus, it would quickly reach beyond the boundaries as well. From the viewpoint of Saul and his angry colleagues, it had to be stopped in Damascus.
On his way to Damascus, the boomerang came around to Saul.
Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ (Acts 9:3-4).
The Christian community and church today needs to be very careful not to be blinded by its own anger, alienating individuals and groups by being self-righteous and exclusive. When we find ourselves getting frustrated, irritated and angry with others because they aren’t going along with our way of thinking and doing things, we need to stop, step back, and examine what’s really going on with ourselves. We may think we have a corner on truth and everyone else needs to be on the same corner.
That gives me the oh-oh feeling, big time. Frustration and irritation almost always lead to anger. Anger builds barriers of indignation and self-righteousness that become blind to the person on the other side of the barrier. And the maxim is true: what you send out into the lives of others, always comes back to your own.
Be a person with an open heart. Be a person who creates a circle of friends very different from you. Be a person who looks beyond anger, your own and other’s, and allow the God of healing and hope to repair the damage. Be a person who lets go of anger and spreads acceptance.